Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music
Wild Cherry were formed in 1970 in Ohio by Rob Parissi, who got their name from a brand of cough sweet, and they were originally a hard rock covers band. They released several records under their own label in the early 1970s, which didn’t make any waves, and the band temporarily broke up in 1974, reforming with a new line-up in 1975.
By then, disco had arrived in Pittsburgh, and the band was under pressure to play some more dance music. The inspiration for their biggest (and arguably only true) hit was a comment shouted at them at a gig, “Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?”
Parissi was inspired and wrote the song that would mark their charts debut, reaching the US Billboard No 1 and being certified platinum. Play That Funky Music also did well in the UK, making No 7 – but that was the only time they would trouble the UK charts making Wild Cherry a UK one-hit wonder. Subsequent singles were unable to reach similar heights in the US, getting no further than the low 40s.
Originally, the rest of the band had misgivings about including “white boy” in the lyrics but it was left in, and reading the whole, it charts the progress of a band moving from rock ‘n’ roll to funky success.
The song lived on – Vanilla Ice recorded a version in 1989, originally releasing it as the A-side to Ice Ice Baby’s B-Side. But he didn’t credit Parissi, who successfully sued for half a million dollars. It has also cropped up regularly in film and TV soundtracks, including Scooby Doo 2 and the US version of The Office. It was also the subject of a conversation in an episode of Big Bang Theory.
Written in E major, it is notable particularly for that opening classic funk guitar riff. The chords are played with muted downstrokes and open upstrokes. Although in the original, saxophones are only in the background, an alto is ideal to replace the voice playing the melody line. Play that funky music!
Funky Licks for Play That Funky Music
Traditionally this is in a guitar orientated key of E. This puts us saxophone players in F# for tenors or C# for altos. Playing a solo with a band can be difficult in these keys, so here is a video with some easier licks that can be used, it comes with a 30 page PDF for all instruments with the licks and other tricks and ideas.