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Meet Wild Cherry [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]

Wild Cherry-front
Self-Titled Debut Album, 1976 (Craig Allen photo)

“Play That Funky Music, White Boy!” The lyrics and song are a permanent part of pop culture. And, made the 70′s band Wild Cherry forever famous!

Rob Parissi (lead guitar and vocalist) was raised in the steel mill town of Mingo Junction, Ohio, and graduated high school in 1968. He formed Wild Cherry in 1970, in Steubenville Ohio.

The band’s name, Wild Cherry, was taken from a box of cough drops!

The band played the Ohio Vally area, also Northern West Virginia and Pitsburgh. The original lineup included: Parissi, Ben Difabbio (drums and vocals), Louie Osso (guitar and vocals), Larry Brown (bass and vocals), and Larry Mader (keyboards and vocals). The lineup would change over time.

Through the early 70s, several non-charting records were released by the band on their own label, and an independent label. “You Can Be High (But Lay Low)” and “Something Special On Your Mind” came out in 1971. “Get Down” and “Show Me Your Badge” were produced in 1973.  The band’s sound was rock.

Wild Cherry broke up when a disillusioned Rob Parissi left to become the manager of a steakhouse.  He quickly realized that food service wasn’t the life for him, and decided to give music one more chance!

Parissi reformed Wild Cherry with a new lineup: Bryan Bassett (guitar and vocals), Ron Beitle (drums) and Allen Wentz (bass, synthesizer and vocals).

As the new and improved Wild Cherry began to perform regularly, and build a solid fan base in the Pittsburgh area, they were often asked to play more dance music.  Disco was beginning to gain radio airplay, and dominate the dance clubs.

One night at the 2001 Club in Pittsburgh, a group of black fans kept coming up to the stage, asking: “Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?”

Later, during a break in the dressing room, drummer Ron Beitle uttered the phrase: “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”

On his way back to the stage, Parissi was inspired to write a song around the phrase! He borrowed a pen, and a drink order pad from the bartender, and went to work. The song took about 5 minutes to write!

When Wild Cherry went into the studio to record the new song, the recording engineer was so impressed, that he brought the band to the attention of Epic/CBS Records. Wild Cherry was immediately signed to a contract!

Parissi intended “Play That Funky Music” to be the B-side to a cover version of the Commodores hit “I Feel Sanctified.”  The label suggested that it be the A-side, and be released as the “hit” song.

During the recording session, Mark Avsec was hired to play keyboards on two songs. He later joined the band, as it set out on its first tour!

“Play That Funky Music” was an immediate hit in 1976, zooming to#1 on the Billboard Pop and R&B Charts. It remained atop the pop charts for 3 weeks! Billboard named the band its Best Pop Group of the Year. Wild Cherry also won the American Music Award for the top R&B song of the year. Plus, Grammy nominations for Best New Vocal Group, and Best R&B Performance By A Group or Duo!

Sadly, the follow-up albums: Electrified Funk (1977), I Love My Music (1978) and Only The Wild Survive (1979) failed to land any top-40 chart hits.

Wild Cherry broke up in 1979.  All of the members went on over the years to perform in other bands, or produce other bands’ recorded efforts. Rob Parissi moved to Miami, then New York in the 1980s. Among his highlights, he recorded with Billy Squire. And, co-produced (with Bruce Springsteen) Gary U.S. Bonds album, with spawned the 1981 hit “This Little Girl.” In the late 1980s, Rob went into radio, and was a program director and morning host in Wheeling West Virginia! Currently, he’s living in Florida, writing and recording Smooth Jazz music.

Its interesting to note that an edited version of “Play That Funky Music” without “white boy” was released in Boston, as the original song was briefly banned. The words “white boy” were replaced with: “yeah, funky music.” This version is now a collector’s item!

The song has been re-sung (covered) by other bands.  It was “sampled” by Vanilla Ice (#4/1991). Parissi was not given writer’s credit, and later won a $500,000 copyright infringement lawsuit!

“Play That Funky Music” lives on to this day, being included in numerous commercials, in movie soundtracks, and on TV shows. It is regularly included in funk/disco/dance CD compilations. It is still a major hit in the dance clubs…and is one of “Jersey’s Favorite Hits!”

Wild Cherry-back
Song #1 is one of “Jersey’s Favorite Hits!” (Craig Allen photo)

Crank it UP! “And, play that funky music til you die…til you die!”

 

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