'70s - KC & The Sunshine Band (2013)
'I'm (Still) Your Boogie Man - The Life & Times of Harry 'KC' Casey'
Let me start by saying as much as you may think you know all there is about the huge musical legacy that is KC & The Sunshine Band, trust me, up until now you've known very little!
Indeed, the seeds of KC & The Sunshine Band have been infinitely told on the internet as being a chance meeting of minds between South Florida boys Harry Wayne 'KC' Casey and Richard Finch. A meeting that supposedly happened on night whilst both working at the attic studio of T.K. Records, above the warehouse of Tones Distributors.
But this is 100% untrue, as you will soon find out when you read what is undoubtedly one of the most revealing interviews with KC ever printed.
But become a fast success they did. KC & The Sunshine Band released two singles from their first album, Do It Good and hit the R&B charts when 'Blow Your Whistle' went to #27 in the fall of ’73 and 'Sound Your Funky Horn' made it to #21 in early ’74.
It was in late '74 when 'Queen Of Clubs' reached the U.K. Top 10, and the Sunshine Band was in demand for live gigs all around the country. KC then wrote 'Rock Your Baby' for George McCrae, before the #1 smash 'Get Down Tonight' got us all on the dance floor. When their follow-up, 'That’s The Way (I Like It)' climbed to the top of the charts a mere six months later it was all systems go for the band.
The band was riding high on the disco craze of the mid-70's when they released Part 3, an album that contained a year’s worth of smashes, including three chart-toppers: 'Shake Your Booty' and 'I’m Your Boogie Man,' in 1975 and 'Keep It Comin’ Love,' in 1976. At the end of the decade, when disco was dead, many thought the end had also come for KC & The Sunshine Band. But the group returned with a soft ballad, 'Please Don't Go' in 1979. That same year KC even did a duet with Teri DeSario on the US number 2 hit 'Yes, I'm Ready' on the Casablanca label.
Since those heady years the band has had its ups and downs, lost original band members and even seen KC himself injured in a head-on collision in his own car. But here in 2013, with KC & The Sunshine Band celebrating their 40th Anniversary they have just announced a new two disc album as well as a new single, 'I Can't Get You Out of My Mind.'
Set for a Spring release I recently sat down with the man himself Harry Wayne 'KC' Casey for an in-depth chat about the good, the bad ... and the penguins (or ducks in his case!)
Because there are a lot of misleading stories online, once and for all where were the seeds of you meeting Richard Finch and becoming KC & The Sunshine Band actually sown? "Well, there's been someone out there trying to rewrite history and it's really pissed me off a little bit. Anyway, I was managing an artist by the name of Timmy Thomas at the attic studio of T.K. Records and we went to do a concert with Rare Earth that I had booked him on. Once there the audience were all blowing whistles. And so all the way back on the plane I wrote this song called 'Blow Your Whistle'."
"But one month prior to that I'd gone to a wedding at Betty Wright's house and she'd hired a Junkanoo band. And a Junkanoo band is a Caribbean group who play steel drums, cow bells, whistles, horns and stuff. And it is just such a very infectious sound. So when I was in Washington D.C. for this Rare Earth concert and everybody in the audience had whistles I thought wow! I then put two and two together and thought it would be great to put this sound on record."
"So I went into the studio and I put down this song called 'Blow Your Whistle.' I called in the Junkanoo band and some other musicians at T.K. and recorded the song. It wasn't the second single, but maybe the third that we recorded. I knew Rick Finch was there and was doing some engineering and mixing of some of the records at T.K. and I think it was suggested that we hook up and he maybe mix one of the singles."
And, for the record, when did the South Florida boy known as Harry Wayne Casey suddenly adopt the moniker of KC? "All my life people have called me Casey, but working in that warehouse when you ordered a record every record label company had a prefix. Atlantic Records was SD, Motown was MS, Reprise was RP and Columbia Records was KC. I don't know if that just stuck in my head, but I knew I didn't want to use my actual name at all so I somehow used the KC. And because we live in the Sunshine State it was the Sunshine Band."
"But there was really no band," he gently laughs. "It was just all studio musicians. There was really no actual band or anything. It was just me and this name that I had created. And so if I'd have had to go out on the road I would have just hired people to go. Because there really was no group!"
So, as success came knocking, KC & The Sunshine Band was just four core members and some session musicians? "Yes, that's right. It was pretty much all studio guys."
So today you are the last original man standing, correct? "I am."
So up on stage, playing live, do you still think of them being up there with you? "I think of a lot of things when I'm up on stage. Mostly trying to remember the words to the songs," he laughs.
I have always termed your music as a "funky disco blend," but how would you yourself describe it? "Well, it started out as this Junkanoo sound from the Caribbean. And there was definitely some R&B-pop in there too. When I started this idea of KC & The Sunshine Band in my head or when I was writing the music, I just thought music was really dark at the time."
"So I was just trying to write this album that was all hi-energy and trying not to put any ballads or stuff on it at all. I just wanted it to be this driving record from Side A to Side B. That was my goal and that's what I wanted it to be. And so that's what I recorded. It was very percussive. And when you were around it it was just so very infectious."
Because KC & The Sunshine Band were a musical success right out of the gate, did that surprise you at the time? "I knew, to a certain extent that they were great songs. I knew they were hits, pretty much. I didn't know how big of hits they were going to be, but I felt that they were very commercial. That they had a sound to them. Songs like 'Get Down Tonight' and 'That's The Way' I knew they were hit records for sure."
So you're telling me it's possible to write and record a song and know that it will be a hit single right there and then? "I think because of my knowledge of music at the time, yes. I was an avid record collector and paid attention to the writing and everything about music. I sold records in a retail record store. So I knew what a hit record was. I do have that knack, where I can hear a record and can tell you if it will be a success."
Has that always worked for you? "No, I've been wrong a few times, but I think the only reason I was wrong was because the record companies didn't get behind the records like they do some others. So the public didn't get to hear them. But yeah, I can pretty much listen to a record and pretty much tell you what's gonna be the single off of it."
With all that success back in the day, in reflection is there anything you wish you had done differently? "At that time, no there was no reason to ever have done anything differently. I was number one. Every record I put out went to number one. I came from a company that had a lot of one hit wonders so once we had the first hit, then the second hit everything was good. And then, of course there was 'Rock Your Baby' before all of that. So I was a number one songwriter and producer with another artist before KC & The Sunshine Band actually went to number one."
"My records were being played in Europe and everywhere else, and have been since 1973! From the very first record I charted on the R&B charts at #18 or whatever it was. So from my very first record I got air play and had sales. So it was all looking pretty good, you know what I mean."
I do, but you also have admitted that there was a dark time for you with regard drugs and alcohol. So with all your success were you now using those to cope, to balance things out, perhaps? "No, it wasn't to cope. I never did anything like that to cope with anything. I did it because I enjoyed it. I just got caught up in it a little bit. It wasn’t the beginning of anything and it wasn't the end of anything. Every decision I've ever made has been a conscious decision, pretty much."
But you still left the business at the top of your game "Yes, I left the business after having a number one record, because I just didn't want to do it any more. For ten years or more, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and practically seven days a week I was in the recording studio. I had no life and I just decided to stop and smell the roses in a big way," he gently laughs.
So what eventually brought you back to the music business? "I did a national TV show here and I realized I had left something behind that I still loved. My father died in '84 just around the same time that 'Give It Up' was a huge hit and I just realized that I'd stopped doing what I really loved to do. That bell went off in my head, but I was still doing drugs at the time. So in '95 I checked into rehab. I made a choice: it was either going to be my career or doing drugs. And I chose my career."
You are speaking very openly and honestly now about this time in your life, but have you ever mentored other younger musicians in the good, bad and the ugly that can be the music scene? "If somebody asked me to I would, but why would I want to bring something up like that to somebody anyway, you know what I mean. I've never really done any mentoring where I've had any reason to talk about my life, or how I got involved in drugs. I don't believe drugs took me off course at all. I just quit. I just didn't want to do it any more."
"This business is so political and I had no life. And I wanted my life back. I wanted to just live. I just wanted to be like everybody else for a minute. Some people go too far with the drugs, sure. I had a drug problem but mine was not as deep as you might think. It was a drug problem, but it wasn't as bad as some people I knew. I wasn't shooting up heroin. There were days that I didn't even do it. I didn't have to have it every day. But I was a drug addict. I was on drugs and I was drinking to counteract the drugs I was taking."
What was your drug of choice at the time? "It was mostly coke with some pills here and there. Where I would take one pill my friends would take ten. Or if I had a little bit of coke, my coke would have to last the next day or the day after. Whereas my friends their coke had to be gone all within an hour, you know. So was I a drug addict? Yes. Did I do drugs? Yes. I don't ever feel though that I was at the capacity that I've seen some people around me. I wasn't always out of it."
"So around that time I didn't make a lot of decisions. But I don't think I didn't make them because of the influence of drugs or anything. I made them because of the way I felt. I've never really been a follower of anyone or anything. I might hang on or hang around, but I've never been a follower. So, pretty much that's the way it went."
Something we share is that you had back surgery (although yours due to a car crash). So performing live do you still feel lower back pain on stage, perhaps? "Yeah, I still have numbness in my legs and stuff from it sometimes. I have to be careful what I do up there too. I can't really jump or put too much impact on it because that effects the leg sometimes. Of course I'm a little sore in the mornings, but once I get up and move around a little bit I'm fine."
"Sitting on a plane can get a little uncomfortable sometimes too. So I just get up and move about a little, stretch in the chair a bit. I'm always gonna have some pain there, but I don't take anything for it. Unless it gets severe at times. I learned that by stretching and exercising it helps a lot. I mean, can I bend the way I used to bend, no," he laughs, "so doing things a certain way is a challenge for me at times."
With all those hits under your belt, all the tours accomplished, and all the awards bestowed on you, which one still today gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment? "Everything I've done," he laughs. "All the Grammy awards, even being nominated nine times, getting my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I'm getting another one in Palm Springs on July 6th. Anytime your peers acknowledge what you've done that's exciting and thrilling."
Are you still proud to be part of the music business today, given the way it's seemingly been headed lately? "I'm very proud to be part of it, yes. I look at life with a clear head though. I love the music of today, but do I love all of it, no. Have I always liked all of it, no. I try to look at life and everything with an open mind. I can't just sit back because I like the records of the '60s and say everything after that sounds like shit," he laughs. "So I don't pigeon hole myself into any particular period or date or time or whatever. I enjoy the success of all the younger people."
Yes, younger stars such as Justin Beiber seem to have taken over the music world now! "My God, the success they have compared to the way we had is just crazy. The amount of records they sell. I think I probably get a little envious of all that, but you have to try and look at life with an open mind. I hate change. I really hate change. So for me to accept it and go with it is a big thing for me. But I'm pretty good with going with the flow and picking up on what's happening now. Or trying to, at least."
You have a new 2-CD album coming out this Spring and a brand new single entitled 'I Can't Get You Out of My Mind' out now! So please tell us more about this new album "There's 17 new original songs and 17 songs from the '60s."
So, what was writing a new album of original songs like for you in this day and age? "There was a DJ in the UK by the name of Bimbo Jones. A very famous DJ and remixer and he sent me over a track back in May 2011. And around December 2011 I still hadn't done anything with it. And I knew he was coming over in March 2012 to the Winter Music Conference here so I sat down and began to write him an email saying that I was sorry I hadn't gotten to the track, that it was the holidays and that I was going on vacation in January. And so when we get together in March we'll just see where we can take this. Because nothing was coming to me."
"But I'd no sooner sent this email that I thought I would just go back and listen to this track. So I put the track on and the next thing I know the words and the melody are just flying out of my head onto the paper. And I just couldn't stop it. It was like I'd come out of some kind of coma or something," he quietly laughs. "I just don't know how to explain it. So he sent me a second song and the same thing happened to that one. I just got reenergized by it all."
And because we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, does the new album have a title yet? "It's called Feeling You."
How has the marketing been going for the new single, 'I Can't Get You Out of My Mind'? "Well, I took it over to a radio station. Now, I've had it mixed by the top DJs in the world and the country who've just had a number one record with Justin Beiber or whoever. And the station had the nerve to tell me it sounded "dated"! And yet they'll turn around and play a Bruno Mars record that sounds like it was recorded in 1975, you know. But something I bring them in sounds dated. It just doesn't add up to me."
That's an interesting hurdle, so how are you going to get over that? "I'll get over it somehow because somebody somewhere will always play my record."
And so with the second disc being all your favorites from the '60s, it must have been tough to pick and choose the final 17? "It was tough," he laughs, "but I first made a huge list and then it just somehow narrowed down to these 17. And it's such a versatile set of 17, you know. There are some Motown on there, but I had to try and stay away from Motown because I could have easily done the whole album in Motown. But that's something else I'd like to do down the line. So I had to be careful and not take a lot of Motown songs. I had to put some restraints on what I selected in order to make it a more versatile, varied collection."
About this new album you've been quoted as saying, "I'm ready to do it all again. Who knows what God has in store for me." Being a religious man, are you looking at this as being the next guided chapter in your life? "I would think so, but it's kinda strange that it would happen at the 40 year mark of my career. That I would be as energized as I was 40 years ago in the same manner. Not only have I done this for myself, but I am so motivated that I wrote a new song for the Village People called 'Let's Go Back To The Dancefloor.' So I've just finished recording and producing that record for them."
"And that again just came out of nowhere. It all just reminds me of when I was working on this album back in 1973 for KC & The Sunshine Band. And then this song came out of nowhere that I wrote for George McCrae. And now this song has come out of nowhere for the Village People. And it's just the perfect song for them. It's just strange that 40 years later some of the same kind of things are happening that happened when I was 20 years old, all those years ago."
So, in all those 40 years has anything changed for you in the recording of a song? "It's different. Back then when we did background sessions or whatever we had to sing through the whole song. But now you do it one time and they fly it everywhere. They take it and copy and paste it wherever else it needs to go. So there's been some things like that. And some things take up more time than the old way. It's been quite different and I've tried to keep some of the heart in the records as much as possible. Without taking the heart and soul out of recordings."
And so lastly, throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins! So do you also and/or do you have a story about one, perhaps?! "I have ducks, I don't have penguins," he laughs. "I have a duck called Miracle. He's about three years old and I hatched him from an egg. I had to teach this duck how to go into the water, but he doesn't like water so much."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
“Shake Your Booty” on July 19th with KC & The Sunshine Band at Chesaning Showboat Amphitheater, MI!!
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