For this week’s Throwback Thursday, Giant Step President/CEO Maurice Bernstein shares with us about our March 1991 show with Jimmy Castor. What do you remember about this monumental show? Your favorite Jimmy Castor sample?
Jimmy Castor was on our list of artists to track down for our Groove Academy concerts. He was an artist who wasn’t really playing in New York anymore. In fact, this show was his first New York appearance in 10 years.
I don’t exactly remember how I managed to get his phone number. But once I got his number, I called him up and the first thing he said was, “I’d like to meet you.” I remember he drove into New York from New Jersey and we met him at one of those traditional Spanish restaurants next door to the Chelsea Hotel for dinner. He was interested to hear our proposal about a show, but also wanted us to understand where he was in his music career and why he was pretty much retired from the industry and very disillusioned with the business.
After a lot of talking and hearing him do his “Bertha Butt,” “King Kong” and “Troglodyte” voices, and a lot of persuasion, we were able to get him on board along with the “original” Bunch, which was his band. We wanted to hear the whole band do their parts when they performed the song “Potential” at the show.
Although Jimmy hadn’t put out any new music in years, he was, however, heavily sampled. Back then, a few of the many were “Gangsta Gangsta” by N.W.A. sampling “Troglodyte,” “Pump Up The Volume” by M|A|R|R|S, and “Watch Me Now” by Ultramagnetic MCs sampling “It’s Just Begun.” He’d also been working on new music, which he had us hear, including a track called “Firecracker” and one where he rapped about the fact he was heavily sampled.
A very happy memory with Jimmy was taking him up to a community radio station in Harlem to do an interview to promote the show. Once uptown, he decided to show us around Harlem, since that’s where he was born and brought up. We went to the Apollo Theater, and he showed us the collage on the wall of artists that had performed, pointed out his photo, and told stories and did impersonations of the other artists he knew. He also showed us his high school, and told stories about growing up in Harlem and how he broke into music at a young age.
Jimmy was a bit of a child prodigy; he had written “Promise To Remember” for Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers when he was only 16 years old. And when Frankie’s drug problem got bad, a young Jimmy was brought into replace the strung out star. After that, he had a solo hit with “Hey Leroy,” on Smash Records, which had that Latin Soul vibe from East Harlem. When he signed to RCA and eventually Atlantic the music got funkier with classic albums such as:
• It’s Just Begun (1972)
• The Jimmy Castor Bunch featuring The Everything Man (1974)
• Butt Of Course… (1975)
• Supersound (1975)
• E-Man Groovin’ (1976)
Although Jimmy’s samples were very well known, it was actually very hard to sell tickets for the show. That didn’t take away anything from the night, though – Jimmy and the Bunch sounded incredible. Jimmy was known as “Everyman” for a reason – he wrote, sang and played every instrument.
One of my favorite moments of the show was when he started playing “It’s Just Begun,” and the Rocksteady Crew with Crazy Legs broke out into breakdancing – it was a fantastic moment. Jimmy acknowledged them and said, “One of my proudest moments, guys, was when you performed at the Kennedy Center and you breakdanced while using my song ‘It’s Just Begun.’” Crazy Legs answered and said, “No, my proudest moment is standing here now watching you perform.” So it was a real beautiful moment in music culture where two different elements came together and acknowledged what they’d done for each other.
Unfortunately, Jimmy passed about 2 years ago. He was a tremendously under appreciated artist of funk and soul music, but his contributions will always be remembered.