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Iconic Interviews & Reviews

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  • Boca Ciega Bay

    bocaciegabaycoverbBoca Ciega Bay
    Rob Parissi
    Label: Count Funkenstein
    May, 2010

    Wild Cherry founder (and good Boomerocity friend), Rob Parissi, has some great new music out for your listening pleasure. While you won’t hear the son, or even the grandson, of Play That Funky Music, your ears will be pleasantly massaged with the soothing sounds of Parissi’s mastering of the Adult Contemporary/Smooth Jazz genre.

    And, when I say “mastering”, I don’t just mean a total grasp of the fundamentals. I also mean that Rob has the necessary musicianship mastered, as well. This becomes self-evident when you realize that he played every instrument as well as produced, engineered and mastered every track for every song on this new collection.

    First on the list but just recently added to the collection is Nuckin Futz. Like e-mail forwards that I get from certain friends, I was almost afraid to listen to this one. You would just have to know Rob. But, never fear! The song is kind to the ear! If I could dance – and if I could dance to jazz – this would be THE song I would want to dance. However, since I can’t dance, I’m relegated to shaking my legs in the most un-rhythmic of ways while listening to this treat to the ears. The rest of you will dance your hearts out to this great tune.

    Next are the pleasant, positive sounds of Wake Up Sunshine. I haven’t tried this yet but I would venture a guess that if you start your first few minutes of a new day with this song playing, your attitude will be great the rest of the day. Try it and tell me if I’m wrong.

    And, if I am wrong, well, then, you can chill out to Martini Time. Since I don’t drink, this will be the closest thing to Happy Hour I will come. However, if songs were drinks, I would have to tell the bartender to keep ‘em pourin’!

    Down A1A reminds me of the great George Benson hit, Broadway as well as part of the melodic line from Billy Joel’s Scandinavian Skies. Soothing, relaxing, exciting, all rolled up into one great song. This is a song that you would want to play while enjoying a relaxing drive in a convertible surrounded by incredible scenery. I haven’t tried it, yet, but plan to the first chance I get.

    In a similar vein is Hansom Cab. In fact, you will want to put Down A1A and Hansom Cab on a separate playlist on your iPod and hit repeat as you head on down the highway.

    The only song in this collection with vocals is a great love song entitled Ground Zero. This is one of my two favorite cuts from the collection. When I asked Rob about this tune, he said, “It's just a generic analysis of what happens when someone finds a loving, two-way street relationship. Ground Zero is the point of ‘neutral. OOO, so heavy, man!!”

    A romantic instrumental follow-up to Ground Zero is On A Midnight Full Moon. If I could dance, I would love to dance with my lovely first (and only) wife as this beautiful song plays.

    The last cut on the album is Biatch Blank ET (no, I didn’t type it wrong) and is my other favorite tune on this collection. This is what Eric Clapton would sound like if he played jazz. Rob burns this tune up with incredible fret work. To say that I have this song set on “repeat” doesn’t tell the half of it. This is a great song!

    If love adult contemporary or smooth jazz, you’ll want to add these tunes from this musical icon to your listening library.

    The songs can be heard by clicking here. Or, after the CD is available, you can download the songs for purchase by clicking on the icons on this page (they will be posted upon availability).

  • East Coast Vibe

    eastcoastvibecoverEast Coast Vibe
    Rob Parissi
    Label: Count Funkenstein
    Reviewed: September, 2011

    East Coast Vibe is the latest smooth jazz offering by Rob Parissi and it’s his best yet since he sojourned into that genre. Offering up an eye-popping 18 intricately written, superbly delivered compositions, Vibe proves to be one of the best musical values for you money.

    While much of the work on the album was done by Parissi, he had some stellar help from jazz great, Steve Oliver. Oliver did bring in some very big smooth jazz guns for extra fire power. Oliver provided his own great guitar work that complimented Parissi’s own legendary axe handling. He also brought in keyboard great Tom Schuman of Spyro Gyra fame to play on the classic Windmills of Your Mind.

    Oh, and speaking of Spyro Gyra, Oliver was instrumental in bringing the band’s extraordinary drummer, Bonny B to play on the happy, upbeat tune, Wildwood. I dare you to start your day by listening to this song and see if it doesn’t affect how you attack the rest of your day.

    What I believe was Steve Oliver’s most brilliant contribution was in convincing Parissi to, a) record a smooth jazz version of Rob’s 70’s rock hit, Play That Funky Music and, b) laying down his own signature guitar licks over Parissi’s basic track and, c) bringing in sax great, Will Donato, to add his magic on the iconic tune as well as on the album’s title cut. The resulting tune smoothly replaces the perfect storm of the rock/funk of the Cincinnati/Philadelphia convergence and replaced it with an uber-cool east coast vibe (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) with a small bit of a George Benson-like scattin’ thrown in for good measure.. If Play That Funky Music was going to have to be played any other way, this was it.

    While I’m on the subject of great sax work, another great sax player, Kenny Blake, lent his smooth playing on the Berklee 101 and Sumerland Key. Having two great sax players on this project is quite a coup for Parissi and, as my interview with him indicates (here), he’s quite aware and humbled by it. In addition to East Coast Vibe, I would encourage you to not only pick up Parissi’s other smooth jazz projects (available on the interview), I think you would wise to check out the work of Steve, Tom, Bonny, Will and Kenny. They should all occupy some space in your listening library.

  • Rob Parissi (2009)

    October, 2009

    latebloomerRemember Steve Martin's first movie, "The Jerk"? For those of you who haven't seen the 1979 hit, it's about a man, Navin Johnson, who is being raised by an African-American family who thinks he'll turn black as he gets older. One of the scenes early in the movie shows Navin trying to dance with the same grace and rhythm as his family. The out of rhythm, staccato-like, spasmodic moves that he called dancing fell woefully short of the mark.

    Have that image indelibly burned into your mind and you'll have a pretty good idea of how I would've looked like on the high school dance floor as a teen. Well, okay, I dance the same way today but that's not the point of the story.

    The point of the story is that there was a HUGE hit on the airwaves in 1976 that fooled us ungifted white-boy dancers into thinking we could actually dance. The song? Wild Cherry's, "Play That Funky Music".

    Now, admit it. When I told you the name of the song, didn't you feel a little spasm in your butt and a tingle in your feet, making you almost want to jump up and dance? I know that you did so don't deny it.

    Well, do I ever have a treat for you! The voice behind that smash hit, as well as the founding member of, and guitarist for, Wild Cherry, Rob Parissi, was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions for Boomerocity.com. Imagine my excitement that the man who played the mean guitar solo in the middle of "Funky" (and gave me many pleasurable hours playing air guitar along with) was going to take the time to chat with me from his home in the beautiful state of Florida. It was a laugh-filled blast.

    Since the fun filled, funky days of the seventies, Parissi has made the move over into the genre of Smooth Jazz/Adult Contemporary. I asked him what influenced him to take the leap from Funk/Rock to Smooth Jazz. Reflectively, he says, "I knew music was going to be my life before I was 5 years old. However, when I was 10 or 11, and taking a serious interest in being a musician, it was the initial influence of Mozart, Henry Mancini, Cal Tjader, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, artists like that who inspired me to learn. I think I was fascinated by the sophisticated chord changes, which I could hear and play by ear, but I didn't understand.

    "Looking back, what was so interesting to me was the mathematics involved. It wasn't until several years after I started in a rock band after being influenced by the California instrumental surf bands, Bo Diddley, Beatles, AND GIRLS, that I learned my way around key, string, and percussion instruments and started to realize it was all about the math in the arrangements that brings it all together.

    "That's what compelled me to also be an arranger and producer later on. These days, I also engineer all my work here in the studio, so it never ends, which is good in that it keeps me interested and always learning. Besides, robbing liquor stores always kept me on the run."

    Since he mentioned the instruments he plays, I asked him about the kind of gear he's using these days.

    "I've been playing a Fender Strat for over 30 years, primarily, but about 5 . . . . years ago, Gibson started to make a single cutaway model ES-137 Custom in Memphis that I bought without even playing or hearing because I could just see that it was going to be good, and it is. Before the Strat, I used a Les Paul. This ES-137 is a cross between a Les Paul, and a 335. When I'm recording, it's good to have a few different guitars lying around to layer parts with that complement each other. As for amp, in the studio, I play through an old Digitech 2112 rack mount straight into the console that pretty much gives me any sound I'm looking for. When I play out, we have a back line rider that requires rented gear, and I usually can deal with any name brand like Fender, Ampeg, Crate, and Mesa Boogie. As long as it has an overdrive two volume control and footswitch so that I can go between clean rhythm to crank it out mode. I'm also fabulous at playing the radio, and I do it loud and often.

    His new disc, "Late Bloomer", has just been released so I asked Rob how sales have been for the disc.

    "We've only released that CD with word of mouth thus far, and we're just starting to go after radio play at this point, so sales are what anyone would expect from just word of mouth. Ask me that again in about a year. I can tell you that my mom bought one."

    When you listen to "Late Bloomer", you'll be caught off guard by the couple of funk tunes on the disc. I asked Parissi how his new audience takes his funky streak. He answers with a story that gives some background to his answer.

    "Around 1996, I came to St. Petersburg from Ohio and bought a condo on the Gulf of Mexico to spend the winters. As I was driving around one day down here, I found a Smooth Jazz radio station and it was like I was 11 years old again. There was one particular instrumental band from England (Down To The Bone) that I loved, and they were doing jazz changes and riffs to funk beats with the drums and bass mixed way up heavy like dance records. I instantly got it and thought to myself, ‘that's the next place I'm going to pursue' (I always think to myself with quotation marks).

    "Actually, it was like going back to what inspired me in the beginning, only now, I have enough education and experience to know why I'm doing what I am. Even back when Wild Cherry was active and had records on the charts, I spent my down time listening to people like George Benson, Lee Ritenour, and Larry Carlton. So, the jazz thing really never left me. It's just that I realized I couldn't make a living as easy as I could in a rock dance band with top 40 hits on the charts appealing to the masses out there. At this point, I can afford to do what I want and not have to worry about being a starving artist. Basically, I'm just trying to raise enough money to take the family to Dairy Queen."

    With hopes of being able to catch him in a live show, I asked Rob if he was going to go on tour to promote the CD. With no mercy whatsoever, he cruelly dashes my hopes and dreams.

    "I love people and the time in front of an audience on stage to death, and just starting the intro to ‘Play That Funky Music' is a rush to feel and hear the crowd go nuts. But I absolutely hate everything that goes along with it. There's nothing about putting a band together, hiring a road crew, worrying about the gear working, packing 6 suit cases, airports, limos, traveling, or hotels that appeals to me.

    "If I sign with a major label again, one stipulation is that I will not be obligated to tour. I get more done right here writing and recording in my Tampa home studio. If I did decide to tour, it would be by bus, and I'd have it gutted and loaded with a few beds and a ton of recording gear (and 10 cases of wine). I'd probably be recording from the time I woke up till sound check at the next hall. Besides, we spend every weekend at my beach home over on the gulf, so I'm always busy from Fridays to Tuesdays."

    As many of you Boomerocity readers know, there are a lot of people out there who claim to be a certain celebrity or band. You may have even shown up at a venue to see who you thought was going to be your favorite band or artist from the past, only to find out that they aren't who they've been promoted to be. Many of these incidences are the brainchild of unscrupulous promoters trying to make a fast, dishonest buck. Wild Cherry has been "counterfeited" like this and Parissi, who owns the rights to the Wild Cherry name, is vigorously protecting his copyright.

    "In every business, unfortunately, there are always a few slime bags. They don't always wear name tags identifying themselves as "Sammy Slime Bag", so they can be hard to spot. There are a few booking agents that realize that bands who've had major hits, but little visibility, can make a buck for them. Most times, we're talking very small potatoes for all their effort. So, they put together 5 bands, call them Wild Cherry, and send them to little clubs around the country for $750 a pop, which wouldn't even pay for the sound system rental had they actually hired me.

    "One of these genius weasels just happened to try to book one of his bogus Wild Cherry groups in my home town at a friend's night club telling him that I would be there in the band. This kind of person would also dress up and try to go Halloweening at his own home. Anyway, my friend contacted me and we busted him red handed. Since then, the word has spread and it's not so easy for him these days. It's almost like you have to hope club owners approached by these bogus agents would just Google my name and they'd immediately learn that they're about to be burned."

    Call me stupid, but I have to ask Rob, again, (this time, from a slightly different angle), about going on tour. So, I ask him, "Don't hate me for asking this, but, with Adam Lambert doing a tweaked up version of ‘Funky Music', and the song winding up o Guitar Hero 5 (congrats to that, by the way!), are you EVER going to take Wild Cherry on the road again?"

    "I don't hate you, no matter what anyone else says about you, so get that out of your head. It seems that someone on American Idol does that song at some point, almost every other year, and ‘Play That Funky Music' is used in Hallmark cards, mechanical toys, movies, on and on, and a few kinky sex toys. (Okay, I made that last one up) No one could ever imagine how much I appreciate the 'legs' that song still has after all this time, but nothing ever urges me to pull a Jake and Elwood and get the band back together. Besides, it's like I told the guys years ago when they approached me about it: 'Just think about it... we only have one hit, so unless you want to go up on stage and play an hour and a half version of 'Play That Funky Music', forget it".

    Darn! Oh well. I tried.

    In 2008, Rob performed at a benefit for the educational program for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's what he had to say about the Hall and his feelings about performing at the benefit:

    "God Bless Terry Stewart, president of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He honestly believes Play That Funky Music should be the theme song of the Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, and probably the rest of the United States. He really is the best thing that ever happened to that place, and not just because he's a fan, but he's a great person who's done more to make the R&RHOF a success than anyone before, and when he leaves, he'll be a tough act to follow. He phoned me a few years ago and asked me to come to Cleveland to do that show, and he also asked me to close the event that night, which was an honor that brought me to tears, as everyone on that show had more hits than my little ‘one hit wonder'."

    I later contacted Terry Stewart and asked him for his opinion of Parissi's work and legacy. His input was glowingly complimentary.

    "Rob's song ‘Play that Funky Music White Boy' is certainly one of the great anthems of music in the past 40 years as evidenced by how often it's played and sampled. Plus, it came right out of Cleveland.

    "We were thrilled to have Rob as a part of our all-star lineup for the 2008 It's Only Rock and Roll Annual Benefit for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Artists and bands come together each year to show support for the Rock Hall's work and to raise money for our educational programs. In fact, our programs have become the most celebrated and award-winning emanating from any fine arts museum in the nation. We greatly appreciated Rob's support and talent. It was a fantastic show that raised nearly $250,000 for the Museum's acclaimed education programs that reach all ages, from toddlers to adults."

    Still in a serious vein, I asked Parissi what the one thing that he feels has been least covered and understood about him and his work.

    "That I'm really a woman named Martha. No, really, I'm not one who feels misunderstood. I'm white, I'm a boy, I sang a song about playing funky music, that's pretty much the whole enchilada. Now, for example, had I written a song with a line like, "someone left the cake out in the rain", I'd probably be in therapy."
    Sorry, folks. I tried to be serious. Honest.

    We later talked about music of the 60's and 70's and what the similarities and differences are, culturally. When I asked him for his thoughts on the subject, he waxes philosophical.

    "Well, one decade contained a "6", and the other one a "7", but they both were followed by a "0". So, you see, there are differences between the two, but the "0" definitely made them similar. Of course, now, we're in a whole new millennium, which is no longer preceded by 19, but 20.

    "So, your question gives me great anxiety and I don't think I'm qualified to answer. In fact, I just took a Valium. Culturally, you had your Beatle hair cut and troll hanging on the car rear view mirror in the 60's, soon followed by the Afro, white Saturday Night Fever suit, and disco ball in those fabulous 70's. I still stop dead and do a split every time I hear "Stayin Alive", even if I'm visiting someone in the hospital. But now days, I have a hard time getting in and out of my new Corvette, so, you tell me. BTW, the Valium's starting to work."

    Okay. So, my take-aways from his comments are: If you hear "Stayin' Alive" start to play while hangin' with Rob, have your camera ready. It's going to get fun.
    Continuing in this same line of thinking, he comments about the positive and negative changes that he's seen in the music industry since the 70's. "The biggest positive change is, that white people no longer suffer from peer pressure to get perms to create the ‘fro' look. The biggest negative change is Kanye West and his tourettes-syndrome-style outbursts at awards shows. Okay, maybe also that Michael Jackson started out black, but then somehow managed to turn himself white. Things like this confuse me, because I knew him when he was black. The farther I go along in this interview, the more I realize that I really do need to get into therapy."

    Since I've lost all hope of control over this interview, I ask him for one of his Valium. He's so cool, he gave me one of his more powerful prescriptions called "Placebo". It seemed to call me down almost immediately.

    Having regained my composure, I asked Mr. Parissi if there is any new talent that has captured his attention. With the Placebo kicking in to full force, I don't mind his answer one bit. "There was this seal I saw at Sea World last week, but that's another story. Actually, I'm still a huge fan of it all, and anybody good gets my attention, which brings me back to that seal."

    As I'm peaking from the gift from Rob, I asked him what was next, CD-wise, from him or the band (still trying to wrangle a Wild Cherry Reunion Tour commitment out of him). "The band's dead, get over it. As for me, I'm gonna keep doing the smooth jazz/adult contemporary thing until people hold a telethon and raise enough money to convince me to stop and get out of the business."

    In all seriousness (no, really), Rob Parissi was a lot of fun to interview. His talent and his sense of humor are very engaging and, while he has instructed me to "get over it" about the band, I still can't help but hope that I'll get to catch Rob and the guys "Play That Funky Music" just one more time.

    Thank you, Rob Parissi, for giving our generation such a fun song to, uh, well, to TRY and dance to!

  • Rob Parissi (2011)

    September, 2011

    latebloomerYou know that you have a good relationship where, when they answer the call you’re placing to them, you both just start laughing. Such is the case with my good friend, Rob Parissi. 

    When I called Parissi at his Florida home, answered the phone “Dude!” with which I responded with the same greeting and then we just both started laughing. Why? Not so much with how we said, “dude” to each other. I suppose that it was because we both knew that we were each going to have to be on our toes because the jokes and one-liners would be flying back and forth.

    My friendship with Rob began during our first interview together right at two years ago. Because of his journey into the genre of smooth jazz, I mistakenly assumed that Parissi was a brooding, overly serious jazz musician with no sense of humor. When you read that first interview (here), you’ll see that, while he is very serious about the smooth jazz that he creates, he sees the world – as well as himself – through a very humorous lens. 

    Like most people with highly developed senses of humor, Rob has a depth in other areas of thought than just music and humor but also in the realms of business, politics, and religion. That’s not to say that he doesn’t pepper his musings on those subjects with heavy doses of humor. Over the last two years, I’ve watched him use humor to persuade others to his point of view and, failing that, to shut down conversations that weren’t going anywhere meaningful.

    As Rob said during our chat about his online interactions, “I’m recording all the time. It looks like I have no life – that I’m just here (online) to wreak havoc. Actually, it’s frustration because I need an ‘ear break” and then I go to Facebook and somebody says something and I go, ‘Well, how can I screw this up?’

    Wait a minute! You say you don’t know who Rob Parissi is? I bet you actually do if you’re a baby boomer and were a teenager during the seventies. Parissi is the founder of the seventies group, Wild Cherry and writer of the band’s signature hit, Play That Funky Music. That song not only earned a prominent place on the soundtrack of our youth, it has wormed its way into countless movies and even TV shows like the ratings giant, American Idol.

    So, as the beginning of our call got past the initial laughter, getting caught up on news, gossip, and Rob sharing his helpful hints as to what to do with those darn holiday leftovers, we got on to more serious subjects. Subjects like his new smooth jazz CD, East Coast Vibe that he worked on, in part, with jazz great, Steve Oliver. 

    He starts off by telling me how the album is doing.

    “Things are going really well. It’s taking off. I’ve become really close friends with Steve Oliver so we’re on the phone all the time. Five minute conversations with us turn into War and Peace. We’ll on the phone for a half a day! We do! We just start and off we go! He’s in California. It will start with him saying, ‘I hope that I didn’t call too early’ to , ‘well, it’s noon!’ I’m telling you, man, we just talk about ev-ry-thing in-the-world!”

    Parissi then segued into bragging about Oliver and his accomplishments.

    “Steve has had so much success. He doesn’t realize how big he is. He doesn’t realize how large of a player he is in the genre. What frustrates him is there’s a click with certain people in that club (the smooth jazz market) and they’re all managed by a couple of people. So, what they do is they put pressure on him and not invite him to things and not let him into that clique because they want him. He’s independent. He owns everything. He owns all of his masters. His publishing, everything! He’s done everything correctly. 

    “I told him, ‘This is what it is and you need to recognize this. As far as I’m concerned, if they ever approach me, I’m going to tell them to go to hell in a way that they enjoy the trip. That’s just what I do. I’m not going to join that club. If you want to join my club, we’ll talk about that but I’m certainly not going to join your club. And, if I get success despite what you want me to do then I would imagine why I aggravate you so much. See what I mean? That’s what they’re doing to him. I mean, he gets number one tunes; number two tunes all the time despite it. He’s just totally independent. It’s a good thing but that’s what he’s going through right now. 

    “But, we spend a lot of time on the phone but, in the mean time, I mean, god, musically, if I give him an idea he’s just like lightning. Steve and I wrote East Coast Vibe together on the phone in around 5 minutes with both of us recording on our gear and playing stuff back and forth for each other where we were - me in Florida and him in California.  It sounds weird, but it works great for us.  I call him and play something over the phone, send him an mp3, he'll either add a cooler drum groove, guitar, whatever, and the same if he sends me something.  We do tons of flying things back and forth and right about now, I want to do a free commercial for Yousendit.com, which to any of us who record or have to send large files in the past and wait a week for a response or reply, Yousendit is both the 9th and 10th wonder of the world, as well as a cure for famine, drought, and cancer.”

    Our chat would often veer off to other related subjects before being steered back on course. One of those times, we started talking about the problems with the music industry and how, in the past, artists didn’t realize that the luxurious perks that were lavished on them were actually done so at the artist’s expense. Parissi shed some light on that.

    “If you get those jets and all of that crap from the record companies, then it’s all recoupable. In other words, you’re never going to make a dime. You’re always going to feel like a gigantic star but you’re never going to make any money!”

    I suggested that, when the sales stopped, so did the luxuries and the artists would be broke. Rob took it even further than that. “You’re not only broke but you’re in the hole to that record company so bad! That is what the problem is with the record companies. They spent so much money like that on people that did not even deserve it. They ran themselves into the ground.

    “Instead of having their A&R people really get talent and hits, they just invested in a lot of people who didn’t have any longevity. They screwed themselves. And they weren’t ready for the whole internet thing – the whole downloading thing. No. I was on the biggest label in the world and I realized that they just were not ready. They got caught with their pants down. They deserved everything that happened to them.

    “But, now, we can do it all ourselves now. I was an A&R guy at the company when Play That Funky Music was out so I know – I got early experience even before that as a kid on how record companies worked and what goes on. You either have got something or you don’t. If you have something, you can get it out there yourself. Now, with the way things are, I can get things out within a half hour! I can assign this thing all over the world – to Rhapsody, CDBaby, iTunes. It’s easy!”

    While on the subject of who to do and not do business with, Rob brought up two notable friends in the music business that had recently passed away.

    “There’s certain friends of mine that I wouldn’t do business with. But, then, on the other hand, there were guys like Steve Popovich (founder of Cleveland International records and played a key role in the careers of Meat Loaf, Ted Nugent, Boston, the Jacksons and Cheap Trick, to name a few), he was one of my closest friends. When he died (June 8th of this year), that really bothered me.

    “Now, Frankie (Dileo, manager for Michael Jackson, Laura Branigan, and Richie Sambora, to name a few), the other day, he died. Frankie was another guy who, if he told you something, that was it. Frankie started out as a bookie. See, Frankie was from where I’m from and that’s how we got to know each other. He’s from my old stomping grounds there around Pittsburgh. He got his start back there like that. There are certain guys in the business that you’ve got to watch and there’s certain guys that you shake hands and everything’s good.”

    So, I know that your core musical passion these days is smooth jazz and that certainly comes through East Coast Vibe. What moved you from funk to smooth jazz?

    “What happened was, when I first started getting interested in music, it was all because of just being a little kid and absorbing everything. My sister would bring home records – she’s ten years older than me but she would bring home these rock ‘n roll records by Little Richard and stuff like that. My brother was six years older than me so he started to get into the whole thing, too – just when rock ‘n roll first started to take off. Like, from the Bill Haley and the Comets days. Even before that, Louie Prima, because my parents liked him.

    “At the same time, I was watching TV as a kid – when I got to be about ten or eleven. There were shows on like Mr. Luckyand Route 66and Peter Gunn and Henry Mancini did the music some of the music on one or two of those shows. Then, I found out that Henry Mancini was from Pittsburgh. So, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh! If this guy can make it – wow! This is great!” And when I heard Route 66– Nelson Riddle – it just blew me away.

    “Then, I started to absorb everything that came from that way plus classical stuff like Mozart and things like that. My parents used to go to the grocery store and they had this thing where, if you bought so much in groceries, you’d get classical records. Dad brought home Mozart and I would put on Mozart. It was like a mathematical cornucopia. Oh my god!

    “I started listening to all of those chord changes and stuff and then I started listening to jazz stuff. Then, as time went on, as much as I got into the California surfer stuff and, then, after that the British invasion, there was also the other side of me that was into Cal Tjader, Miles Davis, and Walter Wanderley. There was some Latin/California influences. And, then, the New York stuff - Herbie Mann and people like that. I was just like a sponge for everything that was in that way. 

    “But, when I listened to jazz, it was about the intricate, sophisticated mathematics, I learned later on, as far as chord structure and melodies that go with it. There’s four note theory where you write four notes and you go through related chord changes. That’s how guys write film scores. Guys like John Williams is a perfect example: all those things for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind,and even the themes from Love Storyand The Godfather;there are certain notes that you write and there are chord changes that tie to them and from that you can write 45 minutes of music – just using the 4 note theory or the five note theory, whatever you want to use.

    “I got into that. I was a sponge for that. When anything came out that had a really interesting sound – with rock ‘n roll, especially – if it had more depth, like when bands like Chicago came out or Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, that was more than your basic rock and roll changes.

    “When I got out of the rock and roll thing, my window for the Lady Gaga thing pretty much closed. I’m not going to be that. I had to figure, if I’m going to stay in the music business, what do I want to do? I thought, ‘Well, what makes me happy?’ And when I started hearing that smooth jazz thing on the radio down here in Saint Pete, I said, ‘Well, you know? I can do that!’ I just started to experiment with it and find a place for myself. The more I did it, the more it (music) started to be fun again.

    “The rock and roll business, to me, got to be kind of like a job. I didn’t have to do anything anymore but I want to work. I’m too young not to. I can contribute something in that area. Since then, that’s what I’ve been trying to do and to meet other guys who have been doing it all along. It’s been a good thing.”

    When I comment that this seems almost as natural to him as playing funk, Parissi jumps on the comment by saying, “Well, the funk thing, with me, I gotta tell ya: that funk thing happened because of where I come from. 

    “See, Pittsburgh is an R&B town. Cleveland is a rock and roll town. They’re only about two and half hours away from each other. I grew up right in the middle of both places so we had everything rock and roll coming at us and we also had everything coming from Motown and Philly at us, too. That’s why, in Pittsburgh, groups like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Average White Band, even Humble Pie, Paul Rodgers – those kinds of people – anything that had a funk/rock thing was always popular in Pittsburgh. It was a very conducive environment to switch back and forth or to invent something in the middle there. That’s why, when I came up with Play That Funky Music,it was a combination of rock and funk. I didn’t have any problem seeing that. But it was the environment. I mean, look at Funk 49 by the James Gang. Joe (Walsh) got the same thing.”

    Speaking of Play That Funky Music,imagine my shock and horror as a teenager when I found out that, not only was Rob not African-American, but, to quote Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, he was going to stay that color. When I tell Rob this story, he’s not at all surprised.

    “I cannot believe how many people thought we were black! I’m tellin’ you something, we played several places where the stage lights came up and I heard everybody at the front of the auditorium say, ‘Oh my god, they’re white!’ We just looked other like, ‘Yeah? Listen to the song!’ We gotta big bang out of that at the onslaught.”

    When I comment that Elvis had a similar experience, Rob comes back by saying, “Sam Phillips always said, ‘Find me a white kid that can sing black and I’ll make him a star’. Jerry Lee Lewis and all those guys had that same thing.

    “Reading over the credits of East Coast Vibe, it’s readily apparent that Parissi assembled an impressive line-up of jazz whiz kids to help him with the album. He shares the back story about how it all came about.

    “Steve (Oliver) got to a point where he can pretty much ring anybody up and they’re there for him. He has been working a long time with Tom Schuman, the keyboard player for Spyro Gyra. Tom’s probably one of the best keyboard players alive. Tom’s worked with Steve for a long time and Steve said to me, ‘You know? You ought to get Tom involved’. He (Steve) was out in Las Vegas recording at Tom’s. He goes, ‘How about if I lay a couple of these things on them and get maybe him and Bonny, the drummer (for Spyro Gyra), to be involved’. Bonny B is not only an incredible drummer but Bonny is a very intricate songwriter himself even though he’s a drummer.

    “So, they were there and he (Steve) had Bonny cut the drums. They had a minute and Bonny did the drums on one of my tunes in, like, one take. Steve called me and said, ‘Listen to this’ and I said, ‘that’s good’. I was going to have Tom play on the same track but then I sent him all the tracks of that song. Spyro Gyra was going out the following week and I knew that he wouldn’t have time to break it all down. He said, ‘Man, I’m so pressed for time’. I said, ‘Just do me a favor: I’m going to send you Windmills of Your Mind. You’ll hear what I’m hearing at around 2 minutes - something that needs help. I don’t know what to do with it.’ By the time I got home, he sent me a track that took my head off. That was just a good thing! 

    “So, now we have Steve and I working together, of course. Then we had Bonny on another tune. We had Tom on Windmills which he brought that song really where it should be. Kenny Blake was a friend of mine from Pittsburgh years ago. I just briefly met Kenny and the moment I met him I liked him. He’s a very humble guy. He also is one of those guys who can eat the sax alive. He told me, ‘If you ever need anybody, give me a call’. I told him, ‘If I ever get a chance, I’m going to find a place for you, I just don’t know where.’

    “When this thing happened like this, I said, ‘I’m going to find Kenny, too.’ I just gave him six songs. He said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and I said, ‘Whatever you want to do. I’m going to give you six songs. You find two of them that you can kick some sort of booty on and I’ll send you to a guy, Rick Witkowski, that plays rhythm guitar for me when I do live dates’ – he was one of the members of Crack The Sky. He has a studio back home close to my hometown.

    “I told Kenny, ‘I’ll send you down to Rick’s.’ I knew that Rick would be a good cheerleader and he was. Kenny did two songs that he wanted and he kicked butt on that. So, that’s it. That’s how it all happened. It was just one of those things where we found opportunities and we took advantage of them and everybody came through very good.”

    “When I first talked to Steve about this, when we first met, actually, it was one of those things where you meet somebody and you just start talking for sixteen days. We met and we were on the phone and on the phone and I said, ‘You know, whenever I hear you play, you have to understand that I want to quit and buy a farm with a lot of sheep’ and he said, ‘Seriously, when I hear you play, it drives me insane’. He said, ‘You have an east coast vibe!’ When he said that east coast vibe thing, I go, ‘You know what? That’s going to be the title of the next album’. Again, it was like a bunch of opportunities – the right place at the right time, actually, and we just took advantage of it.”

    The CD has an amazing track list of 18 songs and clocks in at slightly over an hour. I was just more than a little curious as to what drove his song selection and the quantity of music for the disc.

    “He (Steve) told me when I did that, ‘Man! That’s a bold move!’ I told him, ‘Dude! I write every day! You know that! We’re writers. I’ve been that way ever since I was a little kid, I was writing in the Brill building. Those people write every single day. They go to work with their lunch and they sit by the piano and just write all day long. That’s what came out of that building. That’s why Carole King and Ellie Greenwich and all of those people were so successful – they were songwriters. Leiber and Stoller, same thing, the same building.

    “I’ve been like that. I’ve been a writing machine ever since then. Even with I worked with Gary Bonds and Bruce Springsteen, that’s one thing I found out. He might write 50 songs to get 10 but that’s just what you do.

    “So, I had a bunch of songs and I told Steve that I was going to do that. But the thing in the back of my mind was if I put 18 songs on an album and sell it for $9.98 and you have to buy each one of those songs for 99 cents, what I’m pretty much doing is giving you twice as many tunes for the same price that you would have to download each of them for and you’ll buy the whole album. To me, it was a business no-brainer kind of thing.”

    When I asked Rob how long the album took to put together, I was expecting to hear something like a year or two. Being well aware of what a songwritin’ fool the boy is, I should have known better.

    “I’ve writing ever since the last album I had out, Ocean Sunset, that we released at the end of February. Everything I wrote after that from the end of February up until we released East Coast Vibe was those 18 songs and there was another 50 on top of that. Those were only the 18 from apart from those 50 or so that we chose. But, again, I’m deep in material here. Deep in doo-doo! Ha! Ha!”

    What will sure turn out to be a tune of huge interest to baby boomers around the world is Parissi’s smooth jazz treatment of his signature hit from the seventies: Play That Funky Music. Again, Rob humbly shares how the song that made him famous found a place on the new album.

    “That wasn’t my idea. It was everybody’s idea but mine. I swear, I wish that I could take credit for it. Everybody’s said what a great move it was, bleh, bleh, bleh. But I’ll tell you something: I fought everybody on that. First of all, the promotion guy jumped on me. He kept saying, ‘You know what? Did you ever think about doing a smooth jazz version of PTFM?” I kept sayin’, ‘No, I don’t think so.’

    “Then, I met Steve and even he stared in on me. He said, ‘Hey! What about – ‘and I’m like, ‘Oh, man . . .’ My manager said the same thing. It’s like everybody said that but me. And, so, finally, when I decided to do it, I told Steve one day on the phone, I said, ‘I’m going to tell you something: youdo it. You do the basic track.’ He said, ‘Why? You do it. I’ll send you the tracks and you can mix it.’ I said, ‘No, if I do that song, I’m going to do it the way I did it before. I don’t want to do that. Just do what you want to do but don’t be afraid to slow the dog gone thing down to around 104 beats per measure instead of 108. You can lay it back a tad, in other words. Surprise me. Just do the track.’

    I said, ‘Tell him to do whatever he wants to do, let him do it. I don’t want to do anything. When it comes time to do the lead guitar, I’ll put the lead guitar in.’ And that’s what I did and it worked but I didn’t want any of my influence on that basic track at all.

    “So that’s what he did. When Steve and I talked about throwing some sax in key places on PTFM, I mentioned a few guys I knew could nail it because I'd heard them do their own versions of it along the way, namely Eric Marienthal and Warren Hill. Steve told me it would be no problem to get either of them. But it was Steve mentioning and suggesting Will - and being that I told him to do what he wanted, when I finally heard what Will did, I couldn't have been more pleased, and no one could have done a better job. 

    “As for the sax work Will also did on East Coast Vibe, Steve played it for Will and he loved it,  and went home and wrote all the parts out he wanted to do and came to Steve's soon after and nailed that one right on the money, too.  When I also heard what Will did to East Coast Vibe, it was the same reaction, knowing no one could have done a better job. Bottom line; Will Donato is a killer player who's also going to eventually be an even bigger name in smooth jazz than he already is.  Steve produces all Will's tunes, as well as writes with Will and does guitar work on his tunes.

    And what has been the overall response to the disc so far?

    “Good! We’ve sold out CD Baby for the third time and I just restocked them again. It’s on one of the charts with a bullet. It’s getting kind of close to the national charts. It’s the best response of anything so far in that genre. From what Steve says, it’s pretty impressive. In fact, he thinks it might be moving too fast and I understand what he’s talking about.

    “When I cut that thing (Play That Funky Music) the first time, I didn’t even have the album done. As soon as it got on the radio, it was going from an extra to number maybe 35 and then maybe to 15, to 2 to 1. It turned out to be a seven week record then after that it hung out at number 1 for almost a month but I didn’t have the album done. In fact, we tried to hold that single back when it first came out because it was hitting so fast and we didn’t have the album done. But we made it and we got it in.

    “I remember Casey Kasem telling me one week – we were talking on the phone so much – remember those little stories that he used to tell about the artists? I talked to him so many times that he said, ‘Do you have anything else?’ I told him, ‘I swear to god, I’ve told you everything except what size underwear I wear. I don’t have anything else.’ 

    “We started gabbing and he said, ‘That thing (PTFM) could be a curse because it hit so fast, it could be so hard for you to overcome that.’ I said, ‘You know? I’m starting to see that.’ Then I found out a couple of years later that a guy that worked at Capitol Records/EMI, he told me one day when we were having lunch, ‘Rob, I did some checking with the stats at Capitol. We said, ‘You know? Maybe the Beatles had 2 or 3 songs as big as Play That Funky Music.’

    “Again, to answer your question, slow is good. Matter of fact, I’m glad the last album did okay and the debut album did alright. The more you go along, the better it gets. It’s good for me. I’ve had it the other way and it’s not that much fun. No.”

    Later in our conversation, I told Rob about how, as a teenager in the seventies, I used to air guitar to his solo on Play That Funky Music. It was, and still is, one of my all-time favorite guitar solos. In fact, I told Parissi that I would love to have an extended version of that tune with a 30 minute guitar solo in the middle of it. Rob then tells me the scoop on that solo.

    “Let me tell you what happened. Steve Popovich worked at CBS at the time. After he said, ‘Yeah, I want this tune’ those guys told me, ‘Yeah! We got it – the deal with CBS!’ It was the only place I didn’t go because I didn’t think that I could get into the building when I was trying to shop it myself.

    “But, anyhow, I was in the office one day and they said, ‘We want to put horns on it (PTFM).’ I said, ‘Okay, but if you put horns on it, I’m going to tell them what to play because I don’t want it to sound like a damn disco record. But, if you want to put horns on it and I agree to it, what I want to do is change the guitar solo.’

    “They went crazy. They said, ‘How can you do that?!’ I said, ‘I’m tellin’ ya! I don’t like what I did and I want to change that solo.’ Right at that moment we made a deal and they said ‘okay’. So, I called the studio – it was four blocks away – and I said to Ken, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m in the middle of a session. Why?’ I said, ‘Do me a favor. I’m going to come down there in 10 minutes. Just queue up the 24 track and go to the tambourine track and get ready because I’m going to come down there and do that guitar solo again on top of that.’ He said, ‘Okay . . .?’ I said, ‘Who’s down there?’ He said, ‘Jackson’ – this black guitar player I knew. He’s a session player. He (Ken) said, ‘Jackson’s hanging out here’. I said, ‘Do me a favor. Tell Jackson that I would appreciate it if he would just hang out and let me use his rig because I don’t have my rig up here with me.’

    “So, I went down and I used Jackson’s Stratocaster, wah-wah pedal and amp and I ripped that lead off in one take. George Benson and I, we did the Grammy’s together. He was one of the presenters. George, Les Paul, Chet Atkins and I were all talking – talking about a room full of the greatest! George pulled me aside, ‘Rob, I never asked you: Who did the solo on Play That Funky Music?’ I said, ‘I did’ and he said, ‘Man! That’s a good solo’. I said, ‘I can’t even tune up as good as you!’ He said, ‘No, man, I’m tellin’ you, it’s not how many notes you play. It’s what you choose to play. That’s just a good, good solo!’ I said, ‘Coming from you, I don’t even know what to say!’ 

    “George Harrison told me the same thing and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what to say’. I never got that. I just went into the studio, ripped the solo and said goodbye and left because I knew he had another session coming in. I’m glad and I appreciate it but, geez . . .”

    During my last interview with Rob, I broached the subject of touring or the occasional personal appearance so that Wild Cherry fans could enjoy his music live again. He shot the notion down quite soundly. So, never afraid to ask a dumb question – and not above flattery or sucking up to get the answer I want – even with Rob – I asked him: “With this great CD, do you have any personal appearances planned to promote the disc?

    “No. I’ll tell you something: I’m better off and more valuable here writing music, number one. Number two, this is very interesting but it’s real. In the genre that Play That Funky Music hit first, I can still go out and get booked, doing one song, and making three times – four times –as much being on stage for five minutes as I can going out and doing a full hour of doing smooth jazz someplace. I’m in two different areas and I’m not going to jeopardize my standing where I’m at in that one area.

    “So, until I get to a point to where I have enough success – if I do - to warrant me to go out and make a reasonable amount of money in that smooth jazz area, I’m better off staying home. Besides that, one thing that I look at is that I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to realize that, when I go out and do something live that I’ve already recorded, it’s like doing the same little magic trick everywhere just to prove to everybody that you can do that. To me, it’s like old news – it’s already done. Why do you want to see me go all around the country doing that? Believe me, I love people and I do love that audience. There’s nothing that makes any of us happier than getting that response. But I’m not an attention junkie anymore at this point – where I need to be on stage to ‘feel da lo-o-ove’.

    “I’m more valuable here, Randy. I’m writing here. Every time I go somewhere for 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 days, it’s time that I’m away from my gear. It’s time that I’m away from writing. Again, it gets back to the thing that I’m an everyday writer. If you really want me doing what’s most valuable to me and you as a listener, then leave me alone and let me stay home working.”

    Being verbally thumped yet again by the Funkmeister, I guess he could sense my lip quivering from being so soundly rejected because he then softened up his answer by adding, “I don’t need to do anything but I work more now than I ever did in my life because I love it, I want to do it, I want to get somewhere and contribute something.”

    It’s at this point that Rob extols the virtues of home recording.

    “When we used to go to the studio – back before electricity was invented – we would be there and watch the clock all the time. When you’re in that studio and you’re doing what you’re doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a hit every time but they still charge you.

    “So, it’s like ‘give a guy a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him forever’. I always tell even newcomers that I know – my nephews are doing this. I’ve got tons of nephews and they all play. I told them when I was home for one of my parent’s funeral, we started talking and I said, ‘Make sure you have gear. Just buy gear. Don’t go into a studio. Buy gear and you’re going to be happier.’ They already did that. When they told me that, it made me happy.

    “If you own gear and you learn how to work it and how to get a good sound because you can because that’s what technology is now, man! The more time goes one, the better the gear gets and the cheaper it is. So, if you get some gear and you learn how to twist those knobs and learn how to get those sounds; you learn how to mic things up and what mics to use and just buy all that stuff, believe me, you’re going to pay for it the first time. 

    “If you were to go into a recording session to cut one album – even if you were well rehearsed – you would end up spending as much at that studio cutting that one album as you would to buy all that gear. Then, you could record your fifteenth album on that same gear, you know what I’m sayin’? So, to me, recording at home affords me the opportunity to just experiment and while still at home. Sometimes good ideas come; sometimes they don’t. You’re not going to get something good every day.

    “When I was working with Springsteen and Gary Bonds, I ran into his guitar roadies in my neighborhood one day and I asked, ‘How’s it going?’ and they said, ‘We went into the studio with E Street and we recorded all these tunes at the Power Station’ - it was a couple hundred dollars an hour back then – ‘Bruce didn’t like any of it as it turned out. So, what he did is he took a little four track recorder and had it set up in his place and he’s recording the same songs in his living room.’ It turned out to be the Nebraska album. He did that album after he cut all those tracks with E Street and he just went out to Long Island and cut them in a dog gone living room on four track gear. Daryl Hall and John Oates were doing that, too. They got studio sick. They did I Can’t Go For Thatwith home gear.”

    With the ink still drying on East Coast Vibe,I knew that it was still kind of soon to ask this question but the boy just got through saying a few minutes ago that he was a songwritin’ machine. With my lip now having ceased it’s quivering, I asked Parissi when the next album was going

    “I told my manager, Amanda, that I’m going to put so many songs on this album that we’re not going to have to release anything until 2025 if we’re lucky!” he said with a laugh. “The thing is, with jazz things hit really slow. It could take a single six months to even find itself out there and ends up where it ends up. So it will probably be sometime next year before I put anything else out. We’re going to see what happens here and see how deep we are in singles. We’ll release whatever we can and, depending on how it’s received, we’ll just go on.”

    Until that time comes, you can easily order or download East Coast Vibeat CD Baby, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody and, of course, iTunes. To make it easier for you, the album images are provided above. Just click on one of them and order away!

    Now, about those darn holiday leftovers . . .

Featured Photo

 

 

george lynch

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is of Dokken's George Lynch! Check out more of Rob's work at RobShanahan.com!

 

 

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