Not long after R&B artist Timmy Thomas recorded “We Can’t Live Together,” Harry Wayne Casey spotted the Hammond organ Thomas had used to record his smash hit in a Miami recording studio.
“I went in there and I just sat at the organ,” Casey said. “And I turned on one of the automatic beat boxes that came on those organs at the time and just started playing it. And the next thing you know, I’d created this song.”
After he finished the song with writing partner Richard Finch, the two agreed it wasn’t quite right for their group, KC & The Sunshine Band. But Casey wanted someone to have it.
“I was actually going to let Jimmie ‘Bo’ Horne sing it, and Jimmie missed the meeting,” recalled Casey, who performs Aug. 7 with his band at the Chumash Casino Resort. “And George McCrae came in. I said, ‘Come over here and hear this song I have.’ So I hummed the melody to him and knew right then that this was going to be his song.”
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“Rock Your Baby” not only became a No. 1 single, but it would also be credited as one of the first disco songs — paving the way for acts like the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Casey’s own band to partake in a new music genre that would light up dance floors everywhere.
It also paved the way for McCrae to win a Grammy Award for best male R&B artist.
“It didn’t matter if I wasn’t the singer,” Casey said. “It was still my record. I produced it. I wrote it.”
Casey would have plenty of opportunity to be in the spotlight a short time later.
Born near Miami, Casey was in a band called Five Doors Down in his teens.
“Then I auditioned for this other band that told me I didn’t have enough soul,” he said. “And I never let them forget that.”
He eventually took a menial job with TK Records, a wholesale distributor that frequently hosted famous guests.
“James Brown would come in,” Casey said. “Aretha Franklin would come in. Bobby Womack. You never knew who was going to show up at the office.”
Behind TK Records was a music studio where Casey frequently hung out, sometimes watching sessions, other times answering phones or fetching coffee.
In time, he was invited to play on some of the sessions. He finally wound up recording his own material, including a 1973 funk single, “Blow Your Whistle.”
“I used all these studio musicians, and I thought, ‘What should I call this?” Casey said. “So I named it KC & The Sunshine Junkanoo Band. I don’t know why — it didn’t really even exist. It was just me.”
Eventually, he partnered with Finch, and the band name was changed to simply KC & The Sunshine Band. (Finch, who was convicted in 2010 of having sex with teenage boys, is no longer in the group.)
The collaboration produced a slew of hits that helped drive the rise of disco, including “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” “Get Down Tonight,” “That’s the Way (I Like It)” and “I’m Your Boogie Man.”
The duo’s song “Boogie Shoes” was included in the soundtrack for “Saturday Night Fever,” the magnum opus of the disco era.
“They really wanted ‘Shake Your Booty’ ” on the soundtrack, Casey said of the filmmakers.
He suggested “Boogie Shoes,” his next single.
While disco and its bell-bottomed fashions reigned in the 1970s, the infamous Disco Demolition Night supposedly marked the end of the era.
The brainstorm of Chicago White Sox executive Mike Veeck, whose father owned the team, the promotion promised to blow up vinyl disco records in the middle of a doubleheader at Chicago’s now-demolished Comiskey Park. When a riot erupted — with fans hurling records and storming the field — many felt the genre had died.
In 2001, Veeck, whose career suffered as a result of the promotion, formally apologized to Casey before a Marlins game.
“It was a promotion thing that he told me kind of went awry,” Casey said. “And I said, ‘Did you ever think when you were doing this that you might be affecting people’s living(s) — the food they put on their table and the roofs over their heads?’ ”
While Casey has weathered drug addictions and a near-fatal car accident, he has continued to perform. Meanwhile, his catalog has provided steady licensing revenue, having appeared in an estimated 200 films, television shows and commercials, including “Casino,” “Glee,” “Superbad” and “America’s Got Talent.”
One of his favorite uses of his songs in a movie, he said, is from “Forrest Gump.” A character snorts cocaine as “Get Down Tonight” plays at a club.
“I find it interesting where they put them in movies sometimes,” Casey said. “I’m a little shocked sometimes.”
He usually doesn’t object to filmmakers using his music unless the movie is objectionable, Casey said. “I’m honored just to be asked,” he said.
If you go
KC & The Sunshine Band
8 p.m. Aug. 7
Chumash Casino Resort, 3400 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez
$35 to $55
1-800-248-6274 or www.chumashcasino.com