If there were some kind of Ghostbusters-style aura-meter that could measure the feelings certain songs evoke in people, KC & the Sunshine Band's readings would be greener than the fields of Ireland. The Miami-based group dominated the charts in the mid- and late '70s with a string of singles -- "Boogie Shoes," "Get Down Tonight," "I'm Your Boogieman," "Shake Shake Shake (Shake Your Booty)" -- that seemed almost genetically engineered to get people smiling and dancing.
They almost were. Harry Wayne Casey (or "KC") and recording engineer Richard Finch co-founded the Sunshine Band in 1973, and wrote and produced most of the material coming out of TK Studios - not just their own songs, but others like George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby." "The sound of Sunshine," as it was known, made TK Records almost as big a player in the disco world as Neil Bogart's Casablanca, home to the likes of Donna Summer.
Though Finch left long ago, Casey carried on the Sunshine Band long enough to see dance music conquer pop culture all over again, and brings one party-starter after another to Discovery Green Monday night for the City of Houston's official New Year's Eve celebration. Rocks Off spoke with KC recently from South Florida. He was excited about a new album scheduled for release next year, a collaboration with British DJs Bimbo Jones (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna).
"I always write, but it's something that's been flowing a little differently this last year," he says.
Rocks Off: How did you wind up playing outdoors in Houston on New Year's Eve?
KC: They called us and wanted us (laughs). That's usually how it happens.
RO: How many shows a year are you doing these days?
KC: It varies -- 70 to 80 to 90. It all depends on the year. The last years, with the economy, things were a little slower than previous years, but it seems to be picking up.
RO: Do you remember the biggest New Year's Eve gig you ever played?
KC: Oh my God. I don't know. The biggest? This might become one of the biggest. Um... normally New Year's Eves are private-type situations, for casinos and things like that. I don't know. (Chuckles) I don't pay attention to the details much, probably. This is gonna be a big one. Usually there a little more intimate, a little smaller.
RO: How about the strangest New Year's Eve show you've played?
KC: God. My whole life is strange, so I don't know what I could say was the strangest. I know there was one year we almost did two New Year's in the same [year], because we did the East Coast and flew to the West Coast, and did the West Coast. We were in an Eastern time zone and were able to fly to a Western time zone and do two New Year's parties in one night.
RO: Wow. Does that ever wear on you a little bit?
KC: We've done stuff for private parties, celebrities to... you know, we're the party band. Whatever comes up New Year's Eve and works for us, that's where we are.
Does it ever wear on me? New Year's Eve is to me the most difficult time. This year will be the first time we don't have to sing "Auld Lang Syne" and break up the show. A lot of times we have to break up the show and do the countdown, but it's always a lot of fun. New Year's Eve is a fun show. Everybody's really, really there to party and have a good time, and it's great to celebrate and bring in the new year with a group of people.
RO: How long have the members of your band been with you now?
KC: Well, the band's gone through many, many reincarnations since the '80s. I have people from 35 years up to a year.
RO: Is electronic artists and DJs wanting to work with you a relatively new thing, or has it been going on a while?
KC: No, what I'm doing now is a new thing for me. I'm really enjoying it.
RO: Now that dance music is getting so popular again, does it make you feel vindicated at all?
KC: It does, you know. Absolutely. For I don't know how many years, the press and the critics were trying to convince me and the world and Donna Summer and everybody else that what we did was senseless and worthless, and to the contrary, it wasn't. It isn't. It's made a major impact on all types of music, from country to rock and roll -- I mean, you name it, this sound has infiltrated and become a part of that. Especially now in 2012, it's made a huge, major comeback.
RO: All your original hits -- were they as much fun to record as they are to listen to?
KC: Absolutely. I love going into the studio and creating that magic. It really is magic.
RO: Are there any of your songs that you thought would be bigger than they turned out to be?
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KC: No, I knew they were hits (laughs). They were all huge, huge, huge, huge hits. I thought one of 'em wasn't gonna be a hit. I wasn't sure about "Shake Your Booty," because when I went in to record the vocals, it seemed so effortless for me, and I didn't think it would work. But it was a big, big record worldwide. They all sold more two million copies apiece.
RO: What are a few covers of your songs you think really nailed it?
KC: I liked Rob Zombie's version of "I'm Your Boogieman." I thought it was pretty good. I thought the remake of "Please Don't Go," there was two people that remade it, W & KWS, was great. And of course my songs have been sampled by everybody and their brother.
KC & the Sunshine Band play New Year's Eve Houston at Discovery Green 9 p.m. Monday, December 31.