Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Wild Cherry's Rob Parissi evolves from 'funky music' to smooth jazz

Rob Parissi was 25 and playing guitar with his rock 'n' roll band Wild Cherry when he jotted some lyrics on a server's drink order pad. The words would make him a star. It was 1976 when Play That Funky Music topped the charts and later stuck at number 73 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of All Time. Parissi, 62, spins smooth jazz in New Tampa and has a new song that's on the charts. Over a martini at Cassis American Brasserie in St. Petersburg, he and his fiance, Ilona Bellamy, told Times reporter Elisabeth Parker how the song came to be and how he ended up in Tampa.

So, what's the story behind Play That Funky Music?

We were a heavy rock band in Pittsburgh. We played songs that would bring in the good-looking girls. If we got the good-looking girls, the guys would be there. But the girls were starting to go to disco.

One night, I got the band in the dressing room and I told them: 'We've got to play more of this disco stuff.'

They went nuts: 'We don't want to be a disco band.'

We had been playing on off nights at a bar where some black people would tease us: 'Are you white boys going to play some funky music?'

The drummer reminded us of that. On the way back out to the set, I grabbed a drink order pad and started writing: Once I was a boogie singer, playin' in a rock and roll band.

It probably took me five minutes to write the whole thing.

On your website, there's a warning that scam artists are trying to book under your band's name at clubs around the country. You warn that Wild Cherry isn't touring and the FBI is looking for these scammers. What's that about?

That's the thing about a band like Wild Cherry. The recording company didn't want people to know we were white so they didn't put our pictures on the album cover. They wanted to sell more records to blacks. A lot of people don't know what we look like.

And later Vanilla Ice also recorded your song?

Yea, that was in the '90s. Vanilla Ice told everybody he wrote it. That was fun.

Really?

Yes. Things like that make me laugh. He paid me almost a million dollars. He was wrong. I got 85 percent of everything he made on it. He made it gold. I was suing him all the time. At one time, MTV asked me, 'Don't you hate him?' I said, 'No: I want to adopt him.'

How did you end up here in Tampa?

I fell in love with this place. My accountant said one day, 'Why aren't you having any fun? I came down, found a condo, made an offer on the way back to the airport. I owned it by the time I got back to Pittsburgh.

I met Ilona in New Tampa. We have three dogs: Vito, an Italian greyhound, Peanut, a chihuahua and Roxie, a Pomeranian. We split our time between our two homes. Monday through Thursday mid morning, I'm in New Tampa, working in my studio. Then we're in St. Petersburg, where we have a house on the water. Three and a half days each place.

You have a new song that's doing well?

It's called: Right Beside You. It's on the top of the adult contemporary chart for the second week in a row.

It comes from the poem about footprints in the sand. When you go through hard times, someone will always be there with you.

How have you handled your fame?

I never wanted that part of it. People get so excited when they find out who you are. Starstruck. If you like my work, what I do, great. My dad was a diesel mechanic in a steel mill. I'm just a regular guy.

I try to keep as low a profile as possible. I'm sure Paul McCartney wants to go somewhere and have dinner.

With this new single, at this point I can still go out and nobody knows me, but it's inevitable. It's going to happen, again. Back in my hometown, Steubenville, Ohio, they're naming a street after me. It's the longest street in my town. I hope I live up to it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Comments
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Angels game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Angels game

* It's always interesting to think of how many amazing plays you see made in a game, then often a simple one — such as the fourth-inning comebacker to Rays RHP Matt Andriese — gets messed up and costs teams heavily, as that led to two run...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Rays journal: Pitching plan works, until Sergio Romo leaves in second inning

Rays journal: Pitching plan works, until Sergio Romo leaves in second inning

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Doubling down on their innovativeness and starting veteran reliever Sergio Romo for a second straight day worked out fine Sunday for the Rays.It was the less-effective pitchers who followed, plus the ineffectiveness of their h...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

WINNIPEG — The Vegas Golden Knights are going to the Stanley Cup final — with a chip on their shoulder."Everybody on this team has something to prove," forward Ryan Reaves said. "We call ourselves 'The Golden Misfits' for a reason. We're ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
What a long, strange and winning road trip it was for Rays

What a long, strange and winning road trip it was for Rays

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The nearly Yanny-vs.-Laurel level national debate over their latest pitching strategy innovation of starting relievers isn't quite as entertaining today. The In-N-Out burgers in the clubhouse after the game weren't as tasty. T...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Chief US hurricane forecaster: Education key to storm prep

Chief US hurricane forecaster: Education key to storm prep

WEST PALM BEACH — The new U.S. National Hurricane Center director says learning about specific storm hazards is key to preparing for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. Ken Graham leads the U.S. government’s hurricane forecasting hub in Miami. At...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Unveiling for

Unveiling for "Fortune Taylor Bridge" marker rained out, but celebration continues indoors

TAMPA — There’s a saying that everyone dies twice, Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco said Sunday: Once when they take their last breath. And again the last time someone mentions their name.So in this case, he said, the name "Fortune Taylor" ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

TALLAHASSEEFlorida districts fight charter school lawEleven school districts in Florida are refusing to give up their legal battle over an education law that steered more money to charter schools. A Leon County circuit judge in April threw out the la...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Taggart delivers a bolt to area

Taggart delivers a bolt to area

TAMPA — After spending four years as USF’s football coach, Willie Taggart knows what to expect this time of year in the area, so it’s no surprise how he began a chat with reporters Sunday before a booster stop at Armature Works."Go Lightning," he sai...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

TAMPA – After spending four years as USF's football coach, Willie Taggart knows what to expect this time of year in the area, so it's no surprise how he began a chat with reporters Sunday before a booster stop at Armature Works."Go Lightning," ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Venezuela elections draw protests

Venezuela elections draw protests

Photos by Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesMarcos Carbono, center, joins with others in front of the Consulate General of Venezuela in Miami to protest the Venezuelan elections taking place on Sunday. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seems to be set to win ...
Updated: 4 hours ago