Saxophonist, percussionist and producer Jimmy Castor died on January 16th from cardiac arrest at the age of 71. I've heard his name for years, and understood he left a significant legacy. But that's all I knew. In fact, I probably read his name more often in articles and books that I actually heard his music. So I decided to use this unfortunate occasion to familiarize myself with his catalog, from his Top 10 hit "It's Just Begun" to '70s funk gems like "King Kong" and "Maximum Stimulation." What I learned is that the Jimmy Castor Bunch, his band for much of his '70s heyday, made shamelessly kitschy music. His best tracks, like "Bertha Butt Boogie" and "Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Calling You," are basically extended riffs built around Latin jazz and salsa rhythms, hard-driving deep funk, and a really good joke repeated over and over again.
When Castor passed away, the news stories reporting on his death noted that he was often sampled by hip-hop artists. However, sampled acts are susceptible to trends like anything else. Back in the late '80s, when rap music thrived on an uptempo sound built from New Jack Swing, hip-house and electronic funk, the Jimmy Castor Bunch were a prime source for beats. Concurrently, Castor launched one of the first major sampling lawsuits when he sued the Beastie Boys for sampling his "The Return of Leroy, Pt. 1" in their "Hold It Now, Hit It," winning a generous settlement. His music turned up in some of the era's defining hits, including NWA's "Gangsta, Gangsta" -- which pulled from Castor's "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" -- and M/A/R/R/S' acid-house anthem "Pump up the Volume" ("It's Just Begun").
But as the tempo and pacing of rap music slowed to a gangsta groove in the '90s and '00s, producers turned more often to quiet storm, smooth jazz and classic soul for sample material. Castor beats have appeared less frequently since, although they occasionally crop up in album tracks like Kanye West's "We Don't Care" ("I Just Wanna Stop") and Christina Aguilera's "Back in the Day" ("Troglodyte" again.) (I researched most of these samples using the invaluable WhoSampled.com site.)
This playlist pairs the Jimmy Castor Bunch's Billboard-charting singles with some of the famous artists who sampled him. But don't think of the musician who called himself the "E-Man" -- short for "the Everything Man" -- as just fodder for beatmakers. A Jimmy Castor track is its own goofily fun reward.