When 'Shake Your Booty' was cutting edge
by Seth Rogovoy
(PITTSFIELD, July 7, 2004) – Growing up as an avid record collector and a huge fan of r&b music, Harry Wayne Casey had one problem. He wanted an album that you could put on at a party that consisted of nothing but upbeat dance tunes.
“I’d hate it when I came home with an album with two uptempo songs and five slow ones,” said Casey. “I wanted a record with all feel-good music.”
So when Casey finally got the chance to make his own record in 1974, he made sure it was a non-stop party album of dance tunes.
That first album, called “Do It Good,” didn’t make much of an impression in Casey’s home country, but it was a pretty big hit in England. Neither did the group’s second album, which consisted of all instrumentals, make much of an impression.
But when the eponymous “KC and the Sunshine Band” was released in the summer of 1975, the band became a household name, the sound was ubiquitous, and the hits, as he had planned, flowed virtually uninterrupted for several years in a row.
Looking back on that time in a recent phone interview from his home in his native Florida, Casey – whose band inaugurates the Berkshire Music Glen’s summer concert series at Bousquet on Sunday, July 11, at 4:45 – recalls the classic “lonely at the top” syndrome. While he was on stage looking out at partygoers dancing to hits like “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s the Way (I Like It),” he wished he could be among them.
“For me it was like I was the party, but I wanted to be at the party,” he said. “Although I was the one being looked at, I was on the inside looking out. I’d want to be out there with the people, but I couldn’t be.
“I felt isolated and alone. I think anyone going through it probably could say they feel the same way.”
To make matters worse, Casey says his music was never accorded the respect it deserved. Often lumped in with disco, KC and the Sunshine Band’s music was a kind of proto-disco, a pop-funk hybrid that anticipated the disco craze of the late-‘70s.
“My music didn’t fit into what became disco, but it was what became disco,” said Casey.
“We get left out of a lot of things and we get skipped over in the accounts. We were a major force in changing the sound of rock and roll. I don’t understand it. They skip what we did and go right to the Bee Gees and disco in 1978, and the credit always falls there, not with us, where it came from, four years before ‘Saturday Night Fever.’
“We would do a show and have thirty- to forty-thousand screaming people and the critics would just tear us apart. I think critics expect an artist to get up there every night and sound like the record and be like the record. They don’t try to understand what the artist had to get through to be there. It’s frustrating for us when we know what we’ve been through. Your voice can only hold up so much. There’s technical things that happen beyond our control. And a lot of places back then were not acoustically built for concerts. Critics didn’t like my kind of music, anyway.”
Casey is hard-pressed to explain just how he came up with the sound fueling hits like “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Keep It Comin’ Love” and “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.”
“I’d always loved R and B music,” said Casey. “It’s all I ever knew. That’s what I bought. The Beatles were no big thrill to me. Motown was better. Although some of the Beatles things I would buy, or rock stuff, if it sounded funky.
“Funk was always around. It just wasn’t accepted for a white person to sing it. I didn’t think anything about it because my group was mixed. I just did what came natural, not trying to be or sound like anyone. I was told you can’t do it, you’re white, it doesn’t happen. So I guess it happened because I don’t take no for an answer very well.”
Although all the group’s major hits are co-credited to Casey and Richard Finch, he makes clear that the songwriting duo was no Lennon and McCartney, where each were co-equal songwriters.
“The whole idea of the Sunshine Band was mine,” said Casey. “I started the band without Finch. I did the writing, he did the engineering. He had an expertise in sound or engineering where I lacked in that area. Although every name appeared equally, we listed it that way no matter who did what on the songs.”
One of the trademarks of the Sunshine Band hits were the catchphrases embedded in the songs. “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight,” for example. Or “That’s the way -- uh-huh, uh-huh -- I like it.” There’s a certain poetry and rhythm embedded in these catchy, memorable phrases that make them perfect for pop radio.
“It comes from a gift I was given,” said Casey, trying to account for his ability to come up with these phrases. “I could sit here right now and look out at the trees and come up with a similar phrase. It just happens. I can be anywhere. Before I go to bed these things just pop into my mind.”
As for the immortal line, “Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty,” Casey said he thought the song containing it wouldn’t be a hit because it was too simple.
“That song for me was really kind of my way of telling people to be yourself,” said Casey, reflecting on the deeper meaning behind the lyrics. “I’d go do these shows, and the majority of the people were standing up, and there’d be a few just sitting there on the side. Out of that frustration, of why isn’t everyone just letting go, came ‘Shake your booty.’
“I think I pushed the edge on a lot of things. But that one really pushed it.”
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 8, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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