On Sunday March 4th I went to the Memorial for Jimmy Castor. Jimmy Castor was “The Everything Man” and one of my Super Funky heroes. In 2010 I was able to get to know Jimmy Castor and his son Jimmy Jr. and had the privilege of helping to facilitate Jimmy’s performance at the Long Beach Funk Fest, which would turn out to be his last live performance.
The Brooklyn native, Jimmy Castor grew up with members of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Jimmy wound up singing doo wop professionally while still in Junior High School. Some of his compositions, like “I Promise to Remember” are as fresh today as they were in the 1950s. For reasons that still mystify and amaze me, Jimmy Castor immersed himself in Latin Soul in the 1960, and generated some musical buzz with his 1966 hit “Hey Leroy Your Mama’s Calling You.” Jimmy was equally at home singing doo wop, playing blistering timbales solos and clave on the cowbell, or playing soul jazz on the saxophone.
But he’s best known for his outrageous cavemen characters and novelty funk hits in the 1970s, some which are hip hop break beat classics. Stompers like “Troglodyte,” “King Kong,” “Dracula,” “Space Age” and “The Bertha Butt Boogie” were standards of the funk fans of my generation. How one artist could attain a mastery of such a wide palate of music was one reason why Jimmy Castor is the brilliant genius legend that he is, and one reason why he’s often passed over when the greats are mentioned.
Jimmy Castor moved to Las Vegas over ten years ago, and found a niche playing his old school sounds with a band that was versatile enough to keep up with his un-matchable creative range. At The Bootlegger bistro, south of the Las Vegas strip, a stirring range of stars came out to pay tribute to the E-Man, Jimmy Castor. The legendary doo wop singer, latin soul maestro, and thumpasorus funkmaster was given a proper tribute that only few could have pulled off.
The energy of the place was vibrant, full of color and life. Like Jimmy would have liked it. Jimmy’s daughter introduced the proceedings with a heartfelt tribute that also showed her Brooklyn accent, and a street sense that many of us had come to know through Jimmy’s body of work.
Jimmy’s son Jayson Castor starting things off with a wild rendition of “E Man Boogie” that showed that the fruit didn’t fall to far from the tree. Jayson had many of the mannerisms and the wickedly sassy style of his dad. Then one by one a series of performers came on stage to sing selections of Jimmy’s catalog. Avis Harrell sang “Everything is Beautiful to Me” one of Jimmy’s overlooked midtempo tunes from his funk days. Then the surprises really began to take off: Jimmy’s bandleader “Marinaro,” who handled the entire showcase brilliantly, introduced Louis Lymon, who’s name didn’t ring a bell, until he got on stage in a super snazzy white 3 piece suit, and started singing in perfect pitch like his brother Frankie Lymon! Louis Lymon then did some of those super smooth do wop dance steps that let everyone know how much STYLE there was back in the day, and where a lot of break dancing came from. I was transfixed by Louis Lymon, and how fresh he was after 50 years. I also realized that there was a contingent of extremely snappily dressed soul brothas and sistas in the house, wearing loud colors that bounced off the multicolored lights of The Bootlegger bistro that nite.
As a string of artists took the stage to do renditions of doo wop; of Jimi’s jazzy instrumentals; of Jimmy’s blistering Latin percussion driven music, and of his killer funk jams, an unmistakable sensation overcame me: that it takes a dozen people to put together the musical catalog of this one man. The Everything Man, Jimmy Castor! It was both exhilarating and so bittersweet.
Little Anthony of Little Anthony and the Imperials came up, fresh of a cross country flight, to describe life growing up with Jimmy Castor. And two of his original Jimmy Castor Bunch band members were there, including bass player Paul Forney, and Elwood Henderson, the one mentioned in one of Jimmy’s wildest funk masterpieces of soul rap, “Potential!” Elwood and Forney got on stage and represented that funk exquisitely.
During the break, a musician I didn’t recognize sitting in front of me said “I wish I could get a tribute like this when I go.” Something this diverse, where a singer could be doing a Dean Martin standard, following the “Bertha Butt Boogie,” well, only The E Man could make this happen.
By the time bandleader Mariano Longo brought up Las Vegas singer Sonny Charles to belt out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” it was clear that this event was one for the ages. But there was still some of Jimmy’s biggest 70’s hits to be reprised. I had begun to wonder, how was this to be done at the level of the rest of the evenings proceedings? After Sonny Charles, the polish and elegance of the band, of the event, of the properly honored legacy was just overwhelming. But how do take it home?
Didn’t have to wait long to find out. The next artist to be announced was none other than FLAVA FLAV! Flava came out on stage to give some love, complete with his clock and sideways cap, and gave it up for Jimmy as only he could: “Yo G, I just want to say that Jimmy Castor is one of my musical heroes G, and his music is what the deejays all used at the start of hip hop” Flava then ran down a list of his favorite Jimmy Castor Bunch jams, and described a hilarious chance meeting with Jimmy Castor in a Wal Mart parking lot.
Then Flav announced that his jam – his all time jam - started with, “What we gonna do now is go back, way back, back into time!” The band got the signal and kicked into a rendition of “Troglodyte” and Flava Flave performed the entire song: “Cave men! Cave Women” "Her name was Bertha1 Berthat Butt! One of the Butt Sisters!” Tha whole 9. Flava Flav broght the house down – doo wop singers, Vegas band regulars, everyone got a taste of the attitude that is needed to bring Jimmy castor’s funk to life!
And if that wasn’t enough, Jayson Castor followed up, leading the band in a rendition of “It’s Just Begun,” while the Rock Steady Crew did their moves in the center of the dancefloor!
Jimmy Castor was given a fitting tribute. I was honored to be a part of it. Thanks to Jimmy Castor Jr for making sure this ole funkateer got to the spot and checked out what a tribute to a giant is all about.