Styles: Funk, Disco
Formed: 1974 in Pittsburgh, PA
Group Members: Wil Masisak, Ron Beitle, Rob Parissi, Mark Avsec, Allen Wentz, Bryan Bassett
One-hit wonders Wild Cherry was led by Rob Parissi (singer, guitarist, songwriter), who originally formed the group in 1970. Influenced by the likes of the Yardbirds and Sly & the Family Stone (and named after a flavor of cough drops), the group played around their hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, and even inked a recording contract with Brown Bag Records (led by former Grand Funk Railroad manager Terry Knight). But the group never issued any albums for the label and split up in 1975. Understandably dejected, Parissi turned his back entirely on music, selling all the band's equipment and for a while, managing a local steakhouse. But it wasn't long before Parissi's interest in music returned and he formed a new version of Wild Cherry with a whole new lineup, including Mark Ausec (keyboards), Bryan Bassett (guitar), Allen Wentz (bass), and Ronald Beitle (drums).
The group was still mostly rock-based and with the public's attention shifting to more dance-oriented styles (namely disco), the group was accosted nightly between sets by fans who wanted them to "Play that funky music." It wasn't long before Parissi took heed and penned a song under the same title, an infectious ditty that merged funk and rock together. The quintet entered a studio shortly thereafter to record the track (although they felt that a cover of the Commodores song "I Feel Sanctified" stood more of a chance of becoming a hit). A friend of an engineer at the studio overheard the track, eventually bringing it to the attention of Epic Records, which in turn signed the group.
"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. But Wild Cherry proved to be susceptible to the dreaded sophomore jinx and as their follow-up recording, 1977's Electrified Funk, failed to spawn any hits and sunk from sight shortly after its release, as did such further releases as 1978's I Love My Music, plus 1979's Only the Wild Survive and Don't Wait Too Long; Wild Cherry split up the same year (with Parissi eventually turning up later as a disc jockey in Wheeling, WV). Wild Cherry's lone hit remains a favorite in dance clubs to this day, as a pair of collections were issued after their split: Play the Funk and Super Hits.
- Greg Prato (All Music Guide)