Jimmy Castor, doo-wop singer turned funk hitmaker turned hip-hop sample staple, died yesterday. Rolling Stone reports that the singer and saxophonist, best known for his work in The Teenagers and his eponymous Jimmy Castor Bunch, passed away of unknown causes in Las Vegas. He was 64.
Castor started out his career in New York as a doo-wop singer, briefly replacing Frankie Lymon in the famous group The Teenagers, but quickly moving on to a solo career. He played saxophone on “Rinky Dink,” a 1962 instrumental hit for Dave “Baby” Cortez, and also had a minor hit of his own in 1966 with “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You,” an early appearance of the Leroy character that would appear in many of his later songs.
Castor would have his greatest fame commercial success in the early ’70s with the Jimmy Castor Bunch, a funk outfit that in many way epitomized what people think of when they look back on music in the ’70s, with wah-wah guitar, tons of saxophone, goofy song lyrics (the group’s biggest hits were a caveman love song called “Troglodyte” and a booty jam ode entitled “The Bertha Butt Boogie”) and of course, some big-ass afros. Castor played with the Bunch until the early ’80s, when he started a record label (Long Distance Records) and had a minor late-decade hit with the Joyce Sims duet “Love Makes a Woman.”
After his commercial fortunes faded, however, Castor was given a second life in the early years of hip-hop, as his early ’70s material became a regular source material for many key artists. “It’s Just Begun” was sampled by Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Eric B. and Rakim, and even featured in a breakdancing scene in the hit ’83 flick Flashdance, while the famous “way back…back into time” intro from “Troglodyte” became a regular drop for DJs of nearly all genres. Even artists as modern as Kanye West have continued to pilfer from Castor, with Yeezy ripping his “I Just Wanna Stop” for College Dropout opener “We Don’t Care.”
Check out some clips of Castor in his prime, as well as of some of the artists who borrowed from him, and break out your best funk growl in memoriam: