Jimmy Castor, the boisterous funk singer who authored some of the genre’s best tongue-in-cheek party anthems, died today of causes yet to be revealed. Castor’s death was confirmed on Twitter this afternoon by his grandson, P.J. Romain. The singer was 64.
Born in Harlem, Jimmy Castor tasted his first morsel of fame in 1957 when he briefly replaced troubled doo-wop singer Frankie Lyman in Lyman’s group the Teenagers. Castor floated around the New York scene for a while after that before scoring a solo hit in 1966 with the Latin soul record “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You” (famously sampled twenty years later by the Beastie Boys on their track “Hold It, Now Hit It”). The formation of the Jimmy Castor Bunch came in 1972; that group would pepper the ’70s with an array of goofy funk jams like “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” and “The Bertha Butt Boogie.” Despite their often laughable themes, everything the Castor Bunch played was founded on a bedrock of serious musicianship, and the group was indeed respected within the funk community.
Once the Me Decade faded away, Jimmy Castor’s flame was kept alive by scores of pioneering hip hop artists who sampled his music in their own. Said hip hoppers include but are not limited to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Erik B. & Rakim, the Ultramagnetic MCs, Big Daddy Kane, 2 Live Crew, House of Pain, the aforementioned Beastie Boys, and even N.W.A. No less than Kanye West has sampled Castor in the Twenty-First Century, using a portion of 1979’s “I Just Wanna Stop” on the 2004 College Dropout track “We Don’t Care.”
I went through a deadly Jimmy Castor phase circa 2007. Anyone who rode in my car was forced to listen to the JCB’s greatest hits CD, particularly “King Kong.” I adore that silly ode to Hollywood’s most beloved giant ape. It’s easily my favorite Jimmy Castor composition. Never fails to melt my blues away.
My condolences to P.J. Romain and the rest of Castor’s surviving family. I’m sure he’ll keep the afterlife extra funky and fun for everyone stuck on that unfortunate side.
Another thing the dumb-ass media messed up/didn’t make very clear in their initial reports on the Universal Studios Hollywood fire: the King Kong “exhibit” that burnt to a crisp was actually the King Kong portion of the Studio Tour (read: the part with the big robot monkey).
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. King Kong is dead. Let the nation’s period of mourning officially begin.
I’ve never been to Universal Studios Hollywood, but it feels like I spent a good chunk of my early to mid twenties hanging out at Universal Orlando. I really love that park. One of my favorite attractions there was always Kongfrontation, the east coast adaptation of the simian tram attack that began wowing L.A. tourists in 1986.
Kongfrontation, which opened along with the whole Universal Orlando park in 1990, was truly an experience, from the authentically smelly 1970s New York subway queue area to the frighteningly large fireballs that popped up as Kong was attacking your Roosevelt Island cable care. The miniature cityscape that sat beneath the fuzzy ape’s non-existent butt (sorry, kids, he was just a torso) was also painstakingly detailed.
How do I know that? Universal does this thing every October called Halloween Horror Nights. Often, they change the rides up to give visitors a new, “spookier” experience. One year, they let us walk through the fake New York backdrop of Kongfrontation. I was really impressed with how real the quasi-neighborhoods seemed. I was also impressed with how close they let us get to the monkey. I could have easily ripped all his fur off.
My favorite part of Kongfrontation may have been the closed circuit TVs in the ride queue showing vintage late eighties/early nineties WWOR programming (Universal owned the station at the time of the park’s opening). All these shows I thought I’d never see again after moving from the Tri-State area—“Steampipe Alley,” “Out of This World,” “The Munsters Today”—were brought back to life and preserved forever as part of a theme park ride second only to Jaws in terms of fun and excitement.
Seriously, all this ride needed was a cot and a functioning toilet and I probably could have lived there.
All good things come to an end, though. In 2002, Universal shut down Kongfrontation with little to no explanation. Rumor around town was the building that housed Kong was about to collapse (much like their main competitor Disney, Universal Studios Orlando doesn’t have to adhere to standard Orange County building codes). Whatever the case, thousands of people (including me) were sad. I didn’t start cutting myself or anything, though, because I always knew there was another animatronic monkey out west I’d one day visit.
Now, that guy’s dead, and I’ve got no monkeys to look forward to.
Universal Hollywood says they do not plan to rebuild the Kong portion of the Studio tour, that they will instead replace the burnt out crater with something more contemporary. I cringe at what this could mean. A Big Mama’s House encounter? Some kind of “Deal or No Deal” attraction? In all seriousness, it’ll probably be some kind of Mummy yazz like what they replaced Orlando Kong with. Yeah, Egypt is neat, but I like ol’ Banana Breath way more.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. I’m gonna miss you, buddy. You saw America through some rough times. The stock market crash, the first Gulf War, “Homeboys in Outer Space.” That’s all over now. We’re better people, though, and we couldn’t have done it without you.
Here’s looking at you, chimp.
By the way, Universal, if you ever even think of permanently shutting down the Jaws ride, I will make it my business to completely destroy you.
P.S. – Michael Fay, the kid who got caned in Singapore for vandalism, worked on the Kongfrontation ride shortly after returning to the U.S. I got him as a ride operator once. He did a pretty good job, but everyone knew who he was and you could taste the contempt/pity for him in the air. I’m pretty sure I made some kind of snide comment as I exited the ride. He had the look of a slightly broken soul, but hey, he dug his own grave. Who the fuck is dumb enough to break the law in Singapore? Shithead.
P.P.S – No one had King Kong in the death pool.