Mike Ragogna: Feeling You is the title of your new album. It feels like you were feeling the ’60s this time around.
KC: Let me tell you how the title came about. I’m working on a new album that I started two years ago and one of the new original songs on the album is “I’m Feeling You.” But I’m feeling it all, yes. The ’60s is the first part of a two part thing that’s coming out.
MR: What was the criteria for this album?
KC: The biggest thing I had to do was make sure everything wasn’t Motown. I was a huge Motown fan, and I would love to do a whole Motown record someday. I started picking things that were reflecting the way I was feeling in life at this moment in a way. I picked “Blowing In The Wind” by Bob Dylan because I just thought of all the stuff going on in the world and it was appropriate for that situation. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” came about because my manager kept asking me, “Why don’t you do a re-record of that song?” and then the Sandy Hook situation happened, and I was performing somewhere, and I decided that night, “You know what? I need to sing that song.” We need to start spreading the message of putting a little love in our hearts. I thought everything about this song was perfect, so I did it unrehearsed with just my keyboard player and I. It was very slow because I wanted the words to get across, I didn’t want it to be about the production.
MR: The ’60s are associated with social change and these are recent occurrences that are inspiring to do this project.
KC: It all applies. “Both Sides Now” really characterizes my point of view. “I’ve lived my life from both sides now,” I truly have, and still I’m living from both sides.
MR: Were any of these songs your favorites when you were younger?
KC: You know, to say that I had a favorite favorite, I’ve always been a little bit fickle in that department, I think because I’ve always just loved all kinds of music. I guess I was one of those fickle listeners who kind of moved on to whatever the next hit was and that would be my favorite during that time, and I’d play it until the next favorite came along, you know what I mean?
To say that I truly had a favorite artist or anything, I loved Motown, I loved the Supremes, but there were so many people I felt that way about. Joe Cocker was just friggin’ off the charts, James Brown, everything had its own identity, I had my own reason for loving everything, but to say that I really had a favorite favorite would be really hard. One of my all time favorite songs is “Somewhere,” because I think somewhere there is a place for all of us.
MR: I want to throw something out there if it’s not offensive to you. You made some of the best party music ever yet some of this music is somewhat introspective.
KC: Right. My songs were little love songs that I’d been writing all my life, but at the particular time that I really got more heavy into my writing and more serious about it was around 1973 and at that time I felt music had gotten really dark, there was just a dark cloud over everything. I don’t even know how to explain it, but the energy just felt really dark and clouded. Maybe it was brought on partly by the first gas shortage, all of a sudden we had to wait in lines to get gas on certain days, we had never been through anything like that before, life was pretty carefree up until that point.
When I started to think of what I wanted my first record to be about, I definitely wanted it to be all up-tempo, high energy, positive fun. That was definitely a deliberate thing that I did. That’s where I had my mind. As an avid record collector — I’ve got thousands of records — I was starting to get disappointed because I really loved to dance and I loved stuff that was more funky and uptempo, but you’d hear these great little funky singles come out, and then you’d buy the album and half of the tracks would put you to sleep. I didn’t want my music to put you to sleep.
MR: So you started working at TK Records as a 17 year old, and that presented the opportunity to start your own project. Was that part of your plan then?
KC: No, there was really no plan. I lived in Miami, and although a lot of artists came here to record and my friends were in bands and stuff and I even recorded a crazy little song when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I still thought that music came from Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville and Memphis. In all real thinking, that’s where you would think you had to go to make a record. That seemed to be the pulse of where everything was coming from. I didn’t know it at the time that music came from everywhere.
So, there was no plan. I always knew I was destined to do this, but I never thought of where it was going to go. I put my hands into everything. I started out in retail, I ended up in wholesale, I worked in the PR department, I started managing artists, started bookings, I just started doing everything, not knowing where I would land. I just knew that I loved this business and that I was destined to be some part of it somehow. Hopefully it was going to be as a writer or something, but meanwhile I was just content being around it, it didn’t matter what level or what part of it, I was just happy to be around something I loved so much.
MR: Where you surprised when you started having huge hits?
KC: I would have to be a little surprised. I guess I did have a little confidence in it, although my confidence was waning because of people telling me I would never make it, that “I’m a white guy who sounds too black.” My mother would always say, “Why don’t you get a job and make something of yourself.” I don’t know if I had the greatest support system around me. That’s the answer for that one.
MR: What was it like hearing your first hit on the radio?
KC: When I first listened to my record on the radio I was looking at it on the technical end more than, “Oh my God, my records are on the radio!”
MR: [laughs] And I bet, you were thinking, “I could’ve tweaked that!”
KC: Yes. What was important was, “How is it going to sound on the radio?” rather than “Oh my god they’re going to play my record.”
MR: Was that the benefit of having worked in the studio, getting your creative chops up in that environment?
KC: It was very important, how it was going to sound on the radio, because that was going to reflect how it was received by the public. I’m sure there was some excitement of, “Oh wow, my record’s on the radio,” I’m sure that had to be there.
MR: But there wasn’t some intense shock to it.
KC: No, I think it validated my sacrifices. When I first heard a song that I cowrote with with one of the writers down there, or even a record I had played background on, there was some validation for me personally that I was now involved in music. “This is pretty cool, I’m on the Billboard charts as a songwriter,” “I’m on that record singing background,” or playing keyboard or whatever I would do. There was some sort of validation for me, again because of the sacrifice. I sacrificed everything in my life to do this.
MR: Was Forrest Gump the first time you had a song in a movie?
KC: No, it was way before that. It might have been Saturday Night Fever, though I’m not sure.
MR: Oh, that’s right. Your recordings have been licensed pretty often. How do you feel about your songs being used in other contexts like movies, etc.?
KC: Well, besides the financials part of it, I think it just legitimizes my work. For so many years I’ve been put down for the type of music I write, I think it really gives credence to the fact that they’re amazing songs that tie in a whole generation. They’re such a big part of a whole decade that they’re used in motion pictures and commercials and every major sporting event in the world.
MR: And your songs were sampled often.
KC: Right, I’ve been involved in several hit records as a sample. I’ve always felt like we were the Rodney Dangerfield of music, we always get left out of the whole decade. They’ll mention Donna Summer, The BeeGees, all these people and leave KC and The Sunshine Band out. It’s crazy because we’re the ones that are responsible for all of it.
MR: KC, you have the fine distinction of being on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve more times than any other artist in history.
KC: And I remember watching Little Richard one night on the Johnny Carson show and he said the same thing; he was the one at the beginning of all of it and everybody else just says, “whatever” about him.
MR: A lot of those early black artists got screwed by white people covering their material. You’re old enough to have watched dance music’s full evolution. What do you think keeps that music so beloved?
KC: I think it’s the energy of it. There’s an energy in that music that’s very endearing. I remember really getting upset when they started calling it disco music because i really felt that it was R&B’s time to shine. I think we were influential in making R&B even more accepted than it ever was, and I really got pissed off when they started calling it disco because I felt like it had just taken away something that needed to have its day and be called the era of R&B or whatever. To this day, it’s stronger than it’s ever been, actually.
MR: Owning thousands of records, you’ve become a bit of a music historian, right?
KC: I am.
MR: Which is probably why you’re able to pick out the material most appropriate for you at this point in your life.
KC: Yes. First of all, I worked in retail, I worked in wholesale, I always had my pulse on the radio, I feel like I was responsible for a lot of records getting on the radio in Miami. One time, Motown got really upset at me because I got one of their records on the pop station before they were ready for it. I was involved a lot in getting a lot of music on the pop station down here at times. I know when I hear what a hit record is, I know that it’s a hit record, sometimes I’ve been a little wrong for whatever reason, it’s hard to explain sometimes, but most people know what a hit is.
MR: What’s on your plate as far as part two?
KC: I’m just kind of going with the flow now, I’m relaxed, I’m content, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m just really enjoying life. I got off the drugs, it was twenty years ago this year.
MR: Congratulations, KC.
KC: Thank you. There are a lot of changes happening in my life, I’m just in a really good place right now. I’m looking forward to more happiness in my life, for the last parts of my life to be happy and content and to enjoy all of these gifts that I’ve been given, just to enjoy life and whatever’s left for me, try to enjoy it. There’s always somebody throwing a wrench into it and I have to bite my tongue sometimes, but I’m still learning. Sometimes at 64, you think you know it all and by now you think you would’ve learned everything, but I’ve learned that you don’t stop learning. I don’t think you stop learning until the day you die, really. I’m enjoying the ride. I’m at peace with it, I’m very comfortable. It took me forty years to understand who KC of KC and the Sunshine Band is, for it to really settle in, what I did musically and everything else. I’m very comfortable and relaxed and really enjoying it to be honest.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
KC: It’s so crazy out there right now, I don’t know if there is a record business any more to be honest with you. The only thing record companies are doing now is spending an awful lot of money. They’re spending so much money I don’t know what the artists are making, if anything. Everything is just outrageous. An ad in Billboard is up to twenty-two thousand dollars now, it used to be like three thousand. A video is two or three hundred thousand dollars. I don’t know how people are making it back. As far as advice, I’ve always said do whatever it is that you love. Believe in yourself enough. You have to sacrifice, you can’t just think it’s going to be handed to you on a silver platter, my father always taught me that. It’s like if you love football and you can’t be the quarterback then be a coach or do something else in that area. If it’s music and you can’t have a hit record, you can always be the person who’s managing the artist or promoting the artist or doing something else for the artist, it’s just as rewarding as being the artist. Put yourself around whatever it is you love and as long as you’re around some part of it I think you’ll be very content and a very happy individual.
MR: In 2002, you were honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame. You’ve also received a Grammy and other nominations. What do you think is going to be KC and the Sunshine Band’s musical legacy?
KC: I don’t know. Hopefully one part of it is that we brought an energy and life to music, that we brought happiness and joy to people through our music, I think that’s huge, especially in a world that we’re living in today, I think that positive energy is so important in all of our lives and, as a matter of fact, is why I think it’s sustained over forty years now.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne