Toss a hearty "that's the way" out into a crowded room and see if you don't get back a lewd "uh-huh uh-huh" in return. Or tell a friend you'd like to do a little dance, make a little love, and watch them also suggest you also get down tonight. The music of Harry Wayne Casey — better known as KC, the leader of Miami '70s hitmakers KC and the Sunshine Band — owned pop culture. Casey (henceforth "KC") brings his Sunshine Band to the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods on Sunday, Dec. 29, at 8 p.m.
CTNow: 2013 was the 40th anniversary of the birth of KC and the Sunshine Band. What are your most vivid memories of the Miami music scene in the early days?
KC: I don't know if there was a Miami music scene. There was an underground music scene, because we had a recording studio called Criteria, and Atlantic Records used to send a lot of their artists here, like Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton.
CTNow: Was there a nightlife scene?
KC: Not like there is now, but as a kid there was an old grocery store they turned into something called The Place, and there was an old blimp hangar they called The World that they had two stages with live bands there. There was another municipal auditorium they turned into a dance hall for teens. And then, in the '60s, way up on the beach on 163rd Street, there was a Castaways Hotel and a bar there. That area had some rock-type clubs, I think. The hotels used to bring in entertainment, sort of like Las Vegas, but we didn't have the gambling when I was growing up. Miami was a destination for people from the north to escape the winter and spend the winter in the South Beach area. South Beach was hotels and not really restaurants like it is now, with the whole strip of restaurants on Ocean Drive. It was a retirement area, and it would pretty much shut down in the summer. There would be hardly any people here.
CTNow: Did you notice any change in the scene there when you began to have some success in the mid-1970s?
KC: It definitely changed. Because of my success with TK Records, it became very popular. Everybody started sending their tapes to TK and some of the local talent realized they had a shot at finally making it, so there was probably more interest in local artists like Gloria Estefan and a couple of the other groups that came out of here. Gloria was the biggest one, other than me. They probably realized that they might have a shot at it. TK, up until me, was pretty much a one-hit label. I was the first artist they had that had not only two but five or six hit records. It really put them on the map. So they were becoming one of the biggest independents of the '70s. People were flocking to them and sending them their tapes and demos. Of course, there were many more one-hit wonders out of TK because of it.
CTNow: When people think of KC and the Sunshine Band, they think of dance music. What are your thoughts about EDM, or electronic dance music, a genre one can't help but feel in some way extends what you were doing in the '70s?
KC: Everything on the radio I hear as an extension of what we started. It's pretty amazing. We haven't gotten the credit for it. Everyone else gets the credit for it. But we definitely hear our rhythms and our influence in everything, in music all across the board. I was an avid record collector and I love more up-tempo stuff. But every time an album would come out, there would be a couple of uptempo things, some hits on the radio, and then everything else would be slow stuff or ballads. My thing was to come out and make a record that was all up-tempo or mid-tempo stuff on side A or B. Eventually I changed all of that format a bit to show there was a little more depth to me, because I felt like people weren't understanding me. I know my stuff was simple, but I didn't think it was any simpler than the Beatles stuff that came out in the very beginning. A lot of times I tried to change, and nobody wanted to let me change. I wasn't allowed to grow. Everybody was allowed to grow but me. It's crazy.
I've been working on a new project, and it's become a double-record over the last two years. I'm just about done. I think it's about the best thing I've ever done. It's better lyrically than anything I've ever written. It's all across the board from dance to mid-tempo to slower stuff. I've done 17 songs from the '60s and 18 original songs. It's called "Feeling You," the original stuff, and the other songs are called "Feeling You: The '60s." The whole package will be called "Feeling You." We're just finalizing the deal right now, so maybe it'll come out in January, February or March, sometime in there, early spring hopefully.
CTNow: Did your hits exist as songs before they were attached to the grooves?
KC: I write differently. Sometimes I have the idea in my head before I go into the studio and then there's the extra production that happens after the song was recorded.
CTNow: So, sometimes you'll have a hook that you go in with.
KC: Correct. Or sometimes I'll create the hook right there. "Get Down Tonight" was originally called "What You Want Is What You Get." When I went in there, I was singing, "What you want is what you get." I had the melody but the words weren't finished yet. I do that a lot, even now when we're touring and stuff. The drummer will be playing a beat and I'll be messing around on the keyboard, and the next thing I know, I'm asking the soundman to run a tape and I come up with some words and a melody as the idea comes up. Those words might change or they might stay the same. "That's The Way I Like It" was always "That's The Way I Like It." "I'm Your Boogie Man" was "I'll Be Your Son of a Gun."
CTNow: What made you change that?
KC: Just not feeling it. I was writing a song recently, and the more I looked at it, the more I thought, "That just doesn't fit that well." So I started changing a few things, and the next thing you know it evolves into something completely different, you know? I assume you're a writer. A lot of times you write stuff and you think, "Well, I need to re-write this a little bit," and by the time you re-write it, it's completely different from what you originally wrote down. It's the same kind of thing that happens with any journalist, with any kind of writer.
CTNow: Do you remember the first record you ever got?
KC: That's really going back too far. It would have to be one of those records you got as a kid, maybe a 78. It was yellow, probably "Howdy Doody Time," or something like that. It came in yellow vinyl and had a little picture on it. I couldn't tell you my first pop record. Who knows how old I was. My mother loved R&B records, so we had Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles, the Flamingos, all these great groups from the '50s growing up.
CTNow: What would you be doing now if you had never started a band?
KC: I was gearing my whole life toward being in the record business. I started in retail and went into wholesale and promotion. I learned every aspect of the business. I worked in every department. I worked in promotion. I worked in the warehouse. I worked in stocking and sales. I started taking some classes in college for music, but I never finished because I became successful. So I was just going to do something in this business, somehow. I managed Timmy Thomas and co-managed Betty Wright for awhile. I booked all of their shows. I had my hands in a lot of different things, and who knows which one of those I would have ended up in. But I would have been in the entertainment business somehow.
CTNow: What music are you listening to these days?
KC: I'm pretty much a top 40 person, so whatever's hot on the charts at the time. I like all kinds of music, so I have everything on my iPad from jazz, R&B, pop, rock, classical, Latin, you name the genre and I probably have it. I probably like more R&B more than anything, but it's hard to like R&B now because it's just not like what it was when I was growing up, so I've become more pop-oriented.