Interview with fabulous musician Rob Parissi of Wild Cherry - with an amazing career in the music industry

"Jazz and Soul always was, and will always be around, because it takes great musicians to create both genres, and the music's timeless."

Rob Parissi: Play That Fusion Music

Songwriter, singer, and guitarist Rob Parissi has had an amazing career in the music industry starting with his number one hit “Play That Funky Music White Boy”. He was born in 1950 and raised in the steel mill town of Mingo Junction, Ohio. He graduated from Mingo High School in 1968. Rob formed the band Wild Cherry in 1970 in Steubenville, Ohio, one mile north of Mingo Junction along the Ohio River.

“Play That Funky Music” became a monster hit 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 obtained platinum certification.  Wild Cherry was rewarded with a number of accolades shortly thereafter, including being named Best Pop Group of the Year by Billboard, receiving an American Music Award for Top R&B Single of the Year, and even earning a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo.

The group disbanded in 1979 a few years after the huge success of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” and Rob took this opportunity to co-produce the Gary U.S. Bonds Album “Dedication”. He went on to play guitar with Bobby Caldwell, write with Ellie Greenwich and do session work with Billy Squire’s Band which included Doug Lubahn, bass player from The Doors (who also wrote “Treat Me Right” for Pat Benatar), the late Bobby Chouinard, who also played drums for Alice Cooper, and Jeff Golub, who is now a well-known Smooth Jazz Guitarist.

Rob Parissi has re-emerged with a new sound in Smooth Jazz and Adult Contemporary music. As a composer, his range is vast and passion unmistakable in every track. Rob has his finger on the pulse of music and listeners will be swept up by Rob’s new invigorating sound.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Rob Parissi sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I've had so many early influences and gone through so many changes over the 50 years I chose music as my destiny. From Mozart and classics, to early Jazz, California surf, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Motown, Smooth Jazz, so you see, describing my sound and songbook isn't an easy one to pin point. I'd say there's a little bit of all in one song or another I've written.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I got an early start professionally at around 14, and was already playing guitar with a band that got a break in New York City, and we were working with writers and producers out of the famous Brill Building on Broadway, and I have to say that was a very exciting way to begin a career, then, playing night clubs and learning how to draw large crowds was very exciting, as well. Then, of course, writing Play That Funky Music and us having what's now one of the top 100 songs of all time, being nominated for 2 Grammys, winning the American music award, and Billboard magazine award for best new band of the year in 1976, was yet, another high and exciting accomplishment. The worst was, right after the band broke up and I fought my record company for 10 years afterward to get out of my contract, and resume collecting artist royalties, as they weren't cooperative, and it was a decade long legal battle.

Why did you think that the Jazz and Soul music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Jazz and Soul always was, and will always be around, because it takes great musicians to create both genres, and the music's timeless.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

As far as most memorable gigs and jams you've had, I've been lucky to have met the "who's who" of the music business over the years, but meeting 2 out of 4 of the Beatles was a highlight, as well as meeting the late genius Les Paul, was another. I've written and recorded with the late Ellie Greenwich, who was one of my best friends for over 30 years until she died a few years ago. Ellie, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector wrote and shaped so many hits that defined the 60’s that when we'd write, the phone would ring at her apartment, and it could be anyone like Brian Wilson, just to chat and pick her brain for an idea. I've been very fortunate to have been around, and worked with the best of the best throughout my career.

"Best advice I could give to anyone getting into this business is, hang on to your publishing, as well as administration rights, as that's where the huge money is." (Photo: Wild Cherry)

Are there any memories from recording time with Wild Cherry which you’d like to share with us?

When I took the band in to the studio to record Play That Funky Music, I'd already been in and out of the best studios for 15 years, but two of the band members had never stepped into a studio before. The first time in, they recorded what's now Play That Funky Music.  Honestly, they really had no clue what I was creating, or that I was onto a "funk rock" fusion and transfusion of what was then, disco, as we were a very strong funk rock band. After we broke up, they all went their separate ways and each learned just how important what I was trying to do was, and is. We're getting together after 36 years apart for a concert we're having back in my home town, with proceeds going to a scholarship fund my wife and I started for the high school I went to, and I cannot explain in words  how excited they and I are to be reuniting. We're all much better musicians than we were back then, totally get it now, and I know we're going to do some major damage that night on August 10th. Last year, they renamed the longest street in town after me, and had a dinner in my honor, with my great friend and former president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Terry Stewart as guest speaker. It was very emotional to me, as I'm grateful for everything, and never take anything for granted.

What is the story behind the name of Wild Cherry? How he started the thought of Play That Funky Music?

I started the band rehearsing around 1970, and at that time, Vietnam War was at full rage. The Army wanted any and everyone. I'm not into any violence, and knew I'd not come back, and besides, I had a family, home, and a new band/business to start. We took a break from rehearsals so that I could have things checked out, because I'd developed stomach ulcers. They stuck tubes down my throat and checked me for all sorts of things, and when I got out, we went back to rehearsing. With our first gig only a week 1/2 away, and still no name for the band I'd come with that they liked, one day at rehearsal, someone said: So, what's up with the name? I took a box of cough drops off the B-3 I'd been nursing a sore throat from all those tubes and said:  You even can call it Wild Cherry, as the band will make the name, and the name doesn't make the band! And with that, everyone just said, Whoa, that's a great name, to which I said, no way! Every day up until the gig, they kept on me, and finally, I said: Ok, for the first gig, we call ourselves that name, but after that, I'm coming up with a new name. The first gig, every break, they'd bring up a group of girls and said: tell him what you think of that name...the girls said, we love it! From then on, every gig for over a month, they kept bringing girls up with the same reaction, and honestly, I just couldn't get rid of that name.

"I've had so many early influences and gone through so many changes over the 50 years I chose music as my destiny. From Mozart and classics, to early Jazz, California surf, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Motown, Smooth Jazz, so you see, describing my sound and songbook isn't an easy one to pin point."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss that around 1990 when the internet became so strong, that the record companies just didn't get ahold or grip on the whole downloading concept, and as a result, it's killed itself and working from behind to catch up. Independents are getting slaughtered out there, and it's very hard for any new up and coming band or artist to make a living at it.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to new generation?

Best advice I could give to anyone getting into this business is, hang on to your publishing, as well as administration rights, as that's where the huge money is. If you get signed as an artist, you're placing your material with you, the artist, thus, doing what a publisher would do, and there's no need to give anyone any percentage of your publishing as a gift, even if they try to swindle you out of it, using it as a bargaining chip. Your stock answer should be: You're a record company, sell records, I'm an artist placing my material with myself, therefore, I'm my own publishing company. And also, always trust your gut and intuition!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Funk and Disco music?

Throughout history, it's like adding another brick or room to the beautiful mansion. As Quincy Jones once said regarding building and producing great songs and tracks: It's got to have an outhouse bottom with a penthouse view!

"I miss that around 1990 when the internet became so strong, that the record companies just didn't get ahold or grip on the whole downloading concept, and as a result, it's killed itself and working from behind to catch up." (Photo by John Quincy Lee) 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

For record companies to get their heads out of their asses, and get back control of this business, or the chances of new talent being able to make a living at it, are slim to none, and will only get worse. The music business is slowly killing itself in this regard.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

As I stated above, having my hometown pay such timeless tribute to me, and having all my great old friends, sound and light people, road crews, who were the greatest competition back when we were all competing for popularity in night clubs, all coming together donating their time to help us raise money for our scholarship fund, and  has given all of us some good belly laughs reminiscing as we plan to come together, as well as has brought me to tears, reminding me how much we still love and respect each other's talent.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

To heaven to kiss and hug my late Mother and Father, who were my best friends all my life. They both died 3 weeks apart a few years ago, and I miss them so very much. I still have my dad singing happy birthday to me one year on my answering machine, and that's one of the most precious treasures I have.

Rob Parissi - official website

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