KC and the Sunshine Band still going strong | Interview | Savannah News, Events, Restaurants, Music
In the 1970s, Harry Wayne Casey was one artist who surely seemed to have his finger on the type of songs that would be top 40 radio hits.
The man who would become known to millions as KC of KC and the Sunshine Band enjoyed minor success with a pair of early singles, 1973’s ‘Blow Your Whistle’ and 1974’s ‘Sound Your Funky Horn’. on Miami-based label TK Records before releasing the band’s self-titled debut album in 1975.
And when he came up with a song he called “Get Down Tonight,” Casey knew he had a game-changing song for the album.
“I even remember a story. It came on “Billboard” at No. 98 one week and the next week it dropped. I went to see the record label owner, who was Henry Stone at the time. I said ‘Henry, what’s going on? I have a smashing record,” Casey recalled in a recent phone interview. “He says, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ And six weeks later, it was number 1.”
Between 1975 and 1977, the group landed three more No. 1 hits – “That’s the Way (I Like It”), “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty”, “I’m Your Boogie Man and a No.2 single in “Keep It Comin’ Love.” Another chart topper, “Please Don’t Go,” came in 1979. Casey says he knew each of those songs was going to be a hit.
“I always had a feeling when I was writing the song and when I was in the studio, I could kind of feel this really mysterious aura happening while recording certain songs,” he said.
“The only one I wasn’t really sure about was ‘Shake Your Booty,'” Casey explained. “’Shake Your Booty’ seemed to happen so, like I said, it was just easier. It was faster. And I felt like that wasn’t going to happen. But I really learned a quick lesson because before the record even came out, we went to Dallas, Texas for a gig. We put the song. We played it and the crowd went crazy. And I knew I could be a little wrong on this one.
These songs made KC and the Sunshine Band one of the biggest stars of the disco era – and in fact, “Get Down Tonight” was released long before the term disco was used to describe music and before the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People joined the scene and led an army of acts that sought to capitalize on the trend.
But the huge success of the 1970s wasn’t all fun and games for Casey. While he spent much of his time writing and recording songs, the KC and Sunshine Band tours had their share of tough times.
“I can only describe it in one word. It was lonely,” Casey said of her touring life. “I was on top of the world, but the loneliest person I think I’ve known on the planet at the time.”
The reason for isolation was its popularity. Casey spent several days on the road cooped up alone in his hotel room with a pair of guards posted outside the door, while crowds of fans flocked to hotels hoping to see – or even meet – Casey .
“Sometimes I could just take a commercial flight home after the show and sleep in my own bed, then fly on another plane and go back to the show the next day,” Casey recalled. “I didn’t need to have a private jet because commercial planes flew hourly on the hour from pretty much anywhere we were. And when they didn’t, I just stayed in room. I don’t remember much of what I did during the day.
The glory days of KC and the Sunshine Band – like almost all disco artists – came to an end, as punk/new wave became the next big thing as the 1970s turned into the 1980s.
Casey had another top 5 hit, “Yes I’m Ready,” a duet with Teri DeSario, in 1980, but the new decade was otherwise trying. He and his longtime partner, Richard Finch, have separated. TK Records went bankrupt, and KC and the Sunshine Band released four albums (three after signing with Epic Records), but only managed a modest hit single with “Give It Up” in 1984. The following year , Casey left the music industry.
“I didn’t want to have to worry about anything. I was kind of finished, frustrated with the whole political part of it all and just wanted out,” Casey said. “I found myself wanting to run away from something that I loved more than anything in the world.
“I had my last hit in 1984 or whatever, and I just decided that was it,” he said. “I had finished.”
Casey spent the next decade out of the spotlight and essentially, as he put it, doing nothing.
But the 1990s brought a resurgence of interest in the 70s, especially disco. Eventually, Casey was enticed to get back into the music industry.
“In the 10 years I’ve been hanging out and partying and doing stuff, my friends were always like, ‘Why don’t you come back there? Do you listen to the radio? Everybody’s imitating you,'” Casey said. “I kept laughing about it, and it wasn’t until Arsenio Hall did his TV show, and I got a call from a friend of mine, ‘Have you seen Arsenio Hall? He wants to do a group reunion on his show. And I thought ‘Maybe I’ll do this.’ So I called him, did all the arrangements, got a band together and went out and did the TV show and bells started ringing in my head. I started to realize you know what, I miss doing this.
Casey and the current version of KC and the Sunshine Band – 15 strong musicians, singers and dancers – have been touring ever since.
The live show, of course, features 70s hits, with a handful of other original songs and covers of hit songs from other 1960s bands that KC and the Sunshine Band recorded on their 2015 album. , “Feeling You! The 60s.”
Aside from some differences in song selection, Casey sees another significant difference between the current shows and the gigs from the band’s heyday in the 1970s.
“This show is definitely more choreographed than the shows I did at the time. I mean, there was certain choreography that we did at certain points in the show, but this whole show is choreographed, and has been since I came back (in the 90s),” he said. “It’s definitely a more choreographed show, per se, as far as music and dancing and all that kind of stuff. It’s very different now because we don’t have all the corners (speakers of control) on stage and things you might bump into because of the invention of in-ear (monitors) and all that.
The set list is likely to have a few additions before long, thanks to a single, “Give Me Some More (Aye Yai Yai)” – co-written with Tony Moran and Chic’s Nile Rogers, no less – which is released in 2019. Now a new single, “Romantica”, has been released. And Casey has been working on a new album he hoped to release before the pandemic, but ended up delaying as he and the Sunshine Band couldn’t tour.
“It was a five-year project,” Casey said of the album. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, I think.”
KC and the Sunshine Band perform at the Johnny Mercer Theater at the Savannah Civic Center on Sundays. April 9, 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information are at savannahcivic.com