Gary James' Interview With Harry Casey of
K. C. and the Sunshine Band
Some music is timeless. It sounds like it could've been recorded yesterday. Such is the case with the music of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. The group was popular in the mid-1970s and they continue to have a strong following today.
At the very height of their fame, K.C. and the Sunshine Band became the first act to score three number one singles in one year since The Beatles in 1964. ("Get Down Tonight", "That's The Way I Like It", and "Shake Your Booty")
We're proud to present the voice of K.C. and the Sunshine Band - Mr. Harry Casey.
Q - Harry, it must be a nice feeling to know that your music has never really gone out of style. Are you at all surprised that there is still this interest in your music and your band?
A - I guess in a way, you can be surprised. When we were doing it, I don't think I ever thought that far ahead, how my music would be accepted thirty years from the date of creation. So, I would say to some extent I'm surprised. I mean, they were great songs.
Q - They've stood the test of time, that's for sure.
A - Yeah, they have. (laughs)
Q - Has anyone ever covered on of your hits? I can't think of anybody.
A - Well, I know Rob Zombie did "I'm Your Boogie Man" and Spin Doctors did "That's The Way I Like It". There was a re-make of "Please Don't Go" by two different artists in Europe. You know, they've been covered here and there. They've been sampled a lot, over one hundred and fifty some odd samples.
Q - If you had not met Rick Finch, would there have been a K.C. and the Sunshine Band? Did you need a songwriting partner?
A - I was writing before I met Rick and actually I created the band before Rick Finch. Basically, the first album, I wrote. Who's to say what would've happened? Rick was very talented too.
Q - How many of the original members of The Sunshine Band are still with you?
A - Well, Simon, who played percussion on the records is still with me. The original organist passed away and the original guitarist passed away. There's really just like four of us. The horns were all studio musicians.
Q - You've got a pretty full schedule with your touring. I did notice that on some days, "Private" is listed. Does that mean you do corporate shows?
A - Right.
Q - You're already booked for New Year's Eve, 2006.
A - Yes, we are.
Q - Isn't that rather unusual, to be booked that far in advance?
A - Our New Year's Eve gets booked up pretty quick every year.
A - We have a book. I'm just releasing a CD called "In A Mellow Mood", which is a collection of seventeen mid-tempo, slow songs from different albums.
Q - What did you write about in this book of yours?
A - It was a table-top book. Somebody wanted to do a table-top book on me, so, it's a lot of pictures with story... a lot of the history of the band.
Q - How long did it take you to write "Get Down Tonight"?
A - I'm not sure. I don't know if it took me a long time once I decided it was gonna be called "Get Down Tonight". It was originally called "What You Want, Is What You'll Get". (laughs) So, that was the original working title for that song. I somehow decided that that didn't work and I came up with "Get Down Tonight".
Q - How did you get so lucky to get that initial job at TK Records, even if it was only boxing up records?
A - I don't know how much of it was luck and how much of it was just determination. Actually, the first time I asked them to hire me, they said they didn't have any openings. I kept hanging around and I really didn't get paid for boxing up records. They would kind of give me free copies of records or something for doing it. I had nothing to do, so I just started pitching in around there to let them know I wanted to be there and I wasn't some bum off the street, wanting everything done for me. I wanted to prove to them I was worthy of being there, no matter what the job was.
Q - And you actually played keyboards on other people's recording sessions?
A - I did a few times, yes. I co-wrote some songs and did background vocals.
Q - At one point, K.C. and the Sunshine Band was working six to nine months a year. That's a lot of road work.
A - Actually, we didn't tour that much back in the 70s because we had all these other artists under our hat. My touring was really limited. I tour more now than I did back then.
Q - You left T.K. Records and signed with Epic Records. But, Epic Records didn't pick up where T.K. Records left off.
A - No, they didn't.
Q - What was the problem?
A - I'm not sure. I don't know. At the time, Michael Jackson was signed to that label and they were putting a lot of effort into Michael Jackson. It kind of felt like that. The first album I put out with them, they said how great it was and it really wasn't that good. I remember going in and telling them "I'm not a charity case here. Don't tell me something's great and you're not behind it. If it's not great, I want to know so I can make it great."
Q - You actually made a stop in Syracuse in 1976 with...
A - The Jackson Five.
Q - They were the headliners?
A - Right.
Q - There was a third group.
A - Probably The Commodores.
Q - You played the Onondaga County War Memorial.
A - I remember that show. I have it on tape as a matter of fact. I recorded it.
Q - Why would you do that?
A - I used to have all the shows recorded.
Q - Were you looking to put out a "live" album down the road?
A - To really just go back and listen to them and make corrections in the show or whatever I think, so we all knew what we were doing, so if something wasn't right, we could fix it.
Q - Your band was the first act to score three number one singles since The Beatles. That's some accomplishment!
A - Yeah, it was. All of our records went to number one or they didn't chart very well at all. (laughs) So, it was really kind of unusual.
Q - You had an auto accident that left you in a wheelchair? I never heard about that before.
A - What it was, I severely pinched a nerve in my upper back. There were times when I was in the hospital the first couple weeks, that I couldn't really do anything but roll around in the wheelchair, 'cause I was in so much pain on my right side.
Q - But, you're OK now?
A - I am, but, I have some disability from that. I've had back surgery since then. I still get up there and give the people 100%
Q - Is it true you had to learn how to walk again?
A - I don't know about having to learn to walk again. It's like having to learn to walk again. It's re-learning a lot of things, basically from physical therapy.
Q - Did you actually retire in 1985 and return in 1991?
A - I did.
Q - So in that six year period, what did you do with yourself?
A - I partied my butt off. I over-partied. I got really heavy into drugs and alcohol and stuff. Just partied.
Q - Didn't you get tired of that after about two weeks?
A - There'd be a couple of times I'd realize that I was really hooked and wondered if I'd get off of it and what was gonna happen. I'd stop for a couple of days and get back into it.
Q - It seems like when you had the kind of success you had, it's the ultimate high. What else do you need?
A - Well, at that point, I just thought I didn't want to have anything to do with the business anymore. I was always such a goody two shoes that I wanted to be Mr. Bad Guy.
Q - And now you're back to being Mr. Middle? Not goody two shoes, not Mr. Bad Guy?
A - (laughs) Well, all good really. I mean, I don't really do drugs anymore. I'm clean and sober with that. I might have a cocktail every now and then, but that's it.
Q - I've heard this question asked to you before. Your band was always labeled a disco band because of the era you found yourself in. But, you never thought of the band as a disco band...
A - Well, we were R&B. Disco music wasn't out when we were successful. It was after two years or in '78, after we'd already been out for three years. All of a sudden Saturday Night Fever came out and now everybody was disco.
Q - Especially since your music was played so much in the discos.
A - Well, they did. Discos started back in the early 70s when they would just spin records. Basically, when you would go to a club, they'd be spinning the latest 45s.
Q - Your music sounds like it was recorded last week, last month.
A - Yeah, it is amazing. We actually recorded all of it, the first part of it on 8 track tape machines.
Q - Well, Sgt. Pepper was recorded on 8 track as well.
A - Yup.
Q - You go with what you have at the time.
A - That's it. That's what everybody used.
Q - At one point, there was a terrible backlash against disco music. At a stadium, they were breaking records of the disco artists. Why do you think there was such a backlash?
A - There was one guy and he apologized to me a couple of years ago; trying to pull some kind of a stunt for his baseball team or something and the stunt went beyond what he anticipated it to do. The only other thing I can think of is we were a new kind of music. It was like when The Beatles came out. It was like when Elvis Presley came out. Everybody fought it and all this crap. They didn't want to accept change. We were right there when music was changing. A little bit of it was a threat to regular rockers.
Q - And guys resented it, because they couldn't dance as John Travolta.
A - It had nothing to do with dancing. It had to do with the music. Music was changing. Just like there's a lot of Rap music now. If you don't rap, it's hard to have a hit record. So, it's just the same kind of thing. We changed what music was in the 70s like The Beatles did in the 60s and Elvis did in the 50s.
Q - The Super Bowl 1999. How exciting was that for you to perform at?
A - Everything I've done has been exciting. It's all been amazing. It's been an amazing trip, an amazing ride. Sometimes, just when you think you've done it all, you do one more bigger thing or one more equal big thing. It's great to be part of it, to be invited.