He played that funky music

Photo courtesy of Allen Wentz.

By Hailey Gay

Allen Wentz spent the 70’s playing bass for the major hit song, “Play That Funky Music” in front of huge festivals with famous bands. But when looking back at it he laughs it off and says it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“It was fun,” he said. “Everybody thinks it’s very glamorous and it is at first, but you’re flying in different cities. You end up being in airports, the back of coliseums and in a hotel. You get up the next day and sometimes you have a few days off somewhere and you try to work it out, so you’d be in a nice place.”

Wentz moved to Ohio and when he ran out of money he went to the music store and answered an ad audition for a bass player. During the audition the lead singer of Wild Cherry approached him, and from there it quickly turned into playing funky music on stage in front of thousands of people.

The 70’s were a time where the music industry was taking off, playing cover songs to writing a hit song that would be played all across the United States.

Wentz, who now lives in St. Augustine, had a few small gigs lined up, Wild Cherry hit the stage and within just a few months of playing covers at bars they started their way to the top. They wrote a song that they didn’t know how catchy it would actually be.

“The leader of the band wrote a song, ‘Play That Funky Music,’” Wentz said. “When you’re a cover band you know when you’re playing in bars everybody wants to hear the hits, right? … When you play an original song, people start throwing beer bottles and they don’t like it. But when we played that song for the very first time out, people went nuts. They kept on asking, play it again, play it again.”

Wentz said they played the song about three times in a row,

“I never seen anything like it. We were looking at each other like you know something’s up here,” Wentz said.

But it wasn’t all fun and games while being on the stage. Being a personal man, Wentz felt distant from his audience, wanting to be in the crowd rather than separate.

“It’s hard, though, playing for many people,” he said. “It’s a very impersonal thing. You’re in a dream world or something, but it’s you’re just this little thing. You’re making big noise cause of the speakers.” 

Feeling like they were just another band, Wild Cherry went from using their own money to record in a studio to an actual record deal. Within six months their record was on the charts and shooting up from there.

Wentz enjoyed his time getting funky at festivals with big bands, living a ‘rock star’ dream.

How did he end up here? Actually, he was broke in Ohio auditioning for a random band there, when the leader of Wild Cherry approached him.

“Well, he was kind of whispering to me, ‘Well, you know, I’m not really here for this guy, but I think you are a great bass player, would you like to be in my band?’ Well, what struck me was that I could tell he was a really good businessman, which is very rare for a musician to have it, you know have any kind of business sense,” Wentz said.

Wentz played with Wild Cherry for a few years, enjoying the stage and knowing that he was succeeding in his career.

However, with one hit and no other great songs to match, Wentz made the decision to strike out on his own and find something new. He knew he was great with a synthesizer, so he struck out on his own chord leaving Wild Cherry.

“You got every night to play your little set, and nobody knows really what you are playing until you play that one song. I’m doing this one song every night; I can see it. I hated it, man they treated us like crap, I had enough. I am glad I did it though and after I got out it was a coin toss on where to go,” Wentz said.

Moving to Florida due to COVID-19 and to be closer to his family, Wentz continues to do the things he loves like having Mahi Tuna sandwiches, spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren, and continuing to create and share music.

He tips his purple baseball hat with a smile; he knows he did something great.

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