By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
AIDS and the Eighties shot a bullet hole in those good times. And now baby boomers look back in embarrassment at their Seventies shenanigans. And now everyone dismisses KC with a wink - whatever happened to him, anyway? Finding good press about KC and the Sunshine Band is about as easy as finding a mirrored ball or a leisure suit. Indeed, since KC's heyday, virtually nothing has been written about a man with a wallful of gold and platinum records and three Grammy awards. It's as if he had died along with disco, and no one mourns either loss.
But KC and the Sunshine Band were significant innovators, and their music still sends shock waves after all these years. He and his cohorts invented what would come to be known as the Miami Sound, and they took it to its apex. No one since has been able to touch their melding of R&B's soulfulness and dance music's primal beat. KC's music endures because ten or fifteen years ago it was about twenty years ahead of its time. And while he claims the media ignores him in 1990 because he's not "doing anything," KC has been disappearing for long stretches, secluding himself in a small room on the second floor of his Miami Lakes house, sitting at a small Baldwin piano, and as he puts it, "creating."
During and after World War II, Opa-locka was used for a naval air station, with an adjoining hospital, which is where Jane Casey gave birth to her only son, on January 31, 1951. "Jackson was a better hospital," Mrs. Casey remembers, "but the navy hospital was closer, so my husband could visit a couple of times a day."
Harry L. Casey ran a furniture store on Seventh Avenue until the road was widened. "I wanted to name him after his father," says Mrs. Casey, "but I didn't care for the name Harry." She chuckles at her youthful taste. "I like it better now," she adds. "I didn't want a Harry L. Junior, so Harry Wayne. I loved to go to the movies, I went to all the movies, and I saw one called Home in Indiana, with Lon McCallister. He played a character named Sparky, and my son was very active. I loved that name." To this day, Jane Casey refers to her boy as Sparky.
Until Sparky reached school age, the family lived above the furniture store, but construction cut into business, so Harry L. took a regular job and the Casey clan moved to Hialeah. As a child Sparky liked to stay at home, although he was hardly reclusive. "He was very active and energetic," his mother recalls. "He entertained all the other kids all the time. He had this wagon, and one week he'd be a race driver, then he'd decorate it as something else - one neighbor used to come over because she was curious to see what he was going to do with that wagon next. He built a swing in the back yard, and the kids would come from all over."
It took some effort for young Sparky to grab the family spotlight. Mother Jane was, by her own account, a "fabulous dancer." The advertising jingle for Jane's brother-in-law's radiator company was sung by her sister. One of KC's cousins was a gospel singer who's now a "lounge act," as Jane puts it. The family would gather for all-night sing-alongs, and any time company visited, Jane would encourage her son to dance for them. Not much encouragement was needed. "Music is all I ever wanted to do," KC says today. "That's what I was put here to do. I've had no other thoughts in my mind."
After graduating from Hialeah High School, KC took a job at a Recordsville store in the Palm Springs Mall, and began college at Miami-Dade North, where he studied piano. The young man's schedule was hectic, but he was making decent money as a record-store clerk, and he was, his mother says proudly, "a very sharp dresser." One day he rushed home and announced that he was getting out of retail and taking a new job - for less money.
KC had begun spending time at the new Tone/T.K. music complex at 495 SE Tenth Ct. "I wanted to hang around there," he says, "because I wanted to know everything about music." One day he distressed his mom by arriving home in wrinkled, less-than-sharp clothes. "I didn't know what he was doing down there," she says now. "He was sweeping the warehouse. He did anything they wanted him to do, just to get in there and make music."
T.K. was formed by Henry Stone and Steve Alamo, both of whom are still quite active in the music business. Their relationship dates back three decades, around the time Stone began a Miami-based record distribution company called Tone, and Alamo was a white soul singer frustrated by racial prejudice - white stations wouldn't play his "black" music and black stations wouldn't play music by a white singer. "I did have [the television show] Where the Action Is out in California," says Alamo, who is now president of the Vision Records label here in Miami. "And I did nightclubs and all that baloney. But I decided to get into production, and started producing records - Sam and Dave and the Allman Brothers, for example - before T.K."