‘Aint nowhere in the world like Vegas,’ says Jimmy who doesn’t gamble or drink and has been married to his congenial wife Sandy for a considerable number of years. ‘We came out here after the worst snowstorm in New York history. I wanted somewhere warmer, somewhere I could ride my motorbikes and I’d had my eye on Vegas for a long time.’
In this sense Castor is the typical East Coast retiree relocating to the South West for year round warmth. Born in 1943, Castor, like many others of his generation who have shifted West, lives off the fruits of his labours – specifically, the samples utilised by rap and pop producers from Jimmy’s back catalogue.
‘I’ve been sampled over 3000 times,’ says Castor. ‘First up were The Beastie Boys. They thought they could rape my music so I went to court over it. Luke Skywalker and a lot of other rappers were the same. They don’t know that Jimmy Castor’s from the ghetto, from the street, that he’s going to fight to protect his music. Well, they know now. You sample me you better damn sure pay me.’
Jimmy has a long, long list of who has sampled him; top of the list are The Spice Girls who bit the sax’ riff from Castor’s anthem It’s Just Begun for If You Can’t Dance, the last song on their debut album Spice (20 million sales): Jimmy got a royalty on every sale.
‘I wouldn’t say this is the house that Spice built,’ says Castor, ‘but, yeah, they helped with the down-payment.’
Is Jimmy retired?
‘No way! I still make music. Still put the Bunch together for concerts. Just not often.’
Ever play Vegas?
‘I’ve played Vegas. I should be on The Strip. I wanna be on The Strip. Why’s Barry Manilow on The Strip and not Jimmy Castor? It’s racism. Racism! My plan is to go to Europe, get a war chest, and then come and storm The Strip. It’s difficult ‘cos what they love here is fakes. And,’ adds Jimmy, ‘I’m the real deal.’
Castor looks great: slim, fit, bubbling with energy. Small of stature but big of presence, Jimmy Castor’s one of the great characters in post-war black American music. Castor’s music, full of novelty and inventiveness, good humour and sparkle, would ideally light up a casino. But Vegas music is Celine Dion and Elton John, square sounds. Also – and Jimmy doesn’t admit this – although he’s been involved in hits in every decade from the 50s to the 00s, he’s only had a handful under his own name. Barry Manilow may be abysmal but he’s sold zillions as Bazza; Castor Mansions were built by Jimmy being vigilant over his publishing royalties.
Born on June 2, 1943, in Harlem’s Sugar Hill district and raised by his mother and grandmother, Castor shined shoes and sold papers to help make ends meet. Learning violin, saxophone, piano and studying theory, he was accepted for the Music & Art High School (‘full of rich kids arriving in limousines with lots of talent but strung out on valium’) but back in Harlem he ran through the Projects with the Cobras and the Falcons (‘baseball teams but really gangs’). Doo-wop was the East Coast’s answer to the rock’n’roll explosion and teenage males could be found harmonising on streets, in stairwells and bathrooms. Aged 12 he formed Jimmy Castor & The Juniors and, in 1956, their song I Promise (written by Castor) was turned into a Top 10 R&B hit by the hottest doo-wop band in America: Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers.
‘Our block was always full of girls wanting to see the Teenagers – I lived on 165th Street, Frankie on 166th, Sherman (Garnes, the Teenagers’ basso voice) on 165, The Ronnettes on 168 – and I remember Fools Fall In Love becoming this huge hit, making them the first supergroup of colour, them getting on big buses and going off to tour. Seeing all that I knew music was what I wanted to do. When Frankie covered I Promise my first cheque was for $2500! Man, my family shifted straight out of the ghetto! No more living amongst ‘roaches and rats!’
READ THE COMPLETE JIMMY CASTOR INTERVIEW IN MORE MILES THAN MONEY