By Michael Hamersly
This Fourth of July, thousands of Marlins fans will flock to Land Shark Stadium to root for their team. But there’s another reason to take your family out to the ball game: Disco-funk hitmakers KC and the Sunshine Band take the stage after the final out. Yes, for no extra cost, you’ll groove to hits including “Get Down Tonight,” “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” “Please Don’t Go,” “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “That’s the Way (I Like It),” “Keep It Comin’ Love” and “Give It Up.” Miami homeboy Harry Wayne Casey (you guessed it – “KC”) talked to Miami.com about the gig, performing on the “American Idol” results show in April, and the late, great Michael Jackson.
Retro disco-funk is hot again – was there ever a time you thought your music was obsolete?
I never have looked at it like, “How long is it gonna last, is it obsolete, is it in, is it out”? I’ve just never looked at it that way.
You co-wrote “Rock Your Baby,” which hit No. 1 in 1974 for George McCrae. How close was that to the beginning of disco?
It was right there. But actually before that I had written some other songs for KC and the Sunshine Band, and we were making noise with those over in Europe and certain states here. And while I was working on the KC and the Sunshine Band album, i came up with “Rock Your Baby.” I think it was the first remixed song.
Do you have a new appreciation for your classic hits? Because they stand up really well against today’s Top 40.
I’ve always felt like at times we’ve been underplayed and listed second to everyone who came after us, etc. etc. So, I’ve always felt that they were engineered masterfully and the sound was something ahead of its time.
Do you have a favorite of your songs?
Everyone always asks me that, and I just give them the generic answer that I like “Get Down Tonight” because it was my first U.S. hit, but I like all of them. There were probably some that were not major hits that I like just as well as the ones that were No. 1 records. So, all in all, maybe not everything I did because I could have done some of them better, but for the most part, it’s hard to say which one is my favorite favorite favorite.
Did growing up in South Florida influence your musical style?
I don’t know. I would think maybe some of it did, because there were times records were hits in South Florida and weren’t anywhere else in the world, you know what I mean? But I grew up listening to what my mother liked, which was Ray Charles and R&B music, and then as the ’60s came on I became a teenager and started getting into the Motown sound and the Stax sound and Aretha Franklin. I’ve always liked all kinds of music, Joe Cocker, Blood Sweat & Tears, then there was James Brown. If I had one main influence, it might have been the Motown sound.
What keeps you living in Miami?
I was born and raised here [laughs]. I’m not quite sure. I love Miami. I love the weather here, and my family has basically kept me here. And I think I’ll always have a home here.
It’s got to be different here now than when you were growing up. Do you like all the changes?
I don’t like the changes, no. It’s just getting more crowded and stuff, you know? I remember what used to take five minutes to get somewhere now takes 45 minutes. I watched them build I-95 and 826, and now all these tall buildings going up – enough’s enough.
Any favorite hangouts?
One of my favorite barbecue places growing up was the Hitching Post off Okeechobee Road. I used to hang out at a place in Miami Lakes called Delaney Street, which is no longer there. So many things have changed and are no longer there…
How was your experience on “American Idol”?
It was a little bit stressful, to be honest. I was a little bit out of my element without my band, so I felt a little more uncomfortable than i normally would have doing a TV show, and I’ve done every TV show that’s out there. I don’t know why, but for that one, I was just really nervous. I have no idea why.
Do you think it’s too easy, the way “Idol” finalists achieve instant fame?
I think what those kids have to go through is not so easy. It’s kind of a crash course of what I had to do for five years…It’s a good thing in some ways, and in some ways it’s not. It’s a good thing in that today, some record companies are so closed-minded and so not interested in building an artist’s career and it’s become so corporate America that it’s where the dollar is and not where the talent is anymore. Some of these kids would never have made it – they couldn’t even get their foot in the door. As far as that goes, it’s created a great new venue for talented America. … But does it feel fair? No [laughs].
How long will you get to play after the Marlins game?
I think we’re set for 45 minutes.
Are you a sports fan?
I am when they get near the playoffs [laughs]. I’ve always been into music and my career just takes me everywhere and I can hardly follow anything.
Any thoughts on Michael Jackson you’d like to express?
Well, like everyone else, I’m shocked. I was friends with him for a little while before the “Thriller” stuff. I remember him calling my house and we talked about writing songs, and I’d speak with him and Janet. The family was always very gracious and kind to me. It’s a tragedy, and I hope it’s not what everybody thinks it is, the people around him. Sometimes the people that get around us take control and start turning our minds. I kind of went through it, and I hope this is not what’s happening again, like with Elvis and a lot of others. I’d also like to add that he was a great talent and created a lot of happiness for a lot of people.