Funk and soul legend Jimmy Castor died at 2:30 a.m. on January 16 in the St. Rose Dominican Hospital in Henderson. The news was first reported via Twitter by his grandson, P.J. Romain, also a local performer. Sources say he was 64, though the family confirmed his actual age as 71. Castor, who moved to Green Valley in 1997 with his wife, Sandi, (according to his family), had been hospitalized in November of last year following a heart attack, and underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
Although Castor may not have been as well-known in the public eye as contemporaries such as PFunk and Kool & the Gang, Jimmy Castor Bunch singles such as “It’s Just Begun,” “Troglodyte” and “Bertha Butt Boogie,” provided essential samples for hip-hoppers including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Kool Keith’s Ultramagnetic MC’s, Coldcut, Ice Cube, and, most recently, Kanye West. In fact, Castor’s legal battles in the era before sampling required licensing and acknowledgement may be as important a legacy as the music itself. According to the family, his records had been sampled more than 3,000 times.
Many in the musical community expressed immediate sadness over his passing, including producer Nile Rogers (Chic, Madonna), who tweeted, “I can't stop crying. How do I explain how much his brilliant upbeat music touched my soul?” and “To a youngblood like me this funk was life changing.” He added on his blog, “He’s not a household name, but his influence on music is ubiquitous,” crediting Castor for introducing Rogers to Diana Ross, leading to the hit “Upside Down.”
Castor’s career began when the New York pre-teen was a competitor, then eventual “understudy” for doo-wop star Frankie Lymon in the late ’50s. Turning to session work as a saxophonist (including the hit “Rinky Dink” by Dave Cortez), he re-emerged as a solo artist in the mid-’60s with the novelty hit “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Calling” before forming the Jimmy Castor Bunch in the early ’70s. In 1972, their debut’s title track, “It’s Just Begun,” seamlessly combined James Brown-style funk, acid rock and the then-burgeoning Nuyorican salsa groove as if they always belonged in the same song. Castor—whose mastery of saxophone and timbales in addition to singing and songwriting got him dubbed “The Everything Man”—frequently returned to the successful comedy formula of “Hey Leroy” with “Troglodyte,” “Say Leroy,” “Luther the Anthropoid” and “Bertha Butt Boogie.” But he wasn’t shy of social critique, either.
Castor’s “Bunch” released albums on RCA and Atlantic throughout the ’70s before some solo and independent work, a brief retirement, and then later touring with both a new Bunch and revived “Teenagers.” His son, Jimmy Castor Jr., told the Associated Press that further tour dates had been booked for 2012.