Jimmy Castor's out to revolutionise the business…
NO DOUBT some eyebrows may be raised at the title we've given to our latest conversation with the ever-genial Mr. Jimmy Castor! Anyone who's ever talked with Jimmy will attest that he is easily one of the warmest, for-real performers that you're likely to run across but when we caught Jimmy at the end of a week on the West Coast, he was — in his own words — "disgusted!"
Some explanations needed and Jimmy was quick to offer several. "Hell, the first thing that's really made me unhappy is the big difference between working here and on the East Coast. I've been performing mainly back there because our records do so very well but there are several missing links across the country which I feel have held me back from really breaking through. It's like we sell tons of records back there but here — there's no airplay on me. And, naturally, if there's no demand, I can't perform here."
Jimmy's comments on the lack of airplay only touch the surface of a situation that many young, black entertainers run into and Jimmy was in no doubt as to what the real root of the problem is.
"I've got to say that, firstly, if it wasn't for the discos back East in places like Boston and Washington D.C., we might not have broken through to the extent we did with "Bertha Butt Boogie" and the "Butt Of Course" album. That helped establish me as a crossover artist to an extent but when it comes down to it, I'm fighting that same old thing. Black acts simply don't get exposure on pop radio or on TV if their records don't hit big on the r&b charts. In other words, it's a racist situation.
"I like to think that my music has universal appeal: the way I've worked is to have something that appeals to everyone. Something like "Magic In The Music" would be a million seller if it were recorded by a major white act but, as it is, no pop stations will really play it because I'm still not regarded as a major act — even after twelve years! And I don't want to have to wait fifteen or twenty years like The Spinners or Gladys (Knight) to get over."
Jimmy's feelings on the matter are particularly strong and justifiably so. "You know, I'm really tired of the whole hustle of trying to get over when there are so many things and people standing in the way. Basically, the only way to really make it in this business is through records and television. Without one, you really can't get the other — if you're a black entertainer.
"And then the problem is that I don't try and cater for one particular market, I try to make sure that we always have something for each different segment of the public. "Bom Bom", for instance, is for all my Caribbean friends; "King Kong" is a novelty thing which follows in the tradition of "Bertha Butt". It's important to me, for instance, to have audiences that are racially mixed — 50/50 — but with no airplay in certain markets, it's really hard to get to the masses. And then, of course, we had to convince Atlantic Records from the start that I want to be a total entertainer.
"My partner, John Pruitt, and I have had to stay on the case with the company and I must say that in the past two years, we've come a mile together but in order for things to be the way I really want them to be, it's absolutely vital to have the total backing of the company."
Jimmy is hopeful that he has managed now to secure Atlantic's total assistance in his efforts to break down some of the barriers. "It's like we understand that the company does have other acts to promote and obviously, there is going to be a priority system in operation. But we've had to try and convince the company that I want to come across with that mass appeal. "King Kong" hasn't done as well as we might want it to and one of the reasons I'm given is that people don't want to hear novelty records all the time. But with the way things are these days in general, I do feel that people want to forget their heavy problems, so I hope my music helps them do just that.
"It's like there are certain areas now which will accept anything that I do, in whatever bag it is, but it's only with Atlantic's support that I can really break those other barriers. The company is planning a major national exposure/promotional campaign which will hopefully aid the situation but I'm certainly fully aware of what we are up against in terms of attitudes that still exist prominently in the media.
"The strangest thing is that on some occasions, those attitudes don't carry over to the public. We played a sold-out gig down in Louisville, Kentucky where we were the headline act over three white pop acts — which proves to me that my music is acceptable to all types of audiences. I guess that in itself may have been one of the problems because I don't want to be limited and restricted and constantly categorised."
Although Mr. Castor has many grounds for discontent — especially after twelve years of working hard to get to the position he's in today — he is, he says, optimistic about the future. "A lot of positive things are happening for me, don't get me wrong! We greatly enjoyed the European tour we did last year and I feel that we've only just begun to touch the surface there. Then, we just concluded an important publishing deal with Intersong in Germany. And, in the near future, I'm going to begin production on one or two acts that I want to cut."
As far as his own recording career goes, Jimmy expects to have a new single out soon — probably "Groove Will Make You Move" from his "Supersound" set — and he will be recording again soon.
"What happens basically is that we do an album whenever the company tells us it's time. Normally, John and I have ideas ahead of time and then we get ready and go in and do it — it usually only takes a few days! But one of the projects I want to do soon apart from my next legitimate album is an album featuring the horn as the central instrument."
Whatever Jimmy's future intentions and plans may be, he says he's determined "to revolutionise the business". In the immortal words of the Isley Bros., Jimmy wants to fight the power and try and get rid of some of the proverbial bullshit that is constantly going down. More power to him for his determination and his honesty in being right out front with a situation in terms of exposure and the media which has (and continues to have) a damaging effect on the careers of many fine, young black entertainers.
Hopefully, if Jimmy manages to break down some of the barriers, we can look for him to have his own TV comedy series because he is certainly one of the most amusing characters that you're likely to run into, even in the midst of all the problems. And with the kind of amiable personality that he possesses, Jimmy should be right up there — we all look forward to the day when he is!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.