Wild Cherry was a funk rock group hailing from Ohio. They are known for their single “Play that Funky Music,” a number one hit during the mid-70s music era. Although they went on to have minor hits such as “Baby You Don’t Know,” “Hot to Trot,” “Hold On,” and “I Love My Music,” Wild Cherry is mostly considered as a one hit wonder. After several personnel shifts, Wild Cherry eventually disbanded in 1979.
Wild Cherry was founded by singer-songwriter and guitarist Rob Parissi in Steubenville, Ohio in 1970. The band took the name from the flavor of a cough syrup.
The original lineup played gigs around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and eventually snagged a recording deal with Brown Bag Records. However, the group never got to release any albums and eventually disbanded in 1975. Obviously disheartened and disillusioned, Parissi turned his back on music and went to become a manager of a local steakhouse.
Re-formation of Wild Cherry and their only hit “Play That Funky Music”
However, Parissi’s interest in music was rekindled and he sought to form Wild Cherry again. The new lineup consisted of keyboardist Mark Ausec, guitarist Bryan Bassett, bassist Allen Wentz and drummer Ronald Beitle.
The group was still playing some classic rock while disco was just beginning to dominate the radio airwaves and the dance floor. At a club one time, the band was teased by fans to “play that funky music.” It didn’t take long for Parissi to take heed and wrote a song named “Play That Funky Music,” catchy number that combined funk and rock. It took Parissi about five minutes to write that song.
When Wild Cherry went to the studio, the engineer there overheard them recording the “Play That Funky Music.” He eventually brought that song to Epic Records, who eventually signed the group. Wild Cherry wanted to cover The Commodores’ “I Feel Sanctified” because they felt that it had stronger chances of becoming a hit. But Epic wanted them to put “Play That Funky Music” on the A-side instead.
“Play That Funky Music” became a huge hit in 1976, going all the way to #1 on the Billoboard Hot 100 and R&B singles chart. It also went to #7 on the UK singles chart that same year. Its album Wild Cherry peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the R&B album chart, and was certified platinum.
Wild Cherry’s initial success earned them other accolades such as Billboard’s “Best Pop Group of the Year,” an American Music Award for “Top R&B Single of the Year,” and even two Grammy Award nominations.
After the hit…
Wild Cherry’s second album Electrified Funk (1977), didn’t live up to the success of their first record. The same goes for the other albums I Love My Music (1978) and Only the Wild Survive (1979) which failed to produce any other big hits. Even numerous shifts in their lineup didn’t help either.
In 1979 Wild Cherry split for good. Despite their short career, their only big hit “Play That Funk Music” is still a favorite among oldies music fans and dance clubs up to the present.
Wild Cherry Music History and Discography
Wild Cherry started as a straight rock band playing Ohio-style melodic hard rock with proto-power pop influences. They recorded several records before signing with Terry Knight’s Brown Bag label. Around 1975, original Wild Cherry leader Rob Parissi recruited several musicians from the Pittsburgh area to form the new Wild Cherry. These records did not impact much, and the band broke up for a while. Wild Cherry scored a No. 1 hit with their classic “Play That Funky Music.” Written by band founder Rob Parissi, the song became his #1 hit on Billboard’s R&B and Pop charts in 1976 and remained on Billboard’s charts for three weeks while maintaining its number one position.
Wild Cherry’s single and debut album for Epic Records both went platinum. In addition to being named Billboard’s Pop Group of the Year and winning the American Music Award for R&B Single of the Year, the band won two awards for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo. It was nominated for a Grammy Award.
The original members were Ben DiFabbio, Larry Brown, Larry Mader, and Rob Parissi. Wild Cherry released two rock albums: You Can Be High (But Lay Low) and Something Special on Your Mind, in 1971. They signed with Brown Bag Records to release his 1973 singles “Get Down” and “Show Me Your Badge.” The band tried to crack rock clubs, but their musical tastes changed after the original band broke up, and the clubs became more dance music. Tired of steak and wanting a different twist to his music, Parissi reformed Wild Cherry with a new line-up that included Bryan Bassett on guitar and drummer Ronald Beitle from Pittsburgh. Detroit native Allen Wentz was added as a bassist. In the late 1970s, Wilde’s Cherry gained a large following in the Pittsburgh area. Parissi wrote the song “Play That Funky Music” out of the experience, and the band subsequently became a funk/disco/dance band.
After Wild Cherry disbanded, guitarist Bryan Bassett joined the classic rock band Tumbling Dice in 1979, playing clubs in Pittsburgh and Miami. He joined the Silencers in 1983, replacing Warren King and playing with them until they disbanded. At the same time, Rob Parissi became a disk jockey in Wheeling, West Virginia.