By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
Now I'm back to let you knowI can really shake 'em downDo you love meNow that I can dance?
the Contours, 1962
The second show inside the main building at the sprawling Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop is about to begin and the place is packed. A scintillating, electrical energy hums along as two percussionists dash on-stage and take their positions. The keyboardist and bass player and guitarist sprint from behind the black curtains, then the four members of the horn section, then the three female back-up singers. Their drum-driven jam throws off sparks, but this is still a prelude.
From somewhere comes a voice carrying the words of the old Beatles song "With a Little Help from My Friends," and then he emerges, wearing a gold lame jacket and yellow high-tops with red laces. His hair is shorter now, tinged auburn, and his tight black jeans are straight-legged, not bell-bottomed. He's spinning like a dervish and beaming like a lost dog come home. The musicians, clearly responding to their leader's galvanic entrance, crank it up a notch or two. KC has arrived, and the Sunshine Band is immediately lifted by his frenetic, kinetic presence.
The group rips into "Do You Wanna Go Party," and the large crowd happily answers in the affirmative. KC is bouncing now, his neck veins bulging with each roared lyric, sweat flying, corners of his mouth upturned, eyes on fire. He looks like a kid at his bestest birthday party ever.
After two more songs, KC pauses, catches his breath, and addresses the audience in an aside. "In 1974 we started a new craze," he says without sounding boastful. "A dance craze. It started with this song. Ready?" The crowd obviously is, and the band unfurls the swaying "Rock Your Baby," a number-one hit that is generally considered the seminal disco song. Partway through it, the tempo shifts into high gear and the indelible rhythm of "That's the Way (I Like It)" snakes through the crowd like an invisible live wire, coiling around every
The blatantly sexual song doesn't seem to offend anyone - the few elderly folks who walk out are shaking their heads and complaining only about the volume. Straight-laced parents encourage tiny tots to shake their booties. People of varying colors and ages stand atop metal folding chairs, boogieing like it's 1977 all over again.
The growling, scowling "I'm Your Boogie Man" maintains the vibe, the horns scream insistently, KC swaggers and shimmies and shakes, and then the group breaks into "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty." Everyone does. The band, which features a mix of veteran and new members, is well schooled in KC's music, and that education is put to the test soon enough as they lower the boom with a classy, brassy version of "Get Down Tonight," which breaks for a wild percussion
To those who did not feel the surging, electrifying power of the recent Swap Shop concert, KC in 1990 might seem to be an anachronism. Think KC and you can't help but conjure up images of a boyish, jumpsuited white guy fronting a mostly black band that played mindless disco music, albeit music that everyone remembers, and millions and millions of people purchased during the Seventies.
The Vietnam war was over, Nixon had been exposed, living seemed easy. There were no hostages in the Middle East, no savings and loan failures, the budget deficit hadn't grown to unimaginable size, crack hadn't ravaged, and perhaps most importantly, there was no AIDS. It was morally correct, or at least acceptable, to be selfish, indulgent, disinterested. Even to be unapologetically happy. There weren't many causes to fight for, even fewer people to do the fighting. KC and the Sunshine Band offered the perfect soundtrack for the good life - songs about love and lust set to driving dance beats. Don't worry about the state of the world or ponder the fragility of the future - you might miss out on the
"To begin with," KC says, "when I foresaw this thing coming, we were making dance records. I was a little bit upset when it was called `disco.' It was dance music, rhythm and blues. I think the whole Saturday Night Fever thing turned this into disco - that word, it means discotheque, where the music was played. It didn't mean the type of music we were doing. Look at punk, it was simplistic and people danced to it. With dance music, it was a reawakening in the Seventies and an accepting of a form of music that's been around since the beginning."
The term disco symbolized an entire movement, one that thrust blacks and gays into the face of mainstream America. The Sunshine Band led the movement, but did so unintentionally. "That was the idea of `Shake Your Booty,'" KC remembers. "People being afraid or intimidated by the Joneses. You can't live in a separatist world. But there was nothing meant by me being white and being the leader. We were one. I never looked at who was what. We could have been green people and yellow people, it was just the fact that we all enjoyed the same type of music. And we said don't fight the feeling, have a good time together."
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."
In those days, before disco and Watergate and AIDS, record companies didn't distribute their own albums to record stores, but went through middlemen like Henry Stone, who built Tone into the biggest such operation in the Southeast. "We had 'em all - Warners, MGM, Motown, Stax," recalls Stone, who now runs a local label called Hot Productions. "For years I had been involved in [producing] records. You know how some people play golf? I played at making records - I made James Brown's first, and Sam and Dave. But I had a problem as a big distributor. I couldn't start my own label because it would be a conflict of interest. So I had Atlantic distribute most of the records I made. `Funky Nassau,' `Clean Up Woman,' songs like that I gave to the major companies [for release on their labels] because distribution was how I made my living."
In the early Seventies, an industrywide revolution changed all that. The big record companies took over their own distribution duties, forming powerful alliances such as WEA (the Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic conglomerate). "They eliminated the third party," Stone says. "Which was me. Which was Tone." A savvy and hardened pro, Stone turned the disaster into something amazing. "I had a record called `Why Can't We Live Together' by Timmy Thomas," he says. "I was going to put it [out through] Atlantic. But I decided to start my own thing instead. About that time, a young man who worked at a local record store started to come around. He was kinda young, but very aggressive."
With a recording studio and the other resources necessary to "make" records, Stone's new enterprise provided an excellent training ground for young KC. Its stable of talent included Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright ("Clean Up Woman"), Clarence Reid, Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, and the McCraes, George and Gwen (who, separately and together, cut eight albums). "It was like a workshop," Steve Alamo recalls. "Everybody helped each other, played on each other's records, sang background, and worked promotion for each other. It was like a family, a big group of people who decided they'd get into the music business. It's funny, I look at some of these compilations coming out, and I didn't realize we made that many records - Peter Brown, Anita Ward...." In fact, in the mid-Seventies T.K. made hits, succeeding in a market that ranged from the new reggae sounds of Bob Marley to the histrionics of Alice Cooper and KISS to the pop-piano poundings of Elton John to the lazy ramblings of America, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger were servicing the white-rocker crowd, Abba was Sweden's biggest export, Aerosmith was getting its wings, the Average White Band provided irony, Boz Scaggs offered the lowdown, Barry White steamed unclean, Steely Dan and Led Zeppelin and Heart and Jethro Tull delivered variety, if not compelling music. Donna Summer had her famous orgasm.
A young engineer and bass player named Richard Finch also decided to get into the record business by hanging out at T.K. Productions. "KC was working on the switchboard and he wanted to work in the studio," Alamo remembers. "Rick Finch was a car mechanic who also played bass. He wanted to work in the studio." The young upstarts were given access to the studio after hours - KC even had his own set of office keys, and was always the last one to leave at night. "Rick was about sixteen at the time," Henry Stone recalls. "He wanted to be an engineer. I thought it was a good idea to put these young guys together, let them use the studio, let them work with Clarence, Betty, Little Beaver. When the others were done, they'd go in and goof around, come up with ideas."
Although "Why Can't We Live Together" was a hit for T.K., it wasn't enough to launch the label. Then one night at about 2:00 a.m., the T.K. front line was in the upstairs, eight-track recording studio, when Rick Finch and Harry Casey walked in and presented Henry Stone and Steve Alamo with an instrumental track they had created while goofing around, using members of the T.K. stable as musicians. In the youngsters' demonstration tape, Stone and Alamo heard something special, including the potential for ringing cash registers. The right singer was needed, George McCrae wasn't busy, and his high-pitched and unhitched vocals fit the tune perfectly. The result - fairly crude by today's standards of studio technology - was pressed onto vinyl and T.K. released it in 1974 as "Rock Your Baby." It shot to number one, sold more than ten million copies, and ushered in the disco era.
Before that song changed the complexion of music, KC had latched onto an idea while attending a party at Betty Wright's house in El Portal. The entertainment at the event was provided by a Junkanoo band, Junkanoo being the spirited Bahamian music that combines drums, chants, horns, whistles, and hip-shaking rhythm. Soon after, when the young studio rat traveled to Landover, Maryland, for a Rare Earth concert, he noticed that many of the people in the audience had whistles, something that would become a short-lived fad at football games and other large public gatherings of the early Seventies. KC and Finch took the idea and ran to the studio with it. T.K. released "Blow Your Whistle," and it made some noise on the R&B charts, so T.K. allowed their sunshine boys to follow it up with another single, "Blow Your Funky Horn," which enjoyed only slightly better results. Nonetheless, an album called Do It Good, with a third single, "Queen of Clubs," was issued, but it went nowhere in the States. However, by then T.K.'s distribution was international, and the third effort walloped the British charts, scoring Top 10 in 1974.
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.
But right now KC wants to show off the patio he's building, brick by brick, by himself, in his back yard. The idea apparently came to him as naturally as musical inspiration, and it has absorbed his attention as completely as a recording session. For days recently KC was unreachable - he didn't answer persistent rings of his doorbell, he didn't return phone messages, he paid no attention to his beeping beeper. He was building a patio, period.
The KC and the Sunshine Band gravy train didn't run dry until the beginning of the Eighties. After 1975's "Get Down Tonight" proved that the disco-dance movement could spawn creative, stimulating, substantial pieces of musical innovation, the hits, as they say, kept on coming. "Get Down" ascended to the number-one position on both the R&B and pop charts - so did "That's the Way (I Like It)" and "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty." No other act had scored three consecutive pop chart leaders since the Beatles in 1964 - and KC's hits also topped the R&B tallies.
In 1977 came "I'm Your Boogie Man," another number-one pop smash, and "Keep It Comin' Love," which fulfilled its title - it reached number-two pop and number-one R&B. Along the way, KC and Richard Finch spread their talents around - both as songwriters and producers - working with Jimmy "Bo" Horne, Leif Garrett, and Fire (the female singers who provided the copulation-style uh-huh responses on "That's the Way"). The duo picked up a Grammy for their writing contributions to Betty Wright's "Where Is the Love?" In 1978 KC added two more Grammys to his collection as a performer and producer on the album of the year, Saturday Night Fever.
The Sunshine Band's sales figures for 1978 were less boggling - "Boogie Shoes" and "It's the Same Old Song" were only moderately successful. But there was one more number-one in 1979 - the desperate ballad "Please Don't Go" - and an R&B smash in "Do You Wanna Go Party." KC worked out a song with singer Teri De Sario, "Yes, I'm Ready," which made it to the second position on the pop list as the Seventies waned.
Now hostages were being held in Iran, a man named Reagan was about to become president, things had turned mighty ugly. On the KC home front, there was some problem between him and his long-time partner Richard Finch. KC winces at the mention of his old buddy's name, and refuses to expound beyond that. Finch could not be reached for comment. Steve Alamo says, "He's hard to get ahold of. I'd like to hear from him, too. I know that he and KC became estranged." Henry Stone would rather not talk about it, mumbling something about a "terrible falling out." Whatever the case, associates spotted Finch at the Swap Shop concert, and one band member says Finch and KC spoke to each other while standing next to a jewelry kiosk.
What no one will dispute is that the car mechanic turned bass player turned producer-arranger-engineer was an equal partner in the wildly inventive records that took his band over the top in the Seventies. "In the beginning I had my doubts about which one was doing it," says Alamo. "I'm not sure to this day which one. I just know that together they did it. I've vacillated - Finch did it all, then KC did it all. If anyone out there knows the answer, they're lying." Henry Stone says simply, "Rick was my favorite."
T.K. productions capped its relationship with KC by releasing a Greatest Hits package in 1980. KC signed with Epic and recorded The Painter and All in a Night's Work, neither of which duplicated - or even approached - his earlier megasuccess. A song called "Give It Up" from the second Epic album was a huge hit in England, but Epic declined to release it stateside, so KC put it out on his own Mecca label, and it enjoyed decent sales.
While admitting that T.K. "gave me an opportunity and helped it happen," and while implying he has no animosity toward his old bosses, KC still resents the way he was treated by the label toward the end. "I helped build that company," he says dispassionately. "I got the raw end, I think. I'd go in and there wouldn't be a poster for my new album, no promotion, nothing. I had them audited and they owed me $18 million. To get out of my contract, I told 'em to take that money and stick it up their ass." The figure he cites may seem far-fetched, but money flows fast and wild in the music business. And keeping track was not KC's forte, it was Henry Stone's.
Steve Alamo says, "A person like KC, who has five number-ones in a row, doesn't need to be promoted. If they released a new Michael Jackson, and didn't promote it, and it was a good album, do you think it would be lost to the world? I'm not saying we did or did not promote him, I'm saying that's ludicrous." As far as the financial allegations, Alamo says, "Those points were handled after I was gone [from T.K.]. I don't know if he had money due or not. But I know he got big advances up-front, like many of the artists. What we did pay him was enough to support half of North Miami." He adds that he still considers KC a friend.
Henry Stone insists KC was treated like all star musicians. "They forget when they get their advances. There was a period he must have forgot about, where he was getting $20,000 a week. That's the record business. The millions he did earn, he earned it, I didn't give him anything."
Actually, the dispute between KC and T.K. ran deeper, and it contributed to T.K.'s demise in the early Eighties. Because of the revolution in the distribution business, companies were sending outrageous numbers of records on consignment to retailers, only to have almost as many returned to them. "We'd ship platinum [one million records]," Stone recalls. "And retailers would ship back platinum and gold. The things had babies out there." Product overload aside, Stone feels that KC's complaint came awful late in the game. "If we didn't pay KC, he could have broken his contract in the first year. That's the record business, though, and you can't change that unless a person can stay a superstar."
Troubles at T.K. reflected industry-wide chaos. "Almost all the labels were internally bankrupt," asserts Steve Alamo. "Because they were shipping so many records, they thought they had hits out there. CBS and Warner Bros. could simply call upstairs for more cash, but we had a bank loan, a demand loan, which means they could call it in at any time - `We need the money by Monday.' The bank was nervous about the industry and called in the loan. We raised enough to satisfy the bank, but at that point we were running a business with bills of $500,000 a month. That's the real story. I was there with the bankers in 1980 when we filed Chapter 11." T.K. went through bankruptcy proceedings, a fire ripped through the Tone warehouse, and everybody moved on.
KC's troubles worsened quickly. He says he met an investor who wanted to bankroll the continuation of his career, but who, KC claims, "shafted me for a few million." Part of their problem, KC recalls, was that his would-be benefactor wanted him to move to Atlanta, where he had his headquarters. But KC didn't want to leave Miami.
On January 15, 1982, KC was involved in an automobile accident in Hialeah that temporarily paralyzed one side of his body. "I was in traction here at home for six months," he recalls. "It took me a year to recuperate."
As painful as that must have been, another trauma clearly strikes deeper with KC. "I was remortgaging this house in 1987," he says with a wave of his hand. "These idiots from the other mortgage company pulled a stunt to make some quick money. So the other mortgage went through. It was the Christmas holidays, and papers weren't going from desk to desk." According to some accounts, KC came so close to eviction that his furniture was actually moved out. A friend says KC was virtually suicidal due to the threat of losing his first and only house. He's still angry, and mentions the possibility of filing a lawsuit, for vindication if nothing else.
The Eighties, perhaps thankfully for Harry Wayne Casey, have ended. But there was one other tragedy in that decade, the most hurtful and difficult to reconcile of all. In 1984 Harry L., the beloved patriarch who "never met a stranger," as Mrs. Casey puts it, died. "When his father died," KC's mother recalls, "Sparky was devastated."
KC says that his religious faith helped him endure the loss. "How to explain it?" he offers. "I feel I'm very religious, but no one on this earth is perfect. My interpretation of the Bible might be different from someone else's interpretation. But I believe in God and I believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. That's the power. That's what's done all this. Who else would do this except God?"
And indeed, although the devoutly religious family may not see it quite that way, to hear Mrs. Casey tell it, her son might have been consoled as much by his faith in his dogs as by his faith in God. "After the funeral, he went to bed and the [Pentecostal] pastor went in to pray for him," Mrs. Casey recalls. "Candy [the mother of retrievers Georgia and Albert] was up there, and the pastor, well, he started laughing. Every time he put his hand on Sparky to pray for him, Candy would get between them." And KC still lives for his two pets. "That's why he loves to be home," says Mrs. Casey. "Because he loves those dogs. He could make a comeback easily, but I don't think he wants to travel as much. He got tired."
Weariness aside, KC definitely does want to come back. "I'm bored. Depressed. I mean, I'm too talented to be sitting around. The first couple of years of my retirement, or whatever, I enjoyed it tremendously. For ten years I'd had to live out of suitcases, and it was nice to touch bases with reality. But in these last couple of years, performing again, the response [from audiences] has been beyond my wildest dream. I miss it. I belong on the stage. And this time, I won't stop."
In the here and now, KC could hardly be considered a moribund recluse, a rock-and-roll take on the Sunset Boulevard story, bitter star locked up with his dogs and his laurels and his memories. This year KC recorded a cover of the 1965 Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders' hit "Game of Love," for the movie soundtrack to Nobody's Perfect. Rhino Records recently released a wonderfully remastered collection of sixteen Sunshine Band beauties, and the label reports that it's selling well.
The new version of the Sunshine Band performed in March at the Spin magazine fifth anniversary party at the Ritz in Manhattan, where throngs were turned away at the door due to a sellout. Paul Shaffer, on whose 1989 album KC guested, jammed with the group. The band was featured at the New York Queensfest, a colossal festival in Flushing Meadow Park on June 15. They delivered their unforgettable dance rhythms at a show in May for Atlanta's Hot 99 radio station. They gigged two sold-out nights at the Palladium in lower Manhattan, played Naples in April for a National Football League convention, then brought a rain-drenched crowd to its feet at the Miami International Music Festival at Bayfront Park this past May.
Next week KC and the Sunshine Band travel to California, where they'll play San Francisco's famous hot spot, the I-Beam, then head to Los Angeles for a show at Club 1970. On the first Monday in October, they go into an LA television studio for twelve minutes of live music and an interview for the national show Into the Night, hosted by former disc jockey Rick "Disco Duck" Dees. And of course, there was the electrifying Swap Shop concert. For these shows, KC draws on his vast repertoire, often updating the songs by combining them in medleys, splicing in solos, altering the inflection of his powerful vocals. Favorite covers of others' work include Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and the Supremes' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
KC is as busy as he wants to be, and his music burns as brightly as ever. The next few weeks will be a wild grind, a resurrection of the hectic, happy Seventies. He might have to temporarily abandon his patio project, but even KC has to leave home sometimes. After all, at some point, everybody's gotta dance.