KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND JULY 1975 INTERVIEW
THE MIAMI INNOVATION
A GREAT deal has been written about the emergence of the Miami Sound via names such as George and Gwen McCrae, Little Beaver and, of course, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, who are fronted by the two people perhaps most responsible for the actual sound that the T.K. Studio has given to the world. They are Harry Casey and Rick Finch, the keyboard and bass players with the Sunshine Band and, coincidentally, the two white members in an otherwise all-black band.

The whole Sunshine Band concept belongs to Harry and Rick, so perhaps that would be as good a place to start as any. Harry Wayne Casey, self-dubbed K.C., was born in Haileah, Florida, on January 31, 1951. He started off his career on a very humble note — selling records in a local record store, having always been an R&B record freak. When he found out about the whole T.K. operation in his home town, which is virtually a suburb of Miami, Harry took a job in the warehouse of the company's distribution company, Tone Distributors — then handling many of the big labels' distribution in the southern Florida area. Then once his working day was over, Harry would hang around the studio and become friendly with the whole T.K. gang, including Betty Wright, who was the first to record one of his compositions.

Bass player Richard 'Rick' Finch, hails from Indiannapolis, Indiana, being born there on January 25, 1954, but Rick's family moved south early in his life and settled in the Miami area. Rick joined the T.K. family by becoming studio maintenance engineer and immediately he and K.C. became firm friends.

The rest of the nine-piece Sunshine Band are Jerome 'J' Smith, guitarist and longest serving member of the band within the T.K. organization, having been lead guitarist with Betty Wright's Band for almost two years prior to joining K.C. Then there's drummer Robert 'Shotgun' Johnson, a longtime friend of Jerome's, having worked together for some years now. Then there is Ronnie Smith, trumpet; Charles Williams, trombone; James Weaver, trumpet; Denvil Liptrot, saxophone; and percussionist Oliver Brown.

K.C. & the Sunshine Band, as such, has been in existence for almost two years, ever since they made their first record, "Blow Your Whistle", which K.C. wrote himself. They originally called themselves K.C. & the Sunshine Junkanoo Band. But the source of the band goes back some two years even earlier when K.C., Rick, Jerome and Robert had another little band that was fairly successful on a local basis around Florida. "We worked for two years that way but it was obvious to me that we just weren't going to make it," K.C. reflects. "Sure, we used to get a great response in the little clubs we played in but the rest of the world just would never have heard of us. I have always loved Black music in general so it never worried me that we were a mixed band — because this was before the white groups were accepted by black audiences. Motown had always been my goal but now I'm happy I stayed where I was because we have our own little Motown at T.K. Anyway, I decided to split from the band and took the job at Tone Distributors — where I used to answer the phone, scrub the floor or whatever was needed. It's always been that sort of place — friendly and homely where you take a pride in helping wherever help is needed. Sometimes, I even used to book dates for Betty (Wright) or Timmy (Thomas) but generally I was working in the record distribution depot. Then in January 1973, I went to a party at Betty Wright's house and she had hired this band called the Junkanoo Band, which was apparently what they call a steel band in the islands — you know, with the steel drums, all of the percussion and the whistles. The sound just went through me and I thought wouldn't it be great to be able to record that excitement on a record. Two months later I was in Washington and I went to see a concert that Timmy Thomas was on with Rare Earth — and everyone was blowing whistles, it was the beginning of that craze. Immediately I got back to Florida, I got Rick into the studio and told him about my idea. So me, Rick and this Junkanoo Band went in and cut the very first "Blow Your Whistle" and it came off pretty good — but not good enough! We tried four different ways but not one was exactly what I could hear in my head. So, in the end, with the help of Betty's manager, Willie Clarke, we did the session that gave birth to the record. I can't remember exactly but I think that Snoopy Dean and Betty's brother, Philip, were on that session. But that was the birth of the show as you see it today. The record got to about No. 15 on the R&B chart in the States and so we went in and cut a second record, "Sound Your Funky Horn". That would have been towards the end of 1973 and, of course, I was still working in the distribution depot all of this time. For "Funky Horn", we called in Jerome and Robert and some local session guys. We were aiming to get near to "Blow Your Whistle" but instead of whistles, we stressed the funky horns, you know. Clarence Reid wrote the actual works to the song and it, too, got to No. 15 or thereabouts. So, one day around this time, Henry Stone — who owns the whole T.K. complex — came to me in the depot and said that I had better start thinking about an album and perhaps I would be better employed with the band than in the depot. So, we started cutting the album but it coincided with the oil shortage and the economic slump and all of that mess. Things were just going down and down and I would say that despite our recent success, I was at the lowest ebb of my life.

"Anyway, one day while Henry was away in France for the MIDEM festival in January 1974, Rick and I were messing around in the stuido and we came across Timmy Thomas' rhythm machine and we switched it on and just started messing around — but we came up with this incredible rhythm. Like I say, we were feeling pretty low and we didn't have a dime in our pockets but this sound seemed to lift us up. We were always messing around in the studio, cutting little bits of this and that but for this one time. I told Rick that we should stick with it and cut a whole track. We started playing the tracks to some people and everyone was unanimous — there was something to it, even though there was no vocal and no lead guitar line. At first we were going to release it as the next 45 on the Sunshine Band but so many people kept insisting how good it was but that it would be so much better if there was a vocal to it. And with the discos just starting to happen and the fact that so many instrumentals die because they are played as backing music while an ad is on or something, I talked myself into trying to come up with a lyric line. It just happened to coincide with a date that K.C. & the Sunshine Band had in Freeport in the Bahamas. Actually, at this point, only Rick and I travelled and we used to pick up local musicians. That was another reason why we felt so low. Anyway, while we were there, we kept hearing this local saying, "rock your baby" and we felt it would be an ideal lead line for our instrumental tracks. So, when we got back we sang the idea to Steve Alaimo, who is in charge of studio affiars at T.K. We figured that there were two artists at T.K. who might be ideal for the song — Jimmie Bo Horne and George McCrae and just as we were talking George walked in and we figured that we should get George to try it out. In the long run, we would have probably ended up going for George anyway because he sings more straight forward whereas Jimmie tends to get carried away! So, I ran into the studio and sang it the way we heard it and gave George a tape of it to take home and learn. Well, the record was released in April and within six weeks, it had sold a million and other than George's voice, all we added was Jerome on guitar.

"This success kinf of inspired us to finish our own album and then, of course, we had to get an album together on George. By this time, the Sunshine Band had grown to four regulars — Rick, me, Jerome and Robert and they were the musicians on the first K.C. & the Sunshine Band album. And we only added Philip Wright on guitar for George's album. And it was that quartet that made the first tour to England."

The real break in this part of the world for K.C. & the Sunshine Band came via a track from the album entitled "Queen of Clubs". It seems that Jay Boy's boss, Eddie Kassner, was visiting Miami to collect the tapes for the George McCrae LP and he heard the Sunshine Band album, raving over the cut "Queen Of Clubs", acclaiming it as a British hit. "I thought at the time he was crazy," K.C. now can recall with a smile, "but he was proven right. The record was a big one for us in England and paved the way for that tour. Funny thing was that when we released it in the States, it died a death and sold literally zero!"

That just about brings us up-to-date and the future holds the imminent release of two new albums from the entourage — plus the recent George McCrae set. The Sunshine Band have one vocal and one instrumental set finished and ready to go. The vocal one will be released first and will be entitled simply "K.C. & the Sunshine Band". Included will be a full five minute-fifteen second version of "Get Down Tonight", a new cut on "I Get Lifted", already an American hit for George McCrae, and seven new compositions from K.C. and Rick — with the additional aid of Willie Clarke on one track, "I'm So Crazy".

The instrumental album will be released in about four to six weeks and includes "Shotgun Shuffle", the Sunshine Band's first single release using just that name; a long and instrumental version to "Rock Your Baby", similar to the song's original concept; plus "Miss B. Theme" for Betty Wright; and "S.O.S.", which stands for Sound of Sunshine. The vocal backgrounds are supplied by a trio of girls called Fire, who K.C. has just recorded for T.K. in their own right. They consist of Jeanette Holloway, Betty Wright's sister; Beverly Champion and Margaret Reynolds.

Bearing in mind that K.C. also produced the current Jimmie Bo Horne single, he is more than just a busy man. A current six-week European tour will seem almost like a holiday to him. However, if the rave reports are anything to go by, you would be doing yourself more than just a favour by catching some of his particular brand of Sunshine for yourself during this tour.


  
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