KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND OCTOBER 1978 INTERVIEW
WHENEVER you think of the Miami Sound, the name of K.C. & the Sunshine Band immediately springs to mind. Via a long string of golden hits, the quartet have put the TK label on the map the world over and via their producing and songwriting, Harry Casey and Rick Finch have established themselves individually as one of the most prolific songwriting teams of the decade.

In a rare interview, K.C. (Harry Casey) recently invited B&S into the world of Sunshine Sound, the new studio and office complex that now houses all of the many facets that make up Sunshine Sound — two studios, a management company, a record company and a publishing house.


B&S: The obvious opening question — the story.
KC: OK, so I'll start from the beginning. I started out singing in church and in various little local talent shows around Miami. The church was white but it was very santified, the spirit was there. That was til' 12th grade and then I became involved in dramatics for a while.

All during this time, though, I had been collecting records. I loved the Rascals, for example, but Motown was the thing I liked most. And Atlantic. I think the first record I ever bought was "Wishing & Hoping" by Dusty Springfield. But I couldn't tell you what date that was.

I got turned on to Motown when a nephew of one of my neighbours came down from New Jersey and he brought with him the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go". I will always remember those three girls in the green outfits; I think it was the first album I had ever seen. It was in mono. That was before the Motown sound had really gotten down here (to Miami) — or maybe I was just too young to know any better because I wasn't allowed to go to the shopping centers on my own. Anyway, that's how I got turned on to the Motown sound and I loved everything they did.

At school, my music teacher brought in the Supremes Christmas album and that totally blew my mind and I decided then that the company was unbelievable. But I also liked Aretha, Sam & Dave, the Animals and all the Stax stuff. From school, my first job was in a drug store and that was fine because I had flexible hours. I really wasn't trying to make it then — well, no, I guess it was because all through school I used to put down 'entertainer' in that box where you always mark down the profession you intend to pursue.

B&S: You always felt this was your destiny?
KC: Yeah — but I used to think that they must think I'm crazy and I kept Wondering what the school system thought because they didn't have a provision for 'entertainer'. But I felt that this was what I could do best naturally.

B&S: How about the other kids in the class — how did they take you?
KC: They didn't make fun of me if that's what you mean. But it wouldn't have bothered me if they had. I was lucky in having good friends.

B&S: Other than in church, were you singing at the time?
KC: When I was sixteen. I was in a little band and we used to sing around the local parks, doing songs like Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man". We were all white and called ourselves Five Doors Down but we did all R&B material, even then. That's all I was into. And back then I was just singing; I didn't play keyboards at all.

B&S: How about songwriting?
KC: I started that when I was about twelve — with my cousin. We used to write little tunes but it was nothing serious.

B&S: How did you then make your first move into your career?
KC: While I was working in the drug store, I saw a sign in a record shop window, "Help Wanted". So I figured I would be good because I was such a collector — I knew all the labels, the record numbers…everything. So I got that job and that made me even happier because I was getting closer to the one thing I really loved. And I enjoyed the job.

I used to have to go to Tone (TK's roots!) every Tuesday and Thursday to collect the records I had ordered for the store on Monday and Wednesday and I got to know the people round there. By working in the store, of course, I started to know all the action by watching the charts — pop, R&B and Country-Western. And I was also starting to feel the pulse of what made a record a hit.

Anyway, it was around this time that Henry Stone (TK's President) started Alston Records; I remember Betty Wright's "Girls Can't Do What The Guys Do". And I was already familiar with Steve Alaimo (TK's Executive Vice-President) from his job on TV's "Where The Action Is" because I used to rush home from school every day to watch it. So, all of these things started to come together and one day, a salesman at the store gave me an introduction to Clarence Reid — who I knew from his hit, "Nobody But You, Babe". Not long afterwards, I quit the record shop and asked Henry for a job — but he said he didn't have one! But I persevered and hung around the place for a while and he got me into the warehouse, sorting out all the record returns.

Next thing, Betty Wright has a really big hit with "Clean Up Woman" and when she started going out on the road with a band, I opened her show for her with a couple of numbers. It had always been my dream to sing with an all-black band and the only drawback was that I wasn't earning any real money. So, I had to take a full-time job in the warehouse — even though it really wasn't where I wanted to be.

After work every day, though, I would hang around the studio in the back and actually my whole life was spent at TK. I only used to go home to sleep and some nights I even slept at TK!

I got to know Clarence better and I started helping him write songs and Betty had me doing her secretarial work for her. Then Timmy Thomas had his hit and things really started to happen around TK. I was doing a little bit of everything — from answering the phones to being a personal secretary. We were small then so everybody was chipping in to help everybody else.

Rick (Finch) had come in around the same time as me and he had come in through Clarence Reid, too. They had him in the warehouse for a short time but he was moved to the stuido because he knew a lot about electronics. Singers and people like that are a dime a dozen but engineers and technical people aren't that easy to come by! So he got into the studio and as the time passed by, we got to know each other better.

I wasn't trying to push my way but things were slowly starting to happen and as we got to know each other better, we decided that we could do things together and since I had decided at this stage that I really wanted to become an artist myself, Rick and I could get together and help each other. So, we teamed up and the first thing we did was "Blow Your Whistle".

B&S: That was Rick, you and a bunch of Betty's musicians, right?
KC: Yeah, Betty's brother, the guy that played on "Clean Up Woman", Breeze. And we brought in a whole bunch of percussion people who played at the Junkanoo but that just didn't work out. So we had everybody playing percussion on that record — there was Betty, Rick and me. And we had Betty and Gwen and George McCrea on background vocals. In fact, just about everybody who was at TK at the time was on that record — and later, too, on "Sound Your Funky Horn".

Anyway, "Blow Your Whistle" did a little bit and Rick and I got excited about it and decided to take it further. We brought in Robert and Jerome because I had always liked them from the time when we all worked in Betty's band. I felt that there was something between us that would really amount to something.

B&S: So that was the original Sunshine Band.
KC: It still it today. Just the four of us. We're always adding horns and voices but that's the basic band. On the first album, for example, we had Gwen and George Singing backgrounds all the way and Fermin was on percussion — he was TK's resident percussionist at the time. But we used a different percussionist for the second album.

B&S: How many musicians do you carry on the road?
KC: Right now, we have eleven but for the tour this fall we are adding two more girls, extra horns and a keyboard player so that I can do more on stage and so we'll have a bigger sound.

B&S: OK, back to the story…
KC: OK, so after "Blow Your Whistle" and its success, we naturally had to cut another record and that was "Sound Your Funky Horn". By going Top 10 R&B, "Blow Your Whistle" had naturally pleased Henry because he had gotten a different kind of reaction than usual. So, we got Rick, Jerome and Robert together for "Funky Horn" — oh and Timmy Thomas played keyboards.

It became a hit and we started to get other offers — we had a chance to record Archie Bell & the Drells, who were with TK at the time. But we first of all wanted to finish our own album and one night we were messing around in the studio and we came up with the track to "Rock Your Baby".

B&S: Was that then originally intended for K.C. & the Sunshine Band?
KC: Yeah — we planned to cut a demo, take it downstairs and if Henry liked it, we'd go back upstairs and cut it properly. But everybody said we were mad to change it and Henry felt that George McCrae would be ideal for it so that's how it came about. We felt it should be done over again because it lacked the quality that the other studio musicians had.

B&S: Did you stumble on that rhythm pattern, then?
KC: No, it was intentional; it was something that Rick and I had planned.

B&S: It literally transformed your life overnight, didn't it?
KC: Yeah — it did. It changed everything. It was the year when everything was at rock bottom. The gas problem was at its peak and even TK didn't have any money. And the record took off so fast that everybody was so astonished and Rick and I didn't know what to think.

B&S: It started off what we call today the TK Sound and it played a major part in setting off the disco boom, too.
KC: Well, yes. But along with "Rock The Boat", too — those two records.

B&S: How many copies did "Rock Your Baby" sell?
KC: I've never asked the actual total but we got a Platinum Record for the U.S. sales and it was a hit around the world. That record gave us the opportunity to do more for K.C. & the Sunshine Band. Without "Rock Your Baby", it would have been hard for K.C. & the Sunshine Band to have existed or make it because the money would not have been there.

B&S: So, the money you made from "Rock Your Baby" was used to launch K.C. & the Sunshine Band to the next level.
KC: Right. And we completed the album on George immediately after we finished the album on K.C. The funny thing was that we never counted on anybody else having the hit before K.C. & the Sunshine Band. Anyway, Mr. Kassner (President Records chief from London) arrives, hears "Queen Of Clubs" on the album, says it'll be a smash in England and the next thing we know, we have a Top 5 hit there.

Meanwhile, George has a second hit with "I Can't Leave You Alone" and suddenly we are all over the charts. It was outrageous there for a while. Anyway, we did our first British tour and although we only played the small clubs, everywhere we played was packed to capacity. Things were going crazy and the only time I had seen that kind of excitement was when the Beatles first came to America.

B&S: How many of you made that first trip?
KC: Seven. The four of us plus two horns and a percussionist. There were no background vocals and yes, people were hearing something a little different from what was actually on the records. But we couldn't afford to do it any other way because the actual money hadn't started coming in from "Rock Your Baby" yet.

When we got back to Miami, though, things had really not started happening yet and so we started work on a new album and that's when the tracks to "Get Down Tonight" and "That's The Way I Like It" were cut.

B&S: Was It "That's The Way I Like It" that really turned the corner for you in America?
KC: Yes. There are certain things that only management can do and that you cannot do for yourself. Rick and I have handled our own management until very recently, when we signed with Katz-Gallon Management in L.A. They have a lot of big, successful names and they will be very good for us, I'm sure. They will build the image for the group that we couldn't do for ourselves. So far, we've had a lot of luck and God has been watching over us.

B&S: There is a story in your name, isn't there?
KC: Well, we started out as K.C. & the Sunshine Junkanoo Band but Rick, Jerome, Robert and I decided we didn't need the Junkanoo bit.

B&S: Have you always called yourself K.C.?
KC: No, that just started with the records. Instead of putting my last name (Casey), I felt that K.C. would be less identifiable with me personally. I wasn't sure that if anything happened, I wanted to be identifiable all the time. Sometimes, things like that can cause a problem and by keeping Casey enough away from K.C., it doesn't always dawn on people that I am K.C.

B&S: Did you consider other names at the time?
KC: Yeah — but we couldn't come up with anything that sounded right Our name is nice and simple this way.

B&S: And your logo?
KC: I just gave the artist an idea and that's what he came up with. It's been that way with all the album designs, too. We didn't actually develop the logo until the second album; the first cover — which had K.C. and the Sunshine Band in green and black lettering — looked awful.

B&S: Touching on the subject of album covers, you've always had very intangible designs. There have been no pictures of the group, for example.
KC: It wasn't that I was trying to hide being white. I always wanted everyone to know there were two white guys and two black guys. I have always been proud of what we have achieved because I hate divisions of any kind and I think it's incredible, what we have done together — it has proven all that stuff wrong. But, you see, I didn't want to put pictures of a group on the cover that may later not be correct. There have always been the four of us while the rest have come and gone and if they had all been included and then gone, people would start thinking that the group was breaking up.

The four of us will never break up and that's why on the new album, on the inside, you'll find pictures of us. And on the next one, I think we'll all be on the front cover. Maybe four individual shots with the logo in the center, I guess that really I consider us to be seven now because Fermin is definitely there; and I consider the two girls — Fire, that's Jeanette and Beverly — to be real members of the band. We do intend to fully develop Fire as an act in its own right, though, so that they can have their own identity.

B&S: Essentially, then, you are a recording group first and a touring group second.
KC: Right, I guess so. But no more than most groups out there. Things have changed so much even since we were first out there and we are only just building now. I feel that management will help an awful lot because there are so many things that we don't know or think of.

B&S: We touched on it just now but by being white, has it held you back?
KC: Well, at TK at first, they said that if you're white you can forget it and the reality of it then was that if you were white, people didn't think you could sing soul music. They felt we would never be accepted.

B&S: Are you accepted by the black population now?
KC: Yes, by the black population, yes. But not by some of the black media. They don't treat our band as equal as if we were all black.

B&S: Even though your singles and albums go to the top of the R&B charts?
KC: Rick and I have probably had as many R&B hits in the last five years as just about anybody — what with George McCrae, Jimmy Bo Horne, Betty Wright. Everyone at TK has had a hit with us. It only dawned on me the other day just how many hits we've had.

B&S: Does it upset you that some sections of the black media don't accept you?
KC: To a certain extent, yes. Because- if everyone is trying to be fair, it should work both ways. There are black members in our group and I'm sure they don't feel treated in any different way. I just feel that everyone should be treated equally.

B&S: As a side question, would you tour South Africa if you were asked?
KC: We were asked — but we didn't go at the time because of the problems there.

B&S: But is it something you'd like to do — to show an example of what can be achieved by getting people together?
KC: Yes. But not if it endangered myself or the group.

B&S: At concerts here in America, what proportion of your audience is usually black?
KC: It's usually, 50-50. I want for everyone to feel that they can come out and see us. I don't want or look for problems.

B&S: You do project an image of being clean as a group.
KC: Hopefully, yes. We don't try to cause riots or anything. We like it to be peaceful. But we're like everyone else, we're human beings so that if we like a drink or something, we don't like it to be publicized. After all, if John Schmo down the street takes a drink, it doesn't hit the papers, does it?

B&S: On a more musical note, you do have a distinctive sound. You really can't mistake a Sunshine Sound production, can you?
KC: Well, yes — I guess it's like Philadelphia International. You can't mistake one of their records.

B&S: A very delicate question, then. Listening to the "Who Do Ya Love" album it is a very typical K.C. & the Sunshine Band album. Do you feel that the time will come when you will have to make a radical change in your sound?
KC: I think we've done a lot of changes for this album. Vocally and melodically, it's very different. To me, it's the best thing we've ever done. Every time we want to change, we listen to what other people are doing and they are doing what we're doing so I don't feel we should change too much.

B&S: For example, have you ever felt you should try more ballads or introduce an orchestra?
KC: Eventually, maybe, yes. The only thing we haven't done yet is to change our own rhythm instruments around — and that is coming. But I feel there's a lot of variety in this album and it is, after all, only our fourth album. It's definitely us but it will always be that way, I hope.

B&S: It is an eternal problem when you have a distinctive sound. People are apt to complain that you always sound the same and yet if you change they'll complain that it isn't what they expect of you.
KC: That's true. But we are getting a bigger response to this album than anything we have done before it. More people like it and I am feeling a whole different thing about it. I was worried that we may not have changed enough but now it's out there, I feel really good about it all.

B&S: How many singles do you feel you have on this album?
KC: At least four.

B&S: Another delicate question then and it involves both this album an the subject of singles. The nearest to a flop that you've ever had was with "It's The Same Old Song", isn't it? Do you fell that the fact it's not a Casey-Finch original could have something to do with it?
KC: It's very possible but I don't consider it a flop. Because the record never got played and if it isn't played, it's hard to decide if it's a flop or not. We've had a lot of letters, too, from people who couldn't buy the record anywhere.

B&S: Could it have got stuck somewhere between R&B and pop?
KC: Yes, that's possible because generally our records go R&B first and then crossover to pop. But this one didn't get the R&B support; it didn't get the airplay.

B&S: Was it an experiment (using an outside song) or was it a genuine attempt for a hit single?
KC: Well, I still feel it's a hit record but maybe that particular song isn't in keeping with the beat the people want just now.

B&S: To me, there are at least two tracks on the album that are infinitely stronger, though.
KC: That's possible. But at the time, the company wanted something completely new and the album wasn't quite finished.

B&S: What do you feel the next single will be then?
KC: An edited version of "Do You Feel Alright". It really is a terrific edit, too. Then we'll have "Who Do Ya Love", which to me is the album's monster. Then there is "Come To My Island". Right now, the stations are playing the whole album, though.

B&S: The obvious question, then, of disco. You came in with the disco boom. Do you still feel part of the disco thing or do you try to avoid such tags?
KC: Well, I won't say anything negative about disco because it has become a completely new category in music. I guess, though, that we are a part of disco because so many of our records are party records. And I love to dance myself.

B&S: You feel that disco is definitely here to stay then…
KC: Yes, yes. Some people don't liek it but then people didn't accept Jimi Hendrix or Cream at first, did they? Everybody is reviewing disco records like they used to review Rock before it gained acceptance. My songs intentionally have simplicity — they are built around a chorus and verses, that's all. You can add a million gimmicks in there but we aim for simplicity and reality.

B&S: When writing, do you therefore avoid complications?
KC: Rights, we aim for reality every time. Otherwise, we'd end up as an orchestra ourselves.

B&S: What will be the next step in your musical growth then?
KC: Electronic instruments, I think. We are already changing and our sound is mellower now than before.

B&S: Without the disco boom, then, do you feel K.C. & the Sunshine Band would have made it through?
KC: Possibly, yes — we have always enjoyed good airplay support and we have been lucky. Such as when "That's The Way I Like It" just popped out of the album.

B&S: I'd like to ask you now about Sunshine Records and this impressive new complex you have built. Why did you feel the need for it?
KC: At the time I was working from TK, I used to be able to go in the studio almost any time I liked and no-one would bother Rick and I. Being creative, that facility became a necessity. It's like an artist having canvass right there; he can paint whenever he feel the urge.

As we became more successful and as TK grew, everyone started recording there and the studio time became more difficult to get. And if I booked time and didn't show up because I wasn't feeling creative, people started complaining — naturally! But I couldn't handle it. Also. I had the feeling that everybody was just around the corner listening! So I had to move on.

B&S: So the studio was the prime factor?
KC: Yes — but we always felt that we were the Sunshine Sound as opposed to any TK sound, anyway. We always felt our sound was completely different.

B&S: Was your new album the first complete project to come from your studio?
KC: Totally? Yes. We did some things on the new Fire album here but some of it was cut when we cut "Shake Your Booty".

B&S: How about Jimmy Bo Horne's "Dance Across the Floor"?
KC: That was cut when we did "That's The Way I Like It"!

B&S: A year or so back, there were rumors that you were going to sign with CBS. Was the fact that Henry Stone was willing to give you Sunshine Sound Records as a label an inducement for you to stay?
KC: No. Henry didn't really give me anything. I just decided I would stay at TK for now. There was no pressure, no big deal. I just felt that we were best staying for three or four more years because I have basically always been happy at TK. We now have five artists on our own label and I am glad they are with TK, too. We just finished an album on the lead horn player who goes on the road with the Sunshine Band. He is Ron Louis Smith. And we have Jimmie Bo Horne, of course. Then there is Michelle White; she is from Dallas, Texas, and she is produced by Tim McCabe. She is a white artiste so she is more straight pop but because she recorded here, she has a touch of that Sunshine sound. And, of course, we have Fire.

B&S: Is there any danger of flooding the market with Sunshine Sound?
KC: No, because it's all going to be different. The only time we face that danger is when Rick and I are involved. But I doubt that Philadelphia or Motown ever thought of that.

B&S: Are you planning to expand in that way — by bringing in creative people who think your way but who have ideas of their own.
KC: Yes, we do encourage people to come in here with their own ideas.

B&S: On the subject of Sunshine Sound, do you now consider yourself a fully fledged business man?
KC: Yes, I have to say yes. I have to stay involved a lot otherwise all of it would just go down the tubes. I have just hired people to take things over and take the pressure off me so that I can get back to the creative side more. If I had more time, I could do more things but the creative end is where I want to be.

B&S: Are you planning to go on the road more now?
KC: We are about to start an American tour but we don't plan to tour any more than usual. We try to get to Europe once a year and we will tour to support each album. But a lot of time has to be spent in the office now.

B&S: From a business standpoint, you are following a lot of the basic guidelines laid down at TK.
KC: More of less. Henry is a good teacher!

B&S: On a more personal note, if you hadn't become K.C., what do you think that Harry Casey would have been doing today?
KC: I'd have been in the music business some way. I'm a good salesman so maybe I would have been over at TK if they had still been there.

B&S: So you never considered being a lawyer, a doctor or an alligator wrestler or something?
KC: No, it would have to have been in music. I would have liked to have gone back to music school and maybe even gone on to become a music teacher.

B&S: Do you still consider yourself a religious person?
KC: Yes, definitely. I don't go to church actively anymore but then I haven't done that since I was eighteen so it isn't something I've stopped doing since I became 'successful'. But I'm still very much a believer.

B&S: Are you married?
KC: No, I'm single. I couldn't handle that on top of all this right now! When I'm ready to settle down, it is something I'd like to do, though.

B&S: A final question — when the Bee Gees came back with "You Should Be Dancing", everybody everywhere said it had to be a new K.C. & the Sunshine Band record. What are your feelings on that subject?
KC: At the time, there was a rumor going around that our horn players had played on the record but we didn't feel it was that close to us. Arif Mardin (the producer) has been making records like that for years and I guess we all sound a little like each other somewhere along the line.

B&S: Is there anything you would like to add?
KC: Only that if any fans want to write to us or join the fan club, the address is P.O. Box 1780, Hialeah, Florida 33011.


  
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