Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ain't nothing wrong with a little bit of K.C.

I'm waiting on an MP3 disc and some pictures to be scanned before I really introduce you all to the Caruthers Street paradigm, but I loaded a video this morning and felt like it needed a proper introduction. Caruthers Street is where my brother, Charlie, and his then (and current) housemate, Morgan, lived in the early 2000s. This was home to many a sweaty dance party and also the spring from whence my love for disco, funk and soul emerged. One of the many associations with this place is the mental realignment that took place there that transformed my understanding of K.C. & the Sunshine Band as a cheesy disco band to my appreciation of the same band for their party-rocking prowess.

The story all starts at a video store in Portland, OR called Movie Madness where my brother found a VHS tape of K.C. & the Sunshine Band live from 1975. He and Morgan watched this video on repeat for weeks before tuning me on to it and then I watched it over and over before dubbing a copy for myself. My copy sucked and I recently found a better copy on eBay and ripped a DVD of the whole 45 minute show. The performance is just top-notch and unlike most soul or funk videos from the era, this is a multi-camera job filmed live in concert with no lip-synching whatsoever.

Head over to Soul Spectrum Videos to watch "I Get Lifted"

Charlie and Morgan as friends, roommates and bandmates make a good team and watching this video I can't help but think of Charlie and Morgan as modern-day Henry Wayne "K.C." Casey and Richard Finch. Not that Charlie & Morgan are sequined suited sweaty white dudes playing funk music, but given the chance I doubt they would pass on that opportunity. Partially, it's just an appearance thing and they both really like this video, too.

K.C. and Finch were the songwriting team that wrote most of the Sunshine Band's output as well as a good chunk of the catalogue of George McCrae as well as Jimmy "Bo" Horne. These were some funky white boys. The way I see it, they took the TK sound as pioneered by Little Beaver, Clarence Reid and Steve Alaimo and made it safe and acceptable for white audiences. I mean, the first three K.C. & the Sunshine Band albums are straight up Florida funk albums, but they also sold tons of copies and made K.C. a household name while pioneering the disco sound. I think the appeal for me is that their songs are basically southern-friend funk songs with a more steady disco-ready beat and they avoided the a la mode string section that ruined so many songs of the era. Their songs were simple; they were about dancing; and they made you want to move your feet. It's a simple equation and it worked well for them and their bank accounts. It didn't hurt that they were white either as evidenced by George McCrae and Jimmy "Bo" Horne's relative lack of fame despite the same songs and same band and arguably better vocals.

I first remember paying attention to them (I must have heard them a million times before) when I got the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack which had the song "Boogie Shoes" on it. The song didn't sound like the Bee Gees tracks on the same album because it had more of a soul sound, a swinging horn-based groove that was made for strutting instead of disco-finger popping; compared to other music that I knew of as "disco" K.C.'s sound was funkier, looser and more soulful. It's hard to disassociate the band from all of their ubiquitous disco hits, but a quick listen to some album tracks like this one from the live video shows that the band could get hella funky as evidenced by the polyrhythmic breakdown at the end of the song: "I Get Lifted" video

I got to see K.C. and the sunshine band back in the late nineties as one of the zillion bands that played Portland's "Last Chance Summer Dance" alongside some more contemporary, yet forgetable ("Color Me Badd" anyone?) bands. They were the highlight of the show for me, though K.C. has not aged well as evidenced by the above photo.

There will be some more songs from this video posted soon as this is not even the best one. There is one super-long version of "Get Down Tonight" just now posted where one of the horn players pulls out some pretty crazy dance moves.

On a side note, when looking for some K.C. picks I found this one and couldn't help but think that Mark Wahlberg needs to star as K.C. in a biopic.

Marky Mark in Boogie Nights

K.C. without the Sunshine Band

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