Jimmy Castor Passes, (The Everything Man) on Soul-Patrol, I Promise To Remember, I Got Something For Ya, It’s Just Begun, Potential, Super Sound, Space Age, Maximum Stimulation, Whiter Shade of Pale, Purple Haze/Foxy Lady, Hey Leroy, Bertha Butt, Troglodyte, King Kong

An Interview With the E-Man



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CHAT LIVE WITH JIMMY CASTOR IN THE

It’s the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ death and the E-man himself is on the cramped stage with his eight-piece band. He brings his tenor sax to his mouth, is about to blow then pauses, scanning the room. It’s been a tight, sweaty, hour-long set; we’ve been doused us with hit after funky hit, yet there is one we’ve all been thirsting for. "You tell them we were here people! You tell them: I put it back together now, and it’s bad, it’s bad. Now watch out. This is a pandemonium number right here." And with that he wails on his sax, the staccato notes quickly climbing then dropping, climbing, then dropping: the calling card which brings the Rock Steady Crew out from the woodwork, giving us the cue that the show has truly just begun. The audience clears a circle of space in front of the stage as the veteran breakdance troupe (ancient by breakdancer standards) shuffles forward. The Everything Man, drumsticks now in hand, begins ratatatating on his timbales over the speed metal like churning of the fuzzy bass, the pulsing clavinet and driving drums, daring, forcing the Rock Steady Crew to pop, spin, twist and defy gravity as if it were 1983 and Flashdance was coming to a theater near you. The crowd literally shrieks with glee at the sight. Soon everyone at S.O.B.’s is moving to the irrepressible funk, chanting over and over with the E-man and his band, "It’s just begun…It’s just begun…It’s just begun!" the level of noise and rhythm reaching a frenzy, pushing the room’s parameters until it feels we are going to burst onto the streets of downtown Manhattan, one big mess of Funk.

If you have been to a Jimmy Castor concert within the last thirty years then you know exactly what I am talking about. Unfortunately, they are–like the vinyl he put out–rare finds nowadays. I was blessed, however, to imbibe the electricity of the living legend during three Manhattan shows over a two-day period late last August (he actually did four but I missed one). It was his first NYC appearance in ten years. Knowing from past experience that New Yorkers are usually hip to such rare showings by musical giants (e.g. the previous week New Yorkers paid loving tribute to Ray Charles and Arthur Lee & Love, selling out the Beacon and Bowery Ballroom), I bought my tickets to the S.O.B.’s show well in advance. Thus, it was to my great surprise when the chic downtown club was far from filled; I had witnessed many lesser acts fill the tropically-styled place to the rim. Those who did show up seemed to be mostly friends and family, with a few European tourists, diehard funk fans and ageing break dancers in the mix. Where was everyone else?

Well, while the rest of you were all teary-eyed watching Elvis tributes on the Nashville Channel during this sweltering Friday night, we (including one potbellied brotha’ with a beautifully monstrous afro and medallion set) were not left disappointed. The real E-man and his eight-piece funky Bunch blasted through his classic catalog with clavinet, keyboard, electric guitar, six string bass, congas, drums, backup vocals (his daughter), and Mr. Castor himself-sporting fly cherry red blazer and matching loafers-on alto and tenor sax, timbales and, of course, vocals. It was a recipe they would follow the next day at the Harlem Week 135th street stage and then further uptown at the Flash Inn.

Describing Jimmy Castor’s music is a challenge. If you threw together a dash and twist of Little Richard and Frankie Lymon, a whiff of James Brown, the fat of Larry Graham’s bass and Sly’s sensibility, then mix in a cup of King Curtis’s horn, a pint of Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers, a helping of Hendrix’s wail, then splash in equally Sun Ra’s sci-fi, Screaming Jay Hawkins’s scream, Steve Lawrence’s phrasing and Kid Creole’s calypso, you would maybe have an idea of how his Harlem Soul Stew tastes.

Using Jimmy Castor as a lens one can view the last forty-five years of popular music, be it sugar-coated doo wop, psychedelic rock, Latin soul, R & B, heavy funk, electric disco, or hip-hop. He has done it all. He performed at the Apollo at age eight; earned his first royalty check of at age twelve for "Promise to Remember"; managed to churn out sixteen genre-bending albums (as well as a few Xmas songs), birthing such booty-shaking tunes as "Hey, Leroy," "It’s Just Begun," "Troglogdyte," and the "Bertha Butt Boogie"; played to sold-out crowds from the Cow Palace to Madison Square Garden, from Panama to Saudi Arabia; been sampled over 3000 times, from the Beastie Boys to the Spice Girls to Rage Against the Machine; and who can still give an interview part Cassius Clay, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Carrey.

Before the S.O.B.’s show I was fortunate enough to catch up with the E-man (a name he has trademarked, by the way, "so don’t try it") in his dressing room. Not only is he spirited; he is one heck of a nice guy. With lightning speed Mr. Castor expounded on a vast array of topics.



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Q. How did you get the NYC gigs? You haven’t played here in nearly ten years. Why did you wait so long?

A. The time was right. I’m working on some new songs and I wanted to play again. I knew that to do it right, to see if I was ready, I’d have to come to New York City and play for the people.

Q. How did you end up at S.O.B.’s?

A. Well, it’s a tie-in. Last night: Marcus Garvey Park; tonight: S.O.B.’s; tomorrow-

Q. You were at Marcus Garvey Park last night? A free concert? Are you serious?

A. Yeah, we broke the record. Roy Ayers had the record. We broke it last night. Unbelievable. The turn out was just incredible. Thousands of people. I felt really good about it.

Q. You were pushing all sorts of musical styles in the late 60s, through the 70s- Ahead of its time. You and a band like Mandrill, pushing the latin funk, calypso…I can imagine that for the strict and traditional major labels you were very difficult (in their eyes) to promote.

A. Definitely, they tried to pigeonhole me. Urban department, Black department…You know, I just didn’t care. I was the Everything Man-the E-man-so I did everything.

Q. What were some influences on your beginnings in music?

A. Being raised uptown on Sugarhill, there were lots of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, so I was influenced by the great Tito Puente, of course, the West Indian, calypso that you hear in my music, King Curtis on tenor saxophone…The ballads, the singing, the Delfonics, the high voice, I could do it all. I was trained. I went to Music and Art High School. I studied theory. Bach, Mozart, everyone. You couldn’t get out of that school unless you knew all of that. Even before that I was with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. I was Frankie’s stand-in and I wrote "I Promise to Remember," and I saw what was happening and I said, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do!’ What I saw when I went on the stage it was just unbelievable. So it was in my heart to do it and I ended up doing it. And as far as being pigeonholed, I got to the point in my career-Well let’s put it this way. I started with Frankie and the Teenagers, and then started studying my saxophone.

Q. That was your first instrument?

A. No, I started on the violin. But I hated the violin, oh man. So I went to the saxophone in 7th grade and then I was told I should take the test for Music and Art High School. And in order to get into there you had to be able to play one instrument plus keyboards, so I took lessons and I got into Bach and luckily passed the test. And in that school-the Castle on the Hill–was Billy Dee Williams and lots of talent walking around. We had four years of music theory. Then I picked up the clarinet, timbales. I didn’t master them but I could play. I started writing. I started doing sessions.

Q. Sessions for who?

A. I did "Rinky Dink" with Dave ‘Baby’ Cortez. I did a lot of sessions, up and down Broadway, up and down Broadway, trying to hustle. Doing the big clubs in New York. Trudy Heller’s The Trick, Small’s Paradise, Club Baron…I mean, ya know, I was king of the dances. And I would do (hums calypso intro to "Hey Leroy") and people started dancing to this…the best thing to see is the actual Public accepting something, and every time I did it, it was infectious. So I went into the studio one rainy morning and I cut this and I just said, you know, coming from the quote, unquote, "Ghetto"… "Hey, Leroy, your mama, she’s callin you man," you know. And then everyone turned it down. Neal Bogart, everyone said, "Ugh, what are you doing?" So, I knew that I would have to cut something that would sell immediately. I didn’t have time to get into a thing and after two weeks a record company puts it on a shelf. I had to-"Your Mama!" Your mama, wow. Maaan, Dick Clark called me up and I did American Bandstand. And I wasn’t doing that well, I was playing clubs and everything, and he called me up and said (in beautiful Dick Clark diction) "Hi Jimmy it’s Dick Clark." I said, "Yeah whatever." And he said, "Jimmy, would you like to play Whiskey a Go Go, would you like to do American Bandstand, would you like to be where the action is?" Boom! I did that and I never looked back. Because a record…You can be a Top 40 in a club band forever, it doesn’t mean anything. Doing everyone else’s hits. But if you have a hit record?

Q. And "Hey, Leroy" was definitely a hit record

A. Yeah, and everybody turned that record down. But it was Sammy Davis Jr. who took it to Mercury and told Luchi De Jesus (head of the Urban/Latin dept.) and Luchi says, "I love this let’s do it!" The president of the company-Charlie Fach-says, "It’s garbage, we can’t do that." Luchi said, "Let’s do an album and put it out." The rest is history. We’re selling 250,000 records a day here, which they had never heard of. All of the distributors jumped on it. And then of course I ran into the problem you were talking about.

Q. Of being pigeonholed?

A. Yes. The next thing I knew I was coming with "Hey Willie, get out of bed man. It’s time to go to school, you know you’re stupid," which is on the album. And they said, "We want you to play saxophone you sound just like Jr. Walker since you play so well." And I said, "But I’m not Jr. Walker." So that ended my relationship there. And, of course, back to the clubs.



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The sun sets over the hill, casting City College’s gothic silhouette over St. Nicholas Park. A new hip hop duo has just performed on the 135th St. stage and, though they are good, aren’t much different than anything else being pushed on Hot 97. People mill about, chewing on Jamaican patties and drinking anything cold on this muggy evening. The Harlem Week Festival is coming to a close, signaling as it has the previous 27 years that summer is nearly over. Eventually, Harlem’s own assumes the stage, ready to keep the block party moving. A baggy-pantsed group of teenage boys pass by, one yelling, "Get off the stage old man, who you?!" Without missing a beat a middle-aged Bertha retorts, "That’s Jimmy Castor, fool, now go home, it’s past your bedtime!"

The Bunch are ready. "I used to live right over here on 141st street," Jimmy tells the gathering crowd, as he suddenly appears from nowhere. "Now see if you can familiarize yourself with these nine notes." Paul Forney’s heavy bass kicks in, playing the nine-note intro of "Potential." Many people sing along, "Walking down the street one daaay, yeaaaah…" as sounds from another era echo between the buildings. Afterwards Jimmy tells his people, "I sold records everywhere because of Harlem and god bless you I want to thank you. They used to call me Butch on 141st street, I was a war councilor, but then I wanted more. So one day I got my timbale drums, " Castor grabs his sticks. "Somebody whistle for me." A few hundred people in the crowd oblige.

The E-man responds with "Hey Leroy!"

A bunch of Leroys shout back, "What!"

A. "This is 1966," continues Castor. "I mean, I’m only 22, but this was 1966" He plays his timbales as the band softly introduces the calypso beat. "Your mama! I started playing this at Small’s Paradise and everybody started dancing one day, and I said, Whoa, I think we got a hit record here…She callin’ you man!" And with that the band let’s loose and the crowd begins to dance, chanting along, "Call your mama…call your mama…"

Though we are outside, the heat, music and moving bodies make it feel as if we’re in a stuffy club. The E-man and his funky Bunch are relentless, taking us through a medley of "Troglodyte" and "Bertha Butt Boogie," before giving us a breather with "Whiter Shade of Pale" and King Curtis’ "Soul Serenade." The band has found their groove and Jimmy gives the signal to crank it up another notch with the showstopper, "It’s Just Begun." Though the Rock Steady Crew fail to appear, a few young men take up the charge and break dance on the sidewalk. Keeping the crowd moving, the band closes the show with the percussive funk of the 1975 jam, "E-man Boogie," with Jimmy tearing up his timbales like the late Tito Puente. And then, as suddenly as he arrived, Jimmy Castor slips away into the night.

Then I heard Sly. Wow. Jimi Hendrix. Wow.

Me, Sly and Jimi were always hangin’ out, and of course they destroyed themselves, but I never drank or did drugs so I was kinda’ cool. Jimi says, "I wanna do ‘Hey, Leroy.’" So he puts it on his Smash Hits album. So I said I wanna do one of your songs. I loved "Foxy Lady" but it’s to the music of "Purple Haze." It’s on the Phase Two album. And so Sly says, "I want to do ‘Hamhocks Espanol.’" But I thought I was Sly. I had never seen anybody bring the races together like that. Larry Graham and Freddie…I mean, it’s the greatest sound. If you put it on now, it’s Super Genius. And, I started moving towards that and all of a sudden I said (in a deep, gravelly voice), "C’ mere! C’mere!" You know, I started to get really earthy and here comes "Troglodyte," which was a filler for the album. And then "It’s Just Begun." We were really working together. We took that around and everybody turned it down until finally RCA said, "Okay, I’ll put it out." And Jim Schwartz said, "The first week no album has sold like that since Isaac Hayes’ Shaft album."

And then, again, I didn’t look back. Phase Two. Dimension III. And then in Dimension III a "Whiter Shade of Pale" (which I’ll do tonight), and "Bridge Over Troubled Water"…I started getting into other forms of music, you know. And the label said, "What is he trying to be Lawrence Welk?" And that was it. That was all they had to tell me at a label, I don’t care how it is, I’m gone. They said, "Well Jimmy we feel-" No don’t feel for me I’m gone. You know, so I’m hanging out and unfortunately my mentor on saxophone-King Curtis-was murdered. So Atlantic said, "We gotta get him because he can play like King Curtis. So here I go. A new album. And my partner says to me, "Ya know, since you do everything, you should be called the Everything Man. The E-Man. And in fact, I trademarked that, so it’s E-man with a circled "R", so don’t try it, Matt, I own that now.

Okay…

Anyway, so now I’m the Everything Man. So we put that out. Great album. Cover. Everything. I was doing everything. Timbales, horns…"Didn’t I blow your mind," "Look at the two of us" (check). Cuz I was heading toward Vegas. I wasn’t going to hang in this cutthroat record bizness, trying to pay to get everything done, you know what I mean? I had had it! I was eleven years old when I wrote "I Promise to Remember." I had just had it, man. And the tours. I ended up in Panama, Saudi Arabia one day, I said, "Whoa, okay." So I put out The Everything Man. Great album. They didn’t hear it. So I said, "Shoot…(in a deep voice) Bom Bom Bom a Dom!" And boom, another hit. Because everybody said, "Why don’t you give Bertha a record?" And so I gave it to her. That was it. Maaan, Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson, you know, again, it was super. I’ve been blessed. And all my training comes, you know, I’m just a musician before anything. And then it really got started. So I said let’s get into it: "Bertha encounters Vader," "Luther the Anthropoid," "King Kong," I mean…number one in Japan. So I’m riding high. I’m selling out Madison Square Garden. But they’re only pressing 50,000 records for me. You gotta press 500,000 for me, right. But that was their way of holding me back.

Q. Who?

A. The good ol’ boys. He’s a triple threat, he does too much. I was corporate anyway, so I could sit and talk. I mean, I didn’t sit down at the table and say, "Yo, whassup man, wha’ chew goin’ do wit me n’ the label?" No, we talked, and they didn’t want to hear that. They just want you to play what they want you to play. So I wore out my welcome at Atlantic. I asked for a release. Every time I asked for a release. I was never dropped. And then I decided to start my own label. But Henry Stone came along with T.K. records and said, "No, I love this album you did," and he gave me a lot of money and so I went down there. But he was going towards his end. K.C. was over. I knew I was over when I went down there to sign the contract and we were in his office and the secretary comes in and says, "Excuse me Henry but K.C. is on the phone," and he wouldn’t take the call. I said to myself, "Oh that’s the end of this label." Because K.C. was the label.

Q. K.C. and the Sunshine Band?



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A. Right. So we put out Let It Out. Loved the cover, me in a white suit and everything. Did "You Light Up My Life"…did Dinah Shore and everything but nothing happened with it. Then, Atlantic comes around the bend again and says, "You know, we’d love you to do something else with us again," so I did. We did The Jimmy Castor Bunch. Got into disco. But, no promotion. The story of my life is no promotion. When you’re a person of color, you’re as good as your last record. It comes in spurts. When you’re a person of color it comes in spurts. There’s no consistent marketing or promotion.

Bon Jovi. I’ve heard Bon Jovi say, "I’ll be off for four years." That’s death for me, you know. So I had to do records to sell immediately. I didn’t have time to get to the bridge, as James Brown would say. I had to hook ’em right away. "What we’re gonna do right now is go back," "Bom Bom," "Attention please attention please Godzilla is now approaching Tokyo. Please evacuate city. Women and children first." Then they said, "Oh, I want that!" You know what I mean? But they didn’t promote it. Like I’ve always said, I’ve had a lot of R & R in the music business. And I don’t mean Rest and Relaxation; I mean Racism and Rejection. You’re only as good as your last record. Look at Bruce. All of a sudden America needs Bruce Springsteen. He hasn’t been out, now they need him, okay. Bruce Springsteen, the hard-working man’s blue-collar, please. Living in a mansion’s mansion. He has a mansion inside of his mansion. So cut it out Bruce with your phony Southern accent. I know you’re cool, cuz you got Clarence in the group and everything, but let me tell you something man, cut it out. You’ve made enough. You wrote some great songs by the way: I loved Philadelphia. You should have stopped there.

So that was 1956, "I Promise to Remember." Forty-five years ago-

Matt, I’m only 22 years old, how could you say that?

It’s been a long road. I’ve done sixteen albums. And I’ve never been weak. See, I’ve been on the bus from the beginning. I started touring with Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Lloyd Price, Bill Haley & the Comets, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, all on the same bus, and we’re with Allan Freed, and he’s goin’ (deep voice) "This is rock and roll." And I’m looking up at everybody. And I can only work weekends because my mother said, "No, he has to stay in school! No tutors!" So I’ve forgotten more than most people know. It’s as simple as that. And I know it. I don’t flaunt it, unless you ask me. So, I’m sorry, ask me something.

Q. Why wasn’t "It’s Just Begun" ever released as a single?

A. Dumbness. Let me tell you something. You want to hear the worst thing in the world what RCA did to me. "It’s Just Begun" became an underground cult thing. This movie approaches me. Paramount says, "Listen, Jimmy, we got a movie called Flashdance and we want to use your song." I said okay, of course. "But you have to record it over." I said no problem. I owned the publishing and writing, but they RCA owned the master. But we didn’t have enough time to re-record it. Yet, it’s the second best song in that movie, if you ask me. (Sings.) "Whaat a feeeeling!" you can’t beat that song. But it’s better than "Maniac." That’s garbage. They had to really look for something. But I’ll tell you what happened. They didn’t put "It’s Just Begun" on the soundtrack. So here I go. I’m on Atlantic. Five million records the first week! So I’m thinking I’m going to be well-off. I go to the music store: it’s not on there. I walk up the street from Atlantic to RCA. I am mad. I go in there and kick the door down. I say, "How come you didn’t put ‘It’s Just Begun’ on the soundtrack?" You wanna know his answer? "I don’t know." So when you ask me how come it wasn’t a single, I’m lucky it got out! That was such a lily white label, that they never had anyone "crossover." I’ve always been Pop, R&B, Funk. That’s what I am. I’m not just R&B. You can a #1 R&B record and still have nothing. I always went for the jugular. #4 Pop, that’s when you make money.

Q. What do you think about hip hop being so big and and taking over the music scene?

A. Hip hop has been fairly good to me. In the beginning it wasn’t, when people like the Beastie Boys just raped my music. C’mon man, as LLCoolJ said to me one day, ‘You can’t do that to the man’s music! That’s like taking someone’s vintage car out of the driveway and just driving it away!’ And that’s true. I’ve been sampled over 3000 times and when they pay, I love it. But you always have to remember that the children are listening. Nowadays, the profanity, it seems it’s all about pornography. It’s just unbelievable. I saw a video the other night where a guy is under the table with a girl (and he’s a producer) and he’s on top of her and they showed it on BET News and he was sitting back there with his hat cocked and he was being interviewed…c’mon, that’s not cool! Let me tell you something what’s happening out here with these kids with thongs up their behinds and hot tubs and Bentleys, they think that’s what life is about! Man, those nine year-old girls look at that, when they’re eleven they’re pregnant. Hello! Genocide. I saw Master P give his son $100,000 in front of those kids on BET the other night. Wow, he just said, ‘It’s his birfday uhuhuh.’ He can’t even talk! First of all, what’s he master of? Hey, Master P, I’m talking to you! What are you master of? See, I play a lot of instruments. I don’t claim to master them. I am the E. They call me the E. Not Elvis. I’m the E-man.

It’s nearing midnight. The blue neon lights from Yankee Stadium reflect off the East River and filter through the front door of the Flash Inn. Old-school waiters, bedecked in red serving jackets, serve drinks and mediocre Italian food. In fact, everything about the place is a throwback to an era of Cuban cigars and backroom deals. This is a private party thrown by the organizers of Harlem Week, though most of them have left by the time the Jimmy Castor Bunch sail into "Soul Serenade." Two long-time Castor fans-DJ Kool Herc and Kurtis Blow–remain, however, to hear the E-man boogie. The Flash Inn, narrow and angular, was obviously not designed for live performances or boogying however. Spread against a mirrored wall and squeezed into the space of two pool tables, the Bunch is definitely feeling bunched.

"I’m gonna do some stuff for Kurtis and Kool tonight," Jimmy tells the mostly sitting crowd of thirty or so. "I’m glad to meet Kurtis Blow, finally."

Despite the lack of legroom, the band manages to throw the groove anyway, ripping through a medley of "Hey, Leroy," and "Space Age." Jimmy stops only to kibbutz with Kurtis. "You know, I invented some things like ‘Right On!’ But Kurtis…Kurtis came out and said, ‘That’s the Breaks!’ Paul’s gonna hit nine notes for Kurtis." The bass notes of "Potential" bounce off the mirrored walls, and soon people are dancing in whatever space between tables and chairs they can find, right on through abridged versions of "Bertha Butt Boogie," "Troglodyte," "King Kong," and Joe Cuba’s "Bang, Bang"-as if it were a Kool Herc DJ set.

Though not created with acoustics in mind, the Flash Inn proves to harbor the best sound of the three gigs. This becomes most evident as the Jimmy Castor Bunch bring the short, packed trip to a close with a thunderous version of "It’s Just Begun." Pushing the meaty breakbeat that has driven breakdancers’ legs crazy for 25 years, the band grinds and pushes until the mirrors are rattling and the people cheering wildly. Afterwards, Jimmy shouts, "The Flash Inn will never be the same. I have labeled it. The ceiling is weak! I like that. Let’s do that again, I want the ceiling to come off. One two three!" And the band picks up the break where it left off. The E-man seems possessed as he bangs on his timbales, yelling and looking up at the ceiling as if casting a spell, "It’s just begun…it’s just begun." Suddenly, he breaks away, whipping around the room, pointing at his spellbound people, as we chant with him. He then returns and bangs away on his timbales, one last time, and tells us again how it’s just begun.

"I’m outta here. Peace," he says when it’s over. And then, in his best Elvis voice, "Thank ya’ very much."

–Matt Rogers



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