KC And The Sunshine Band
Photo By Larry Marano

Dave Freak talks to Harry Wayne Casey, longtime frontman of KC And The Sunshine Band

Formed by Harry Wayne Casey in the early 70s in Florida, with KC And The Sunshine Band the songwriter, musician and vocalist set out to create an up-tempo sound that was the antithesis of the darker musical trends he observed edging into music during the time.

Inspired by Stax and Motown, and shaped by both his Italian roots and a childhood spent singing in church, tracks such as 1974’s Queen Of Clubs, That’s The Way (I Like It) the following year and the Saturday Night Fever-featuring Boogie Shoes placed him at the forefront of a worldwide disco boom.

As the 70s started to draw to a close, Casey sensed times were changing for artists associated with the disco genre. So after 1979’s ballad Please Don’t Go he fashioned a new sound, with the bright, upbeat pop smash Give It Up returning KC to the charts after a four-year absence.

It was a remarkable comeback for the writer/performer, with the track – which had first appeared on 1982’s All In A Night’s Work album initially to little fanfare – eventually landing him a US Top 20 hit in 1984.

But within a year of Give It Up’s US success, Casey was planning on calling it a day. “I was just done. I was tired of the business,” he tells Classic Pop of his unexpected 1985 retirement.

“I was disappointed in it all – it’s very political at times and I just was tired of being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, you know? It was just all the demands. My father died that year, too, and I was just tired.

“I’d spent 10 years or more, day and night, sacrificing everything in my life – every event, every anniversary, every wedding, everything, everything – everything came second to what I was doing. And I was just tired, and I just wanted to get away from it all.”

It was game over for the man who’d spent his entire life up that point working in music. From selling vinyl at a local record store, he hustled his way into label TK Records, where he packed boxes, before eventually writing for such artists as George McCrae (the enduring Rock Your Baby is a Casey co-write).

Heaving had a taste for writing and recording for others, it was just a short step to his own debut single Blow Your Whistle and the breakout Queen Of Clubs – which broke the band in the UK before the US. But after more than a decade, Casey felt jaded and burnt out, and retired to do “nothing.”

But a revival in interest in disco eventually led to him returning to the limelight. Since reforming KC And The Sunshine Band in the 1990s, he’s continued to tour, and see his music featured prominently in several hundred films (from Forrest Gump to Minions: The Rise Of Gru and Kingsman: The Secret Service).

He’s recording new music, too, including the infectious Give Me Some More (Aye Yai Yai) with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and producer/remixer/DJ Tony Moran (whose CV includes work with such luminaries as Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Mariah Carey and Rihanna).

Discussing Give Me Some More’s genesis, Casey says: “[Tony] came up with this track and we thought it would be a great idea to call Nile and see if he would play on it, and Nile agreed! You know, I love the track. It didn’t do what I thought it would do, but I still think it’s a great song.”

It’s one of many new tunes Casey has been working on for what is shaping up to be a potentially monster release.

“I’m working on a 3CD set – it has 56 songs – that I started putting together in 2012,” he says of the collection, which he hopes to release in the very near future. “It’s a little late now, because of the pandemic kind of delayed it two years, although it’s been a 10-year project, and I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done.”

On how it will sound, stylistically, Casey says: “It’s gonna be all over the board. I also did a remake of That’s The Way I Like it, Boogie Shoes and Do You Wanna Go Party – completely different, stripped-down different versions that you would ever expect.”

Returning to the UK this summer to headline Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival (7-9 July), the now 72-year-old is not considering retirement, and is as enthusiastic about his chosen career as ever.

“I always loved music,” he says. “I’m not sure what my plan was, although I knew, from a very, very early age that I was destined to be in the entertainment business. I don’t know how to explain it – I even had an age in my head of 23, and by 22 I was already a successful writer. So it was really very strange to me. It’s all been very magical, mysterious…”

  • KC and The Sunshine Band play Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival, Birmingham, on Sunday 9 July with Incognito, Huey Morgan, and Craig Charles. Other artists appearing include Fat Freddy’s Drop and Goldie (Friday 7 July), and Ezra Collective and Fred Wesley and The New JBs (Saturday 8 July). For details visit: mostlyjazz.co.uk
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