HSM: First of all congratulations on a record breaking career in music so far!!!
HARRY WAYNE CASEY: Thank you
Interview by ©Jacob Katel. All Rights Reserved.
What is the first time you remember singing for or entertaining a crowd?
KC: Oh I guess when I was young in the church. I’ve been entertaining my whole life in plays and little variety shows and stuff like that. Sock hops. Dances. There was never any doubt in my mind. I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew.
Where did your mom go to buy records?
KC: I don’t know. I’m not sure. She hung out in Liberty City. She left my father when I was ten. I know she went to department stores, could have been there or mom and pop stores.
What do you think helped you make such popular music?
It’s just something I was born with and there’s no way to explain it. Whether it’s a God given talent or a gift, I never really could explain it. It’s just very mystical to me.
When did you find out about Henry Stone?
I used to go to Tone Distributors every Tuesday and Friday from ’67 on to pick up records. In ’68 or ’69 I went there to get a job and there was no jobs so I went to work for the competitor, Campus, but after work I would go hang out at Tone til everybody would leave and finally Henry just gave me a key to the studio.
What was your first job there?
KC: I found out that Henry had this loft above all of the offices that was full of thousands of old records. I was a collector, so I asked him if I could straighten it out in exchange for keeping the records I liked. He said, “Straighten it out and you can have what you like.” So I formed an area called KC’s Oldies and Henry saw that we could turn those records into cash. We cataloged every record and put them up for sale. They were all 45’s. The second thing I did was at some point Atlantic and Warner decided they were going to start their own distributorship and we had to send back all their product. I ended up cataloging, and boxing, and shipping all of those also in exchange for free records.
What records did you keep?
KC: Just things I heard on the radio, or obscure cuts, or things that were popular that I didn’t have growing up. It was like a windfall for me; and then on top of that I would get promo copies of anything new that was coming out so I was like in Heaven.
How did you meet Betty Wright?
KC: I met Betty Wright by hanging out in the back after work and I remember the first time she got her big check for “Cleanup Woman” was her eighteenth birthday. I was there. I think that was like 1971 maybe around there. She was in the studio and that’s how I got to know Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid, just hanging out at sessions.
How did you meet The Oceanliners?
KC: They were Betty’s backup band. She used different people all the time. One night, she was doing a show and I asked if I could sing a couple of songs with the band and she said, “Sure.” So, after that sometimes I would do a number or two with the band and the father of the band liked me a lot and said, “Come out and do some shows with us.” So it was KC and The Oceanliners.
Where were you when you wrote the words to “Rock Your Baby?”
KC: I was in my home in Hialeah. It was kind of unincorporated Miami-Dade County, not really Hialeah, although we had the zip code and the address, it was Miami, but surrounded by Hialeah. It was this area of Dade County called Palm Springs. And I remember I was there writing it. And I remember the day I recorded it, I was working on KC and The Sunshine Band and Timmy Thomas’s Lowery Organ was up there in the studio, and I played the rhythm and the chords and the melody just came to me. Jerome Smith was a studio musician, as were a lot of other people, so I called in Jerome as a musician to come play on the record, which was all done except for the guitar, and that’s what he did.
What was the 8 Track upstairs studio like?
KC: I think the control room might have been six by ten, and the main room was maybe twenty by twenty feet.
Is it true you were at one time Timmy Thomas’s manager?
KC: I took care of all his bookings and that sort of stuff. It was great. Here I was part of the music business and I didn’t care what part it was, I wanted to learn as much as I could, not knowing where I would land or end up. I got involved in every aspect of the business and when I found something that was missing, I created that area. I created the booking agency for TK so that there was a place people could call and book the artists.
Did any other companies influence you?
KC: I think Motown was really influential for me. I read all about it and saw kind of a Motown thing at TK, but TK wasn’t doing what Motown was doing for its artists, so I decided to try to do it, to create that same kind of environment.
How did you learn the business part of the music business? Some artists go their whole career and never learn it.
KC: I studied a lot, but also a lady by the name of Sherry Smith had been there in the promo department, but she knew the publishing business and other stuff and I learned from her, and from reading, and that’s how I knew what to expect and what to ask and what not to ask for. Also Henry was very open with me. He became like my father. He took me right in under his wing like his son. He was very open with me about the business. It was like a father and son relationship.
What was your process for laying down tracks?
KC: Sometimes we would just start jamming, me and the drummer, and I would come up with some chords and melody on the keyboard and everybody would join in and start playing around what I was singing. Then I would make some suggestions like, “Do this on the intro, or try playing this…” After the session had been recorded I would listen back and then go in and do stuff and make changes.
Where did you learn keyboards?
KC: My family was very musical and we had a piano in all our family homes. One of my cousins, Antonio Griffin, can play circles around me. My grandmother played piano. My mother played a little.
What is your number one advice to songwriters looking for their creative spirit?
KC: I don’t know if there’s any advice you can give someone about that. It just kind of happens. Most people write about situations in their life, things they’ve seen, and experiences, or tell a story. I’m not sure. It’s hard to explain. Where it even comes from is an almost mystical, magical place.
Did you ever spend time in the distribution area of the business?
KC: I spent a lot of time there. I worked in every department from distribution to sales, I answered phones, I worked in the warehouse. I did everything.
How many people do you remember working there?
KC: There was like a whole office staff, three or four sales poeple, the warehouse manager, four or five people pulling records, then the promotion team, a few people in the back that did mailing out of records and that sort of thing.
Did you know DJ Milton Butterball Smith?
KC: Oh my God. He was the best. He was always happy. I remember hearing him on the radio and he was always happy. Always fanfare. He would just light up the room when he walked in. Amazing person. I never did hear him complain about anything. He loved BBQ and he was just a big happy guy.
How was it meeting Willie Clarke?
KC: I met him when I was trying to meet Clarence Reid. Willie kind of took to me. It was like a joke where I would be sitting there waiting on the couch for Clarence to show up and he never would. So I just got to know Willie Clarke by hanging out and waiting.
You guys won a Grammy together for “Where Is The Love” how did that come about?
KC: I wrote the majority of the song and they changed some lyrics on it. It was kind of weird because that year I had five Grammy nominations for “Get Down Tonight,” and “That’s The Way I Like It,” but “Where Is The Love” ended up winning.
Did you ever meet James Brown?
KC: Many, many times. He would come through the office and we’d sit and chat. And the last time I saw him he said, “What you been doing?” He said, “You better get back out there and never stop.” And that was the last thing James Brown told me. He was always very nice to me. I always called him Mr. Brown. I always respected him as Mr. Brown. I don’t think I ever called him James even once. I don’t even know if Henry called him James. A lot of times if they were having a meeting, the door would be closed, but when I was there it was like old friends just talking and shooting the bull.
What was your first big check?
KC: I don’t know, it might have been six hundred thousand. I’m not sure. It might have been “Rock Your Baby.” It was huge. I looked at it and smiled.
How did the song “I Get Lifted” come about?
KC: Just messing around on a piano. And actually that was written for George McCrae just messing around with that funky little groove. I think the actual record that was used for George was the actual demo.
Well just between that song, and a few others, you have been sampled by almost every major hip hop artist and producer. You’ve written or had a hand in so much of the roots of the music as to be like a Godfather of hip hop!!
KC: I think that the beat from “I Get Lifted” has been one of the main ones sampled. I’m sure some of the artists even got away with using it. I mean, yknow, it’s kind of an honor. I’m flattered that so many different generations and styles of music have been influenced by my songs. When I set out to do stuff, I’m just trying to make music and not that I may influence a whole other generation of people.
How did you feel around the bankruptcy of TK?
KC: I was gone by the time that happened so I was not really there at the time.
Around the time of the TK bankruptcy you had the #1 pop hit in the world, a ballad, “Please Don’t Go.” What led to that?
KC: That was a deliberate thing to try something new that came through my hands onto the piano. Up until that point all I wanted to do was dance, but I thought “Mix it up a little.” I felt I had written every uptempo song out there.
How did you meet and end up working with Jimmie “Bo” Horne?
KC: Through Betty Wright. He was one of the artists that was on TK before I got there, I believe.
Who put you and Rick Finch together?
KC: I did. He used to do a lot of the engineering at the studio so I wanted him to come and engineer some of the records I was doing and that’s how I found out he played bass.
What was Miami like in the 1970’s?
KC: It was kind of like now, always a tourist thing.
What clubs did you go to?
KC: There was some dance clubs around. Mostly all of them had bands, but some were starting to spin records. I used to go to The World. They would have live bands, and sometimes between the bands they would spin records. The World was a big place off Biscayne and maybe Dixie Highway like around 163rd street in an old blimp or airplane hangar. There was another place on northwest seventh avenue called The Place in an old grocery.
Is it true you had to go through a surgery before your first tour?
KC: My first big hit was in England and we had a tour booked for 48 shows in 28 days. The week before we left I had an exploratory operation, but the show must go on.
Did you ever think you might be psychic?
KC: A little bit.
Who do you want to play you in the TK Records movie?
KC: I always thought maybe Ashton Kutcher when he was younger.
Interview by ©Jacob Katel. All Rights Reserved.