It might be a stretch, but it’s possible that disco was born in Maryland – or at least over it.
In 1973, Harry Wayne “K.C.” Casey was flying back to Florida after a show at the Capital Center in Washington, D.C.
At the show, “everyone in the audience was blowing whistles,” Casey said in an interview with Patch. “On the plane on the way back I thought, ‘Wow. Blow your whistle,’ and I started writing the song.”
He just may have been cruising at 30,000 feet over Maryland.
The song, Blow Your Whistle, was KC and the Sunshine Band’s first single, released in 1973. That year it peaked at 27 on the U.S. R&B charts.
Thirty-nine years later, the song is coming home, so to speak. KC and the Sunshine Band are scheduled to hit the stage at the Sunday, June 3, at the Capital Jazz Fest.
“We’re bringing the hits,” Casey said of Sunday’s show, “and all the music that people want to hear.”
Turning the struggle into Sunshine
Casey’s music career started at a record store in his native Florida. His record-collecting habit led him to a wholesale distributor down the street, where he could buy his vinyl on the cheap at wholesale prices.
He eventually left the record store, hoping to get a job at the distributor, which also ran a then-small record label called TK Records.
“I’d hang out there,” he said of TK, which eventually released the band’s first seven albums.
“The phone would ring, no one would answer it, so I would. If the trash looked full, I’d empty it. I just wanted to be a part of whatever was going on there,” he said. “Whatever it was.”
“When I was growing up,” Casey said, “when records were really being made, a company would sign you up for a five-year contract and you were good.” If a record wasn’t an instant success, he said, the company would work with you to make it better.
“Now, they don’t even try because it’s so corporate … It’s all about money and greed and everything else. It’s just a whole different world out there for artists.”
Casey doesn’t disparage today’s artists, though. In fact, he doesn’t have much negative to say about anything.
He has even performed on American Idol. “Those kids,” he said, “everybody who’s an artist or performing is going through some sort of struggle.”
Casey just turns the struggle into sunshine. It was what prompted him to make music in the first place.
"All those groups ... were disco if you ask me"
In the early 70s, he said, “I was feeling that music was very dark … I wanted records that were all high energy and full of life” -- records that reflected his fast-talking, laughter-infused personality.
“It was kind of the beginning of the end of all that the 60s was: peace, love for one another, who cares if this person is black, white, green, red? I was feeling it was time to celebrate all of these things.
“And, we kind of did that. We kind of changed what the sound of music was.”
No “kind of” about it, according to music historians.
KC and the Sunshine Band had seven singles hit No. 1 in several different genres, including the Billboard Hot 100, U.S. R&B and Disco Charts.
The music has been sampled, re-purposed and re-released so much that it has become part of the fabric of American music.
In popular music, Casey said, “I hear our music, I hear our beat. I hear a lot of different things. You can’t help but hear it. It’s just evolved.
“Madonna? Madonna was disco, you know what I mean?” he said with a laugh. “Flock of Seagulls, all of those groups from the 80s were disco, if you ask me. It just evolved."
To Casey, disco is more than dancing and jumpsuits. It’s the drums, which he incorporated from Bahamian Junkanoo. It’s the vocals, which bounce and twist and turn, elevating songs to parties. And it’s the energy, which Casey exudes naturally.
A Shining Moment of Happiness
So why, Casey asked, does disco get such a bad rap?
“It all started when they did that disco demolition stuff,” he said, referring to a 1979 disco-record-burning party at Comisky Park where 80,000 people showed up to declare the death of disco, records were blown up and a baseball game was forfeited due to security concerns.
The promoter of the event, Mike Veeck, has since apologized to Casey.
Still, despite disco’s persistence and influences, Casey said he’s amazed at the lack of respect the music gets.
“For something that brings so much positivity, why people continue to keep the negative vibe – it’s just so crazy.
“It’s great music,” he said. “Our songs have been used in more than 300 commercials. You can’t go to a baseball, football or hockey game without hearing one of our songs played. The songs speak for themselves.”
The songs, like Casey, speak of good times, optimism and hope in a timeless way. When the band started, “We were coming out of the war. For the first time, there were gas lines – if your license plate ended with an even number, you got gas on Monday, odd numbers went on Wednesday; it was a very depressing time.”
Today, at 61, Casey said music can still make things better.
“With all the negative vibe that’s trying to seep through into our world today with everything, I think it’s time to go out and celebrate a little bit, smile and laugh and sing because everyone of us deserves that,” he said.
“We all deserve a shining moment of happiness. You’ve got to put those moments in your life. That’s what keeps us from going crazy.”
If you want to "do a little dance, make a little love, get down" tomorrow, head to the
Doors open at 10 a.m. Buy tickets online.