Goosing up the African Song
Funk moves from black to white
If you are to walk into a music shop and pick up a funk compilation album, there is a 99 percent chance that one of the songs included will be “Play That Funky Music” by an all-white group called Wild Cherry. It became the first ever white group to delve into the world of funk and indeed, WONDER GUCHU writes, the group made its name with that song.
One of the greatest funk songs done by a white band was a trial and error product.
“Play That Funky Music”, which was written by Rob Parissi and performed with the backing of Wild Cherry in 1976, came as a result of a member of the audience who – after the group had played soul and R ‘n’B – encouraged the group to “just play that funky music”.
Disco was the order of the day during those days and the band was playing at the 2001 Club in Pittsburgh where black fans shouted continuously asking the band to play funk music.
“Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?” And this became the talk during the break in that session.
Encouraged by the talk, Parissi wrote the song on a drinks order pad in five minutes flat.
The song peaked at number one on the Billboard 100 and hit the top spot on the Hot Soul Singles charts.
Four years later in 1980, “Play That Funky Music”, redone by Vanilla Ice, hit the US charts on number five.
Parissi recalls the day very well, “We started playing all the rock clubs, but then they started to disappear, and we wound up having to work in discos, including a place in Pittsburgh called the 2001.
“We played too much rock, I guess, because people came up to us and said, ‘Play that funky music’.
“In the dressing room, I told the guys that we had to find a rock’n’roll way to play this disco stuff.
“Our drummer said, ‘Well, I guess it’s like they say – You gotta play that funky music, white boy’.”
He added, “And all the things that followed! Billboard called us the Best Pop Group of the Year; we got the American Music Award for the Top R&B Single of the Year; and there were two Grammy nominations, for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo.
“We got gold records from Canada and a lot of other foreign countries.”
He admitted that the likes of Bo Diddley had influenced them and they anchored their music on such luminaries.
“I grew up on Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy, the Animals, the Easybeats, the Yardbirds, the Ventures, Sly and the Family Stone – all pure forms of rock music of their own kind…“
Parissi also said when he returned to the music business after a brief stoppage during which he worked at a steak house, he had heard songs done by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and David Bowie.
“I listened to radio as we closed up each night and heard things like “Fame” by David Bowie and “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt.
“I started saying that the trend was changing – that we were getting back to the roots of rock’n’roll.
“So I got out of the steakhouses, got another bunch of fellows together, and formed a second attempt at Wild Cherry.”
Apart from “Play That Funky Music”, Wild Cherry never had any other notable success with their subsequent albums, which were done under the electrified funk motif.
Their only song which had a following of any real note was “Baby Don’t You Know” which peaked at number 43 in 1977.
Since Wild Cherry was also known for playing electro funk, next week we look at this genre; the artists who pioneered it and then later those who goosed the songs and the genres.
In coming installments we will discuss artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Forces, Anthony Rother, Fischerspooner, Little Computer and Tiga among many others.