Harry Wayne Casey, aka KC, founder of KC and the Sunshine Band, lives like a rock star in the desert — but without the star trappings. “We play cards, hike the Bump and Grind Trail, and go out to dinner,” he says. “We’ll have a barbecue, or I might meet up with one of my friends, like Barry.”
That’s Barry Manilow, who lives nearby in Palm Springs. Though KC has homes in Florida, North Carolina, and Hawaii, he says, “I probably feel the most relaxed here. I love the mountains and there’s just an energy here, a calming energy.”
Wandering in and out of the living room of his La Quinta home during our conversation are two more reasons KC loves the desert: his close friends, sisters Linda Fineo and Victoria Phillips. “We met about 20 years ago in Hawaii — they were stalking me,” ” he jokes.
Fineo and Phillips have become so much a part of KC’s life that they often finish his sentences. “We go to a lot of restaurants …” he says. “Sullivan’s, Pacifica, Miro’s, Morgan’s,” Phillips shouts from the next room.
When KC started the Sunshine Band in 1973, his life revolved around music, especially after “Get Down Tonight” soared to the top of the charts in 1975 and brought the band worldwide fame. “Other songs were catching people’s attention in Europe before that, but with that second album everything just clicked,” he says. The group went on to sell more than 100 million records and win three Grammy Awards.
The pace of performing and promoting took its toll, and KC retired in the mid-1980s. “I think I was just done,” he says. “The business is very political, and I was tired of being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. I walked away, and I started partying. I did things in my 30s that people do in their teens. I had a lot of fun, but I almost killed myself a few times.”
Despite his hesitations, KC reunited with the Sunshine Band for a 1991 performance on the Arsenio Hall Show. “My father said, ‘Never give up,’ and that’s exactly what I’d done,” KC says. “I did the Arsenio show and I got to thinking, ‘Wow, this is really what you love to do, this is what you’ve wanted to do all your life. And what have you done? You’ve stopped and thrown it all away. You’ve given up and you’re getting high every other day.’
“After that, I started taking some shows here and there. I was still doing the drugs, and I’d miss flights and sometimes barely get there in time. So again, I started thinking, ‘You need to make a choice here, dude.’ I checked into rehab at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. I was supposed to go for two weeks, and I stayed for three months.”
He laughs and adds, “I kind of became the head of entertainment while I was there. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the evening because it was an outpatient situation where everyone stayed across the street. But I realized that after we were done with our treatment we would need to live a normal life, and were going to be with people who drank alcohol and we’d want to go out and socialize. I didn’t want to cut myself off from all of that. I sort of became the activities director of the rehab center and created bingo nights, movie nights, karaoke, and all sorts of different social things.”
Nowadays, living a normal life is what KC does, even with the band’s 80-some gigs a year. “I try to keep my show familiar to everyone in the audience,” KC says. “We don’t just perform our hit records. I’d rather do a song that’s familiar to the audience than pick some obscure cuts from my albums. It’s all about having a good time. There are babies to grandmas in my crowds, so I try to make everyone happy.
“I started working on a new album and it’s turned into two albums,” he adds. “One of them is all new, contemporary stuff and the other is all ’60s classics. There’s some great music from the ’60s. It’s when I grew up, and I think those songs were early influences on my work.”
KC and the Sunshine Band was honored in July with the 357th star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. In addition to fans of all ages, the crowd outside See’s Candy for the dedication included Manilow and members of the Village People.
“Palm Springs is awesome,” KC says. “The people, the great restaurants, the relaxed feeling here.” And yes, that’s the way, uh-huh uh-huh, he likes it.