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KC and the Sunshine Band frontman sees new interest in hit songs

By Rodney Ho, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: October 12, 2023, 6:03am

When the word disco comes up, a handful of acts usually get referenced, most notably Donna Summer, the Bee Gees and KC and the Sunshine Band.

Sadly, Summer died in 2012 and two-thirds of the Bee Gees are no more. But Harry Wayne Casey, lead singer of KC and the Sunshine Band is still wearing his boogie shoes at age 72.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Casey said he could technically retire, but he still enjoys hitting the stage and belting out his staples like “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s The Way (I Like It).”

“Right after the pandemic, I almost wasn’t going to do it anymore,” Casey said. “It was the first time I had just settled and was able to enjoy my friends, my house, my dogs, my regular life without having to jump on a plane.”

But Casey wasn’t ready to just sit at home. And he said he is seeing new generations embrace his songs.

When he was booked to headline a jazz and funk festival in England where he didn’t recognize most of the acts and nobody in the audience looked over 30, he was nervous. “But they knew every word to all the big songs,” he said. “It was an amazing moment in my life. For us to get that kind of response was overwhelming. It was euphoric, tearful, actually.”

Casey’s disco roots literally go back to what is often considered the first intentional disco No. 1 hit “Rock Your Baby” sung by George McRae. Casey co-wrote it and played keyboards.

At the time, Lowrey organs had primitive drum beat sounds so he and bandmate Richard Finch used a samba beat for what would become “Rock Your Baby” and Casey started playing chords to that track.

“It didn’t really fit with what I was doing with KC and the Sunshine Band,” he said. “I felt music had gotten very dark. I always loved to dance. I always like more up-tempo stuff. ‘Rock Your Baby’ didn’t really fit. It didn’t have horns. So I gave it to George McRae … The rest is history. He had this silky voice. I don’t know if my vocals at the time would have worked. I was singing a bit harder.”

While he did end up riding the disco wave to massive success, he actually said he was a little peeved that his music was being pigeonholed to a degree by the “disco” appellation at the time. To him, it was fun R&B dance music. And he noted that even if disco was “dead” by 1981, there was no shortage of dance music in the MTV era by the likes of Madonna and British new wave acts like New Order and Depeche Mode.

And KC and the Sunshine Band did manage one more hit in 1982 with “Give It Up” before Casey himself decided to literally give it up in 1984.

“I just felt burned out,” Casey said. “I got tired of the political [expletive] in the industry. Being told when to smile and not smile. Where to go, when to go.”

During his break, he said all he did was “get high and party a lot.” But later in the decade, he gradually began touring again, first with tracks in dance clubs with his backup singers. “I noticed people kind of missed me,” he said.