KC and The Sunshine Band is without a doubt one of the most iconic bands of the 20th century. Whether you actively listen to their music or not, chances are, hits like ‘Give It Up’, ‘Shake Shake Shake’, ‘Get Down Tonight’ and ‘That’s The Way’ have been drilled into your psyche via osmosis thanks to their saturation in pop culture.
What seems like incredible success hasn’t always been a positive experience for founder and vocalist Harry Wayne Casey, however. In the mid-1980’s, Casey effectively disbanded the group, after tumultuous times battling loneliness and addiction – both of which, he claims, were brought on by the meteoric success of the band.
Since the 1990’s though, Casey has continued to work with the band, writing and releasing music from his home in Miami, Florida. He flies out to Australia this week, to perform a run of A Day On The Green shows with Sister Sledge, Village People and Marcia Hines.
Music Feeds caught up with him a few days before his flight to discuss fame, Pitbull, and life in ‘the zoo.’
MF: How are you, Harry? What have you been up to?
HWC: I’ve just been touring a lot, I’m working on new music, basically that’s about it. Oh, and playing tennis every day and trying to get better at that. I started taking lessons about a year and a half ago.
MF: Oh great, sounds like you’ve got a good balance going on. Are you preparing to head out to Australia in a few days?
HWC: Yeah, we have a show here in Miami on Sunday night, then on Monday night at five o’clock we get on a plane and we head to Sydney. Well, we’re heading to Perth – we go Miami to LA, LA to Sydney then Sydney to Perth. It’s like 30 hours or something altogether.
MF: Yeah, that’s crazy. How long has it been since you were last out here?
HWC: Oh, I don’t know… it’s been a while since I’ve been to Perth. But I was just in Sydney in October, we did a cruise out of Sydney that went for eight days, leaving and coming back into Sydney. We had a great time. Usually, when I come to town it’s in and out and this time I went a few days before and stayed a few days after so I really got to go around and see more of Australia – well, the part near Sydney – so I had a great time. I got to see kangaroos in the wild and went out to the Blue Mountains and stuff. I just did normal things and acted like a tourist, you know? I went to – what is it? Bondi Beach? You know, just did some things, walked around the coast and just enjoyed being in Australia for a moment. It was just really great.
MF: Is that the first time you’ve really been able to do that?
HWC: Yes! Yeah, it was the first time, so I really enjoyed it.
MF: Do you remember much about your first trip to Australia? That would’ve been a few years back now?
HWC: Oh, well my first trip was back in the ‘70s, and it was kind of horrible because right at the beginning of the tour the publicist took me to an Indian restaurant and I had some very spicy curry or something and it burned my vocal chords. And here I had to do all these shows… I could barely talk after it, and I had to do all of these shows and press and it was just awful.
MF: Obviously, this time around you’re playing a few shows with Village People and Sister Sledge, both of whom have been big since the disco era as well – have you toured much with them before?
HWC: Not this version of the Village People, but I have with Sister Sledge. And Marcia Hines, I just met her on the cruise ship with us, so I just met her recently. So it’s my first time touring with Marcia, and with the Village People that are coming now, I haven’t toured with them before. The other Village People I have, a lot, but not this Village People.
MF: Who are you bringing out with the Sunshine Band?
HWC: We have 15 people on stage, it’s all live. There’s no tape running at all, and everybody’s a part of the show. We’re just coming to have a great time.
MF: That’s fantastic. How do you coordinate that many people on stage?
HWC: It’s all choreographed. Sometimes we get in each other’s way (laughs) but it all works.
MF: Haha I can imagine! Well obviously KC and the Sunshine Band started in the early ‘70s, but when did you actually decide to pursue music as a career?
HWC: Probably all my life I’ve been pursuing it as a career. We broke out in 1973, and so five years prior to that I was doing odd jobs around the recording company. I worked in the record store in retail, then I went to wholesale and just ended up doing all sorts of different things – managing, agent, promotions, sales, everything – I was involved in every part of it. I wanted to learn as much about it as I could.
MF: You guys were early pioneers in terms of disco music, in terms of interracial popular bands, even your lyrical content was somewhat, ah, pioneering shall we say?
HWC: We pushed the envelope, yeah, we definitely did push the envelope a lot for those days.
MF: Where did you draw your inspiration from?
HWC: I drew inspiration from life, in general.
MF: Were there any other acts or bands around at the time that you looked to musically for inspiration?
HWC: I mean Motown was probably my biggest inspiration – Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Gladys Knight – everybody from Motown. Joe Cocker, James Brown, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears – these were probably all big influences on me. I’ve always liked all kinds of music, so I think I’ve been influenced by a little bit of everything. I grew up in the gospel church, I love country music, I love classical – I love so many different types of music that there’s a little bit of all of it in me, I’m sure.
MF: Well as you mentioned, you were a good church-going boy, so what did your parents think of the music you started writing?
HWC: They didn’t mind, although my grandmother probably wouldn’t have approved. I’m sure it’s outside of the box for my religion, for sure. My father was just, he was the type that just wanted me to be happy, so he didn’t care what I was doing so long as I wasn’t hurting anybody and I was safe, and I wasn’t doing something I shouldn’t be doing. He was just happy that I was living my life, that’s all he ever wanted me to do was just live my life.
MF: You have said that the height of your career was also your loneliest point – why?
HWC: Right, yeah. Because I was so isolated, you know? All of a sudden I was on the inside looking out instead of on the outside looking in. I’d want to be out there with everyone and I couldn’t be. You know, because of certain situations and things that were happening with our success, I wasn’t allowed to be this person that I was before all of that and it was quite different and quite lonely, and quite isolating. I used to be the guy that went to the zoo and looked at all the animals and then all of a sudden I became the animal in the zoo.
MF: Were you always stuck in the hotel while, say, other members of the band were able to go out and explore the city you were in?
HWC: Correct. Yeah. Correct. Which is really what made this last trip to Sydney so great for me, I was finally able to do that in Australia.
MF: Is that what made you disband the group in the ‘80s, or was it something else?
HWC: It was just time. Everybody wanted to go off and do different things, so it was just time to move on. You know, there really was really no ‘group’ as such – I just took the studio musicians from the studio and they went out as ‘KC & The Sunshine Band.’ But everybody wanted to start doing different things, so I just moved on and got a different band and kept doing some things, then I retired in ’84, right after ‘Give It Up’ was released. I just didn’t want to do it anymore, I was done.
MF: What made you start up again in the ‘90s?
HWC: I did a TV show here in America, and realised that I had stopped doing something I really did love, you know? I tested the waters a little bit and realised, wow, we were missed. And I was having so much fun. So I just put a band back together and started doing it, and 20 years later here I am.
MF: I have seen reports that you had some substance issues around that time. Was that as a result of your car accident in 1982?
HWC: That was part of it. There were a lot of variables that played into that though. I think I wanted to just be whatever ‘normal’ was. I wanted to feel like ‘fit’ or whatever. So I did some things I probably shouldn’t have done, to feel like I fit, to feel part of something. It wasn’t a good thing, you know? I’m lucky really that I lived through it, so… I’m lucky I was smart enough to realise I needed to change my ways.
MF: So it wasn’t so much a long-term addiction?
HWC: No, it was about 10 years or something like that; a 10 year or so addiction.
MF: What about this new music you’re working on? When will we see that? Are you planning on putting a new record out?
HWC: I put out an album last year – well actually, I put out two albums last year – I put out a Christmas album and I put out an album of songs from the ‘60s, it’s called Feeling You! The 60s. I’ve released four dance records in the last year, and there’s some new music getting ready to come out, I’m getting ready to do something with Nile Rodgers and doing something with Pitbull next year, and there’s some other stuff in the works with some major DJs and stuff, so we’ll see where it all goes. I think it’s going to be an exciting year and I have new stuff right now, enough to put out a double CD, which I’ll also be putting out next year.
MF: Wow, sounds like you’ve been a very busy man. I’m not sure how you’ve managed to learn how to play tennis as well. I’m impressed! Just one last thing – you say you’re working with Pitbull. So what do you think of the popular music in 2017?
HWC: I love it! It’s finally getting back to music. It’s finally getting back to words and melodies and stuff like that, and I love it. There are some great songs out there and you know, it’s very reminiscent of the ‘60s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s, they’re all mixed all together and it’s just very interesting, the music of today. Although it seems very new to everybody else it seems very retro to me, and it’s awesome.
KC And The Sunshine Band kick off their A Day On The Green tour in Australia this week. They will also play shows in Melbourne and Sydney alongside Village People and Sister Sledge. See details below.
KC And The Sunshine Band, Village People & Sister Sledge 2017 Australian Tour
Tickets on sale now
Tuesday, 12th December
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne (All Ages)
Thursday, 14th December
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (All Ages)
A Day On The Green: KC And The Sunshine Band, Village People, Sister Sledge & Marcia Hines
Tickets on sale now
Thursday, 7th December
Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth
Saturday, 9th December
Leconfield Wines, McLaren Vale
Sunday, 10th December
Rochford Wines, Yarra Valley
Saturday, 16th December
Bimbadgen, Hunter Valley
Sunday, 17th December
Sirromet Wines, Mt Cotton