By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
During those early sessions, KC and Finch enlisted the aid of their pals at T.K. to play the many instruments they incorporated. Some of these - such as guitarist Jerome Smith and drummer Robert Johnson - along with associates from an earlier grouping called Casey and the Oceanliners came together as KC and the Sunshine Junkanoo Band. "We dropped the `Junkanoo,'" KC remembers, "and realized that we had something going here. We said let's be a group, and we all decided, Let's do it." Keyboardist KC discovered that his engineer pal, Rick Finch, was also a fine bassist. While the outfit was adept at reproducing the otherwise inimitable KC-Finch studio sound, they were also proficient at improvising in live settings.
Europe was onto KC before Miami and the rest of the U.S. - "Queen of Clubs" didn't hit here until it was reissued two years later. While "Queen" - with the coolest screams since James Brown, provided by George McCrae - was becoming aces with the Brits, Steve Alamo decided to take the Sunshine Band to England for a monthlong tour. The day before the transatlantic flight, KC underwent an emergency appendectomy. The tour was grueling - KC recalls performing 48 shows in as many towns. At one venue the singer was so exhausted he didn't bother to walk around to the backstage entrance. He simply strolled in the front door with the crowd. "This guy grabs me and hauls me out of the place," KC says with a laugh, remembering a time when his face was unknown to the masses, much less to concert security guards. "I made him get on his knees and apologize. That was a mistake. He got drunk, and after the show he kept apologizing all night."
By 1974 KC, Rick Finch, and the rest of the Sunshine Band were part of T.K.'s front line. The writing and production work by KC and Finch on "Rock Your Baby" elated Stone and Alamo, and KC-Finch songs that had been shelved now saw the light of mass distribution. One of those, finally released in 1975, began with a stinging guitar riff that couldn't have been human - KC and Finch had used studio technology to speed up the guitar track. As the tingling guitar winds down, a machine-gun drum riff takes over the beat, and then KC's voice lifts the groove, "Baby-babe, let's get together/Honey-honey, me and you/And do the things/Aw do the things/That we like to do." The lyrics may have been short on profundity, but KC's delivery was as soulful, spirited, cocky, and black as Sam Cooke or Larry Williams. "Get Down Tonight" became the song of the happy summer of 1975.
As in childhood, KC, at age 39, loves to be at home. Still boyishly handsome, and as the Swap Shop and other concerts this year have proved, still capable of delivering roughly perfect vocal performances, he enjoys a steady income from royalties. "That's what's kept me alive," he says flatly, confessing only that he is financially "comfortable." During the first three years of hitmaking at T.K., he says, "I was a millionaire living in a $250 apartment with no furniture."
In 1976, after "Get Down Tonight," he bought a house in Miami Lakes. "I didn't want to live on the Beach or any of that mess," he says. The place is a bachelor's delight - or a kid's dream. Georgia and Albert, brother-and-sister golden retrievers, greet visitors with ferocious affection. When KC sits on the living-room sofa, a dog is perched next to him in seconds, head resting on master's thigh. There's a swimming pool in the back, and in the rec room a pool table, Ping-Pong table, a Red Baron pinball machine, a Donkey Kong video game, and a bar. An autographed photo of the Beatles hangs in a hallway. Upstairs, where the dogs aren't allowed to go (KC's scolding is mild, good-humored, and effective) is a large room with only a round, white couch for furniture. Behind it, tucked away on a rear wall, are 31 gold and platinum records. Asked which one of the trophies is the most meaningful, KC grins and shakes his head: "They're all significant." During their reign from 1974 to 1979, KC and the Sunshine Band sold an estimated 75 million records.
KC prizes other collections besides the gold and platinum discs - ashtrays, bric-a-brac, T-shirts, photographs of himself with famous peers including Cher, Michael Jackson, and Donna Summer. In the music room upstairs, where a Baldwin spinet awaits his next inspiration, are hundreds of albums covering all genres. "I love R&B, all that Sixties stuff," KC says. "A little bit of everything - Joe Cocker, Aretha, everything on Motown and Stax, you name it." Because his own music was so trend-setting, so different, it is difficult to cite anything that preceded it for historical context. Sure, there are some similarities to the Marvelows, Dyke & the Blazers, the Five Du-Tones, Jamo Thomas, and other early-Sixties R&B artists. But who remembers any of them? And none of those used whistles or congas or studio technology to enhance their funky dance songs. It would be much easier to list the dozens of post-KC acts influenced by the sound of the Sunshine Band.