Rob Parissi (lead vocals & guitar) was raised in the steel mill town of Mingo Junction, Ohio . Parissi graduated from Mingo High School in 1968. Rob formed his first band in 1970 in Steubenville, Ohio, one mile north of Mingo Junction along the Ohio River. The band's name "Wild Cherry" was taken from a box of cough drops while Rob was recouperating from a brief hospital stay. The band played the Ohio Valley region, Wheeling, West Virginia and the rest of the Northern West Virginia panhandle, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The original lineup included: Ben DiFabbio - Drums, Lead and background vocals - from Mingo Junction, Ohio, Louie Osso - Guitar, Lead and background vocals- from Steubenville, Ohio, Larry Brown - Bass, Lead and background vocals - from Weirton, West Virginia, Larry Mader - Keyboards, Lead and background vocals - from East Springfield, Ohio, and of course Rob Parissi - Lead vocals and Guitar.After the original members broke up, there were other members who also played before the big hit, such as Rob's cousin, Coogie Stoddart - guitar, Lead and background vocals and Joe Buchmelter on Bass.
Several other records were released under their own label, including You Can Be High (But Lay Low), date unknown, and Something Special On Your Mind, 1971. The music at this stage was pure rock music, not funk. Wild Cherry eventually gained a record contract with Brown Bag Records. Several demos and singles were produced including Get Down, 1973 (re-release of earlier self labeled demo); and Show Me Your Badge, 1973.
The band broke up when a disillusioned Parissi left the music scene to become the manager of a local steakhouse. Rob quickly realized that the steakhouse gig was not going to cut it. As his enthusiasm for the music eventually returned, Rob decided to give the business one last shot.
Parissi re-formed the band with new musicians. The new lineup consisted of Bryan Bassett (guitar/vocals) and Ronald Beitle (drums/percussion/vocals), both from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Allen Wentz (bass guitar/synthesizer/vocals), who hailed from Detroit, Michigan. As the hard rockin' quartet began to perform non-stop and build a huge, devoted following in the Pittsburgh area, they were repeatedly asked by listeners to play more dance music. Disco was beginning its rule on the radio and the dance floor. At the 2001 Club in Pittsburgh, a table full of black fans kept coming to the stage and teasing: "Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?" One night during a break between sets, drummer Ron Beitle, in a group meeting in the dressing room, uttered the magic phrase that eventually was to be heard around the world: "Play That Funky Music, White Boy". On the way back to the stage to play the next set, Rob Parissi was immediately inspired to write the song that will live on forever, on a drink order pad with a pen borrowed from the bartender. The song took a total of 5 minutes to write. When the band went into the studio to record the song, studio engineer Ken Hamann was blown away by the potential hit and brought the band to the attention of Sweet City Records, which then immediately signed the group. Parissi had intended to record the song as the B-side to a cover version of the Commodores' "I Feel Sanctified", but the label suggested recording it as an A-side. Epic Records then picked it up for major world-wide distribution. During the recording of the first album, Mark Avsec was hired as a session keyboardist on two of the album's tracks, "Nowhere To Run" and "The Lady Wants Your Money", and was asked to join the band after the album was released and the group was about to embark on its first tour.
"Play That Funky Music" became a huge hit when released in 1976, peaking at number one on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts. Both the single and Wild Cherry's self-titled debut album went platinum. Play That Funky Music was #1 on the Billboard charts for 3 weeks. The band was named Best Pop Group of the Year by Billboard, and received an American Music Award for Top R&B Single of the Year, as well as a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo that year, adding to their success.
Their 1977 album, Electrified Funk and 1978 album I Love My Music did not produce any top 20 hits, While their 1979 album Only the Wild Survive didn't produce a top 100 single.
U.S. billboard chart placements for singles from their 3 other albums:
* Baby Don't You Know (1977; peaked at #43)
* Hot To Trot (1977; peaked at #95)
* Hold On (1977; peaked at #61)
* I Love My Music (1978; peaked at #69).
"Hot to Trot" was a minor followup hit in some non U.S. markets.
Although it was never a chart hit, the song "1 2 3 Kind Of Love" had the right feel for the beach music clubs along the North and South Carolina coasts; it continues to be popular there today, and the song is included in the beach music anthology series by Ripete Records.
One musician who played with the band was guitarist/vocalist Donnie Iris (ex-The Jaggerz). Donnie was credited on their fourth and final album. Mark Avsec partnered up with Donnie following the demise of Wild Cherry to form The Cruisers, and also released a solo project under the moniker Cellarful of Noise in 1985.
Coogie Stoddart returned to perform with Wild Cherry beginning with the tour to support Electrified Funk. Coogie recorded the third album, I Love my Music, with the band. On that album is recorded one of Coogie's original songs, If You Want My Love, on which Coogie shares lead vocals with Rob Parissi. (The album jacket for I Love My Music incorrectly states that all songs were written by Rob Parissi; the album's label is correct.) Coogie Stoddart toured with the group in support of I Love My Music, but left before Only the Wild Survive was recorded.
Allen Wentz moved to NYC after leaving the band, and became a session synthesist playing on many records and jingles. He has produced a number of indie projects over the years, scored a few indie films, and has had some song placements. He still composes and records under different aliases, as well as under his own name. Over the years he has worked with artists ranging from Luther Vandross and Roberta Flack, to Cyndi Lauper.
Guitarist Bryan Bassett went on to a successful producing/engineering career, working with many great blues artists. And his guitar playing easily earned him a spot in the 90's with Foghat and Molly Hatchet. He continues to tour with Foghat and work in his studio.
Parissi later became a disk jockey in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Play That Funky Music was covered by the rock group ROXANNE in 1988 and was sampled by Vanilla Ice in 1990 (for which Parissi was not credited; he later won $500,000 in a copyright infringement lawsuit), and it continues to be a hit in dance clubs to this day. Play that Funky Music is regularly included on funk and disco compilations, and has been included in numerous movies, television shows and was the theme song for Craig Kilborn's late-night TV show. Taylor Hicks sang Play That Funky Music on American Idol a week before he won. On March 31, 2009, Adam Lambert sang this song on the American Idol television show.
In 2009 Rob Parissi was involved with members of 70's group LAW in recording a song for Ohio State University called 'GO BUCKS. It was released in August that year.
* Wild Cherry (1976)
* Electrified Funk (1977)
* I Love My Music (1978)
* Only the Wild Survive (1979)
* Play the Funk (2000)
* Super Hits (2004)
- "Show Me Your Badge/Bring Back the Fire" (1973)
- "Play That Funky Music" (1976) \alternate
- "I Feel Sanctified" (1976)
- "Baby Don't You Know" (1977)
- "Hold On (With Strings)" (1977)
- "Hot to Trot" (1977) - also released as part of a double A-side with "Play That Funky Music" in 1977
- "123 Kind of Love" (1978)
- "This Old Heart of Mine" (1978)
- "Try a Piece of My Love" (1979)