"Music will affect people as it does, and will, and I have nothing to say about it, nor is it any of my business. Personally, the only objections I have deal with not being too happy about anything that has a negative impact, effect or vibe on the youth of tomorrow. I think if you're going to lead those who follow you down a dark road or rabbit hole just to make a buck, that's not my idea of leaving behind any timeless positive legacy. That's my story, and I'm stickin to it."
Rob Parissi: The Funky Boy Made Hits
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. (Photo: Rob Parissi, an amazing career in the music industry)
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.
How has the music influenced your views of the world? How do you understand the music, and the meaning of life?
I'm now turning 73 years old, which in dog years, would be half a century, but that's another story. As a small new child in the 1950s,it was the melodies which first impressed me, which led to chords that complimented them, then the beats the melodies followed. Classical music sent me to school with its movement, and inspired me as an introduction into the math, like a road map, showing where it starts, goes, and comes back to the beginning again. The arrangements, sounds of recorded instruments, the whole process hit me almost all at once, and I never ran out of interest in every and all elements and facets of the total process. I knew around 5 years old what I was going to be doing my entire life and career, right down to understanding that it was basically, all about math. As for my world views, music has always been a story teller, teacher at times, opinion shaper through the messages in the lyrics' stories. The music behind it sets the mood, as a visual setting would be a picture of where the story took place, and where it's going. As an example, that comes to mind, the song Elenor Rigby would have never set the stage for that song without the music track, especially the string arrangement George Martin wrote to accompany it. You could see in your mind, put yourself there, and felt the story of it as McCartney laid it out in verses. Overall, as it's been said long before me by an old blues musician: You've got to live a cup of life in order to be able to know how to properly sing a teaspoonful of the blues.
In my career at times, I've heard a young person sing an old song and thought: you've not lived enough life to be able to know how to sing that song yet, or you've not suffered enough to deliver that story in a believable way. I once auditioned a young lady, and she sang a few songs that were alright, but I said, "give me your best tune you have", and she started to sing a song that had me breaking down by the end of the second verse. And being about her mom, I asked without knowing anything about her, "when did your mom die", and she said 6 months ago. I told her, "honey no one's ever gonna sing that song as well as you do, so wherever you go, sing that song first". As for the meaning of life, just be in this business and go through the process, and you'll learn everything you need to know here on the earth about success, rejection, business, love, and loss of it. The music business can make you, and break you, all at once if you don't know or don't learn how to weather it and survive.
"The more you learn how to do well, recording technique, what mics to use, acoustics, gear to buy, whatever, the faster you can work on your own, and the less people you have to call to get things done. Couple all of that with your being able to communicate that great idea and story you have and print all the tracks to mix it to get the point across, and you're a lean mean groovin machine! Anyone else you have to hire to accomplish that, are all the phone calls you have to make, and people you have to know and hire. (Photo: Wild Cherry c.1976 / Rob Parissi formed the band Wild Cherry in 1970 in Ohio)
Why do you think that the Wild Cherry music continues to generate such a devoted following?
Why do I think Wild Cherry music has been timeless. I had the idea for a song like Play That Funky Music going around in my head for as long as I was a working musician. I always felt if I could come up with a song that would bring a white/black idea together, that I had something. I knew that without black peoples' contribution to modern contemporary music, that rock and roll would (basically) suck, as I even heard R&B in a lot of the English music, i.e. Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, even a lot of the Beatles influence came from old black musicians from the South of the U.S, so once that title hit me, the song wrote itself, as it was exactly what I was living through at the time.
All the songs I wrote for Wild Cherry were stories of love, life on the road, in the band, about real life, and they're still stories being played out through all generations today. I only wrote about what I lived, the good, bad, and ugly. I never take our longevity for granted, and I'm humbly grateful for its "legs".
Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?
Generally, I love people, and any contact always interests me. I did morning radio for a while, and although I knew nothing about radio, I enjoyed the interaction with the listeners, and did several things to generate call ins, discussing current events in the news, all that. I just loved the daily "how can I keep the attention level up and edgy, without getting fired today"? I felt that if I wasn't getting called into the GMs office every day about something I said on the air, I didn't have a good day, or show. I love food, and would have probably done something in the food business if I failed in the music business. We have 3 homes here in the Central part of Florida, enjoy buying, furnishing, all that interests me, I love to cook, came from a family of great men who cooked great Italian food, I love dogs, they're a lot nicer than people, we have three who are our children of our family, and I also love cars very much, drive a Bentley, love it, and have owned a Rolls Royce, and every model of Corvette ever invented in my lifetime. (Photo: Rob & Ilona Parissi, Tampa Florida, 2023)
"I retired in 2017 after a long hard road to where I've gotten, and am one who's happily retired with our beautiful homes, doggies, good restaurants to visit, food to cook, and lovely life I'm very grateful for!"
What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?
Music will affect people as it does, and will, and I have nothing to say about it, nor is it any of my business. Personally, the only objections I have deal with not being too happy about anything that has a negative impact, effect or vibe on the youth of tomorrow. I think if you're going to lead those who follow you down a dark road or rabbit hole just to make a buck, that's not my idea of leaving behind any timeless positive legacy. That's my story, and I'm stickin to it.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
They don't call this the "music business" for nothing. After all, it is a business, and the faster you learn that, the faster you'll realize it won't last forever, never does, and you better learn sooner than later to invest, rather than spend every dime you make, or you'll end up dying on stage, a smaller one all the time as time goes on, and the luckiest you can be at that point, is if someone writes your sad story into a great money making movie for them after you die. The title I chose for Wild Cherry's last album was "Only The Wild Survive", and trust me when I say that in this business, "SURVIVAL" is your goal!
What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/emotions?
The more you learn how to do well, recording technique, what mics to use, acoustics, gear to buy, whatever, the faster you can work on your own, and the less people you have to call to get things done. Couple all of that with your being able to communicate that great idea and story you have and print all the tracks to mix it to get the point across, and you're a lean mean groovin machine! Anyone else you have to hire to accomplish that, are all the phone calls you have to make, and people you have to know and hire.
(Photo: Rob Parissi, 1978)
Do you think there is an audience for Soul/Jazz/Funk music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?
I love, and did a short stint in the Smooth Jazz genre, have very successful friends who have, and are still chart topping great musicians. However, I lost interest because having the background I had, I made more money sleeping than a lot of them make going out trying to make a living at it.
I just didn't want to start all over again from square one in a new genre, and pay those dues I already paid in the area of success I'd achieved. Simple as that. Had enough of airports, hotels, limos, road life, ENOUGH! Been there, done that, not interested. I retired in 2017 after a long hard road to where I've gotten, and am one who's happily retired with our beautiful homes, doggies, good restaurants to visit, food to cook, and lovely life I'm very grateful for!
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