KC and the Sunshine Band (Contemporary Musicians)
Starting out in the music business, Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey (otherwise known as "KC") couldn't know they would become staples of the huge 1970s disco craze. Their debut as KC and the Sunshine Band was a flop, with a single titled "Blow Your Whistle" doing almost nothing in the music scene, even on the local charts. Many bands would have given up. But a song they wrote for George McRae called "Rock Your Baby" found wide acceptance and gave the band another shot at fame. They captured the momentum and went on to produce their first hit single, "Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty," which was among the songs that first launched the disco era.
Harry Wayne "KC" Casey and Richard Finch met in 1972 while working for TK Records in Miami, Florida. Casey displayed an enthusiasm for music and performing that caught Finch's eye, and the two quickly hit it off. They soon decided to start up a band of their own called KC and the Sunshine Band. During rehearsals Casey's stage presence was formidable, and the two knew they had something.
The style they developed was a dance-friendly pop beat with a big sound. "I loved the Motown sound, the Stax sound, all that old Atlantic stuff," Casey told John Wirt of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Advocate. Casey grew up listening to soul and R&B music, but was always disappointed by the albums as a whole. He told Wayne Bledsoe of Tennessee's Knoxville News-Sentinel, "You'd buy an album and half of it would be slow and sad, and I'd think 'What a drag.'" The energetic Cuban and Bahamian-inspired music scene in Miami helped the duo put together a band of talented and hungry musicians who loved to be onstage and project an enthusiastic dance sound.
When the band thought they had a good song on their hands they released it. Not much happened at first. The group's first single, "Blow Your Whistle," began to show some signs of life in the South, and their next two singles, "Blow Your Funky Horn" and "Queen of Clubs," found a European audience. But KC and the Sunshine Band were still stuck as a studio banderforming occasionally to hone their skills, and recording singles, while hoping one would take off.
They got the break they were looking for when they released their fourth single, "Get Down Tonight." Casey told Bledsoe, "It broke everywhereoom! But I knew the night we finished [recording] it that it was a hit." By this time the band had built a solid reputation on stage as the perfect band to dance to. Though their live shows had up to 12 band members on stage hammering out beat-heavy tunes for Miami's dance crowds, KC and the Sunshine Band actually had only four official members: the two founders, plus guitarist Jerome Smith and drummer Robert Johnson.
The up-tempo simple beat of "Get Down Tonight" helped introduce disco music to the world. One of the reasons the song took off so quickly was that it wasn't like anything else on the radio at the time. The bubble-gum, feel-good pop rock of David Cassidy clashed with the heavy sounds of Led Zeppelin, without much happening in between on the Top 40. But there was a hunger for dance friendly R&B music with a pop beat.
With their hit getting serious radio play, the band knew it was time to make a full album. "[Our goal] was to make a non-stop party album. So if you were having a party you could throw it on and listen to the up-tempo the entire time," Casey told Jason Macneil of the Toronto Sun. "That made it danceable and people love to dance." Every song on their 1974 debut album, Do It Good, shared the same happy beat. It was custom made for the dance floor.
"Our music was R&B, and it was our sound that became the disco sound," Casey told Wirt. "I wasn't really happy with the tag at the time. They never know where to put us in the record stores. 'Do we put them under dance? Do we put them under R&B? Do we put them under pop?'"
KC and the Sunshine Band followed their first international hit with songs such as "That's the Way (I Like It)" and "Shake Your Booty." They rode the wave of disco to the top of the music business and capped it off with a track, "Boogie Shoes," on what would become the best-selling album of all time up until that point in time, the movie soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
By the end of their run in the 1970s, the band had collected an impressive three Grammy Awards and nine Grammy nominations, and had sold more than 100 million records worldwide. But with the 1980s came the death of disco. The backlash was sudden and harsh. Bands like The Police and the punk movement were shifting the popular music scene back to the guitar and away from the dance floor. Many bands that were associated with the disco sound quickly lost their contracts and their livelihoods.
Even Casey, with his endless energy and enthusiasm, was about to call it quits. A single he had co-written titled "Please Don't Go" suddenly hit the charts in the United Kingdom, and went on to make some noise in the States. But "Please Don't Go" would end up being the swan song for a band that had helped to define a decade of music.
In the 1980s the subject matter of songs started to branch out from the love-heavy themes of disco, and the guitar licks began to drown out the disco beats, but pop music still carried some of the influence of disco sound, even on albums like Michael Jackson's Thriller or The Clash's London Calling. Casey had to sit through an entire generation of music that would not have existed without the influence of disco.
In the 1990s, after living in obscurity for over a decade, Casey began to see a resurgence of interest in the old disco material. A 1970s revival was apparently in the making. DJs were using songs like "Shake, Shake, Shake" in their club mixes, while cable channels like VH1 were delving into pop music's past with their popular Behind the Music series. Casey's drug addiction in the 1980s provided material for the hit TV show, and Behind the Music aired an episode on KC and the Sunshine Band in 1998. "I was the typical Behind the Music story," Casey told Ed Condran of the Virginian-Pilot. "It starts out and everything is wonderful, and a half hour into the show I was on drugs."
In the fast-changing pop music climate, Casey lobbied hard for a revival tour. In the 1990s he took the Sunshine Band back on the road, selling out large venues and introducing disco music to a new generation of fans. KC and the Sunshine Band continue to perform nearly 100 shows a year, and have released several well-received greatest hits collections.
The group's songs have been featured in television ads for everything from Burger King to General Motors, a sure sign of their influence on popular culture. Hollywood has continuously used their material in movies. "This is all pretty amazing to me still," Casey told Sar Perlman of New Times Broward-Palm Beach. "It's been a wild ride and nobody can really explain as to why, when or how we hit it; it just happened. I enjoy our success very much, and I'm really lucky to be able to do what I love doing."
Do It Good, TK, 1974.
In Concert, Rhino, 1974.
KC and the Sunshine Band, MCI, 1975.
The Sound of Sunshine, TK, 1975.
Part 3, TK, 1976.
I Like To Do It, President, 1977.
(Contributor) Saturday Night Fever (soundtrack), Polygram, 1977.
(Contributor) Eyes of Laura Mars (soundtrack), Columbia, 1977.
Who Do Ya Love, TK, 1978.
Do You Wanna Go Party, TK, 1979.
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, Hollywood, 1980.
Greatest Hits, TK, 1980.
Space Cadet, TK, 1981.
The Painter, Epic, 1981.
Their Greatest Hits, Epic, 1983.
KC Ten, Mecca, 1984.
The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band, Rhino, 1990.
Greatest Hits Vol. 2, Hollywood, 1990.
Get Down, Hot, 1990.
Game of Love, Capitol, 1990.
That's the Way, Alex, 1991.
Oh Yeah!, ZYX, 1993.
KC and the Sunshine Band and More, Rhino, 1994.
Get Down Live!, Intersound, 1995.
The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band, Rhino, 1995.
Part 3 and More, Rhino, 1995.
Greatest Dance Hits, Curb, 1995.
(Contributor) Robocop: The Series (soundtrack), Rhino, 1995.
The Gold Collection, EMI Gold, 1996.
(Contributor) People vs. Larry Flynt (soundtrack), Columbia, 1996.
(Contributor) Hotel de Love (soundtrack), Milan, 1997.
(Contributor) Casper (soundtrack), MCA, 1997.
Box of KC and the Sunshine Band, Rhino, 1997.
New Best One, JVC Japan, 1999.
Get Down Tonight, Varese, 2003.
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), July 11, 2003.
Knoxville News-Sentinel, October 17, 2003.
New Times Broward-Palm Beach (Florida), December 26, 2002.
Toronto Sun, August 22, 2003.
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), June 7, 2002.
"KC and the Sunshine Band," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (December 7, 2003).
Additional information was provided by Reprise publicity materials, 1996.