Wednesday, January 18, 2012

R.I.P. Jimmy Castor

Funk legend Jimmy Castor - a cornerstone of hip-hop - has died at the age of 64. But, although he's one of the most-sampled recording artists of all time (after James Brown), you might not know much about him.

His most influential song was It's Just Begun, recorded 16 years into his career. The opening trill of the saxophone and the intricate, hi-hat heavy groove have been pilfered by everyone from Grandmaster Flash to The Spice Girls (the sax riff appears on If You Can't Dance, fact fans).

But there were more strings to his bow than writing an iconic breakbeat. Castor penned the million-selling doo-wop classic I Promise To Love You for Frankie Lymon when he was still at high school. That led to his first recording session, in New York's Bel-Tone studios in 1956, after which he worked for almost all of the major labels - including Decca, RCA, Atlantic and Mercury.

Castor's career spanned rock, funk, soul, latin and pop. Like Prince, he produced his own records and played many of the instruments himself - earning him the nickname "The E-Man", short for The Everything Man. If you're seeking him out on Spotify today, the key tracks are Troglodyte (Cave Man), The Bertha Butt Boogie and King Kong.

Yet, despite his lingering popularity with hip-hop producers (Kanye West, Ice Cube and Mos Def are all fans), his biggest hits are largely absent from the airwaves. In fact, Compare My Radio shows that he's only been played on UK Radio once in the last month.

He called it "a curse".

"MTV, VH1 they kind of shunned me and my group," he once said. "Some of these guys have been with me for 30 years and I feel bad for them because they don't get the recognition they deserve. It's been a total insult."

A sad state of affairs, maybe, but Castor didn't let it get him down. He continued to record, write and play to big audiences until late last year, when he suffered a heart attack. Although he recovered from that and had bypass surgery, he sadly died on Monday in Nevada.

As a tribute, here is a blistering live performance of It's Just Begun from what looks like a 1972 episode of Soul Train. In Castor's own, frequently re-appropriated, words: "What we're gonna do right here is go back".

The Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun

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