Play that Funky Music
Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Rob Parissi formed the band in 1970 in Steubenville, Ohio, getting the name for the band off a box of cough drops while he was in the hospital. They played around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until they got a record contract with Brown Bag Records. After some time with the label without issuing any albums, the band broke up, and Parissi started managing a steakhouse.
Soon after, Parissi formed the band again with new people. The new lineup had Mark Avsec on the keyboards, Bryan Bassett on the guitar, Allen Wentz on the bass, and Ronald Beitle on the drums. The band as they started to play sets, being in a disco dominated time, started to be asked by listeners to "play that funky music." Parissi, inspired by this line, wrote a disco song on it, and the band entered a studio to record it. A man at the studio hearing the song brought the band to the attention of Epic Records, which then signed the group, and suggested recording the song as an A-side instead of as the B-side to a cover version of the Commodores' "I Feel Sanctified," as had been planned.
"Play That Funky Music" became a huge hit when released in 1976, peaking at number one on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts, while both the single and Wild Cherry's self-titled debut went platinum. The band was named Best Pop Group of the Year by Billboard, and received an American Music Award for Top R&B Single of the Year, as well as a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo that year, adding to their success.
Wild Cherry's luck ended with their 1977 album, Electrified Funk, which flopped without producing any hits. Their 1978 album I Love My Music, as well as their 1979 albums Only the Wild Survive and Don't Wait Too Long didn't do better, leading to the band's split. Parissi later became a disk jockey in Wheeling, West Virginia.
One musician who played with the band was guitarist/vocalist Donnie Iris (ex-The Jaggerz), who was with Wild Cherry from the mid-1970s through the band's demise in 1980. Donnie partnered up with keyboardist Mark Avsec to form The Cruisers before going solo.
Wild Cherry's one hit was covered by The Real Roxanne in 1988, and sampled by Vanilla Ice in 1990 (For which Parissi was not credited as a writer; he later won $500,000 in a copyright infringement lawsuit), and continues to be a hit in dance clubs to this day.
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