Wild Cherry (band)
(Read all about Wild Cherry after the video)
Early lineups (1970–1974)
Rob Parissi (lead vocals & guitar) was raised in the steel mill town of Mingo Junction, Ohio. Parissi graduated from Mingo High School in 1968. Rob formed the band Wild Cherry in 1970 in Steubenville, Ohio, one mile (1.6 km) north of Mingo Junction along the Ohio River. The band's name "Wild Cherry" was taken from a box of cough drops while Rob was recuperating from a brief hospital stay. The band played the Ohio Valley region, Wheeling, West Virginia and the rest of the Northern West Virginia panhandle, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The original lineup included: Ben Difabbio (drums and vocals), Louie Osso (guitar, lead and background vocals) from Steubenville, Ohio, Larry Brown (bass, lead and background vocals) from Weirton, West Virginia, Larry Mader (keyboards, lead and backgrond vocals) from East Springfield, Ohio. Over time, the band members changed, with Osso, Brown, and Mader leaving the band, replaced by Rob's cousin, Coogie Stoddart (guitar, lead and background vocals) and Joe Buchmelter (bass). Buchmelter was soon replaced by Bucky Lusk.
Several records before "Play That Funky Music" were released under their own label during the early 1970s, including "You Can Be High (But Lay Low)," and "Something Special On Your Mind," in 1971. The music at this stage was pure rock music, not funk. Wild Cherry eventually gained a record contract with Brown Bag Records, owned and operated by the late Terry Knight of Terry Knight And The Pack fame, who later on without Terry became Grand Funk Railroad, who Terry also produced at the time for Capitol records. Several demos and singles on Knight's Brown Bag label distributed by United Artists were produced including "Get Down" (1973) and "Show Me Your Badge" (1973).
The band broke up when a disillusioned Parissi left the music scene to become the manager of a local steakhouse. Rob quickly realized that the steakhouse gig was not going to cut it. As his enthusiasm for the music eventually returned, Rob decided to give the business one last shot.
Later lineups (1975–1979)
Parissi re-formed the band with new musicians. The new lineup consisted of Bryan Bassett (guitar/vocals), Ron Beitle (drums) (both from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and Allen Wentz (bass guitar/synthesizer/vocals), who hailed from Detroit, Michigan. As the quartet began to perform non-stop and built a huge, devoted following in the Pittsburgh area, they were repeatedly asked by listeners to play more dance music. Disco was beginning its rule on the radio and the dance floor. At the 1971 Club in Pittsburgh, a table full of black fans kept coming to the stage and teasing: "Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?" One night during a break between sets, drummer Ron Beitle, in a group meeting in the dressing room, uttered the phrase: "Play That Funky Music, White Boy." On the way back to the stage to play the next set, Rob Parissi was immediately inspired to write a song around the phrase, on a drink order pad with a pen borrowed from the bartender. The song took a total of 5 minutes to write. When the band went into the studio to record the song, studio engineer Ken Hamann was blown away by the potential hit and brought the band to the attention of Sweet City Records, distributed by Epic/CBS, which then immediately signed the group. Parissi had intended to record the song as the B-side to a cover version of the Commodores' "I Feel Sanctified," but the label suggested it as the A-side.
"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. Both the single and Wild Cherry's self-titled debut album went platinum. "Play That Funky Music" was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for 3 weeks. 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. Parissi did not attend the AMA awards and radio personality Wolfman Jack accepted the award on the band's behalf.
Keyboardist Mark Avsec, who had played on the band's self-titled 1976 debut album officially joined the band in time for the tour that followed and the recording of their 1977 album, Electrified Funk. Neither Electrified Funk nor the 1978 album I Love My Music produced any top 20 hits, while their 1979 album Only the Wild Survive didn't produce a top 100 single. "Hot to Trot" was a minor follow-up hit in some non U.S. markets.
Although it was never a chart hit, the song "1 2 3 Kind Of Love" had the right feel for the beach music clubs along the North and South Carolina coasts; it continues to be popular there today, and the song is included in the beach music anthology series by Ripete Records.
One musician who played with the band during their latter days was guitarist/vocalist Donnie Iris (ex-the Jaggerz). Donnie was credited on their fourth and final album. Mark Avsec partnered up with Donnie following the demise of Wild Cherry to form Donnie Iris and The Cruisers, who had a successful career of their own.
Early bandmember Coogie Stoddart returned to perform with Wild Cherry beginning with the tour to support Electrified Funk. Coogie recorded the third album, I Love My Music, with the band. On that album is recorded one of Coogie's original songs, "If You Want My Love," on which Coogie shares lead vocals with Rob Parissi. (The album jacket for I Love My Music incorrectly states that all songs were written by Rob Parissi; the album's label is correct.) Coogie Stoddart toured with the group in support of I Love My Music, but left before the follow-up album, Only the Wild Survive was recorded.
In addition to becoming the keyboardist for newly formed Donnie Iris and the Cruisers (see above) at the beginning of the 1980s, Mark Avsec immersed himself in writing and producing for other bands. One of his compositions, "She Don't Know Me," originally written for the band, La Flavour (who later evolved into "Fair Warning"), would become one of the first hits for the then-fledgling band, Bon Jovi. Avsec would later team up with fellow Cruiser Kevin Valentine to record under the moniker Cellarful of Noise in 1985, releasing two albums with this project. In addition to continuing his musical pursuits, Avsec has since become a copyright lawyer.
Allen Wentz moved to NYC after leaving the band and became a session synthesist, playing on many records and jingles. He has produced a number of indie projects over the years, scored a few indie films, and has had some song placements. He still composes and records under different aliases, as well as under his own name. Over the years he has worked with artists ranging from Luther Vandross and Roberta Flack, to Cyndi Lauper.
Guitarist Bryan Bassett went on to a successful producing/engineering career at King Snake Studio in Sanford, FL working with many great blues artists. His guitar playing easily earned him a spot with Foghat and Molly Hatchet in the '90s. He continues to tour with Foghat and work in his studio as a freelance engineer/producer. Bryan Bassett has also served as a Board Governor and Board Advisor for the Florida Chapter of NARAS.
Rob Parissi moved to Miami in 1979 after Wild Cherry disbanded, met Bobby Caldwell there, and they worked together forming a band for Caldwell to tour Japan and the United States. In 1980, Parissi moved to New York City, met members of Billy Squier's band, and did recording sessions with them and at the same time, also met Ellie Greenwich and together with Jeff Kent, they wrote songs, one of which was recorded by Ellen Foley ("Boys In The Attic") and became a hit in England and other parts of Europe. He also was a co-producer along with Gary U.S. Bonds and Bruce Springsteen on Gary's Dedication album in 1980/81 that produced the hit, "This Little Girl (Is Mine)," selling over 500,000 copies for which Rob was awarded another gold album. In early 1982, Rob moved back to his home town of Mingo Junction, Ohio to be close to his family and in the late 1980s while living in that area, went into radio becoming a program director and morning air personality briefly at Z-107, which changed formats while there, and switched to Eagle 107.
In 1984-85, Parisi attempted a Wild Cherry comeback, with a recording session rumored for the band to record a 'comeback' LP, at the urging of label Epic Records. Aside from Parisi, the reformed band lineup featured a drummer and three keyboardists, including future Dan Bern record producer Wil Masisak, and performed at several venues in the Steubenville/Pittsburgh area in 1985. Unfortunately, personal health setbacks for Parisi derailed the recording and the group disbanded.
Parisi now resides between homes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida, and is currently writing and recording in the Smooth Jazz genre, as well as vocal projects. His latest CD is The Real Deal, which is an all vocal set. On August 11, 2013, the people of his home town in Mingo Junction, Ohio, renamed the longest street there as Rob Parissi Boulevard, and declared August 11 every year afterward, as Rob Parissi day. He and his wife Ilona established a scholarship endowment for his former consolidated high school, now named Indian Creek high school, and he returns every year around August 11 to do a charity fundraiser for that scholarship endowment, along with other musicians from the area.