Kool & the Gang talks about their partnership with Deodato and continues to belt out hits
Published at RGI |
For Kool & the Gang, the musical celebration has been going on for decades. They will be bringing the party to the MontBleu Resort on Jan. 17.
The group is responsible for a slew of unforgettable hits including “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Open Sesame” and “Jungle Boogie”— which received an extra shot of cool cred when it enlivened the soundtrack of Quinten Tarantino’s breakout film “Pulp Fiction”— and continues to wield influence on the music scene.
In fact, Kool & the Gang, whose tunes have showed up in countless R&B songs — “Summer Madness” alone has been sampled well over a hundred times by artist ranging from DJ Jazzy Jeff to Ice Cube to Snoop Dogg — has been cited as the most sampled band in R&B history.
“At first we thought, ‘That’s our lick; what’s going on?'” Robert “Kool” bell said in a recent New Jersey Montly interview. “There was nothing you could really do. But (thanks to) copyright laws, we started getting credit and getting paid.”
Kool & the Gang has sold more than 70 million albums worldwide, with their tried-and-true formula consisting of cognac-smooth vocals, danceable grooves, swinging horns, good-looking suits and an onslaught of funk.
Their performances ooze oncomong passion, and it’s little wonder given that music-making is all this crew, who have performed together continuously for the past 35 years, has ever done.
The story begins in 1964 in Jersey City when brothers Ronald and Robert “Kool” Bell joined up with P.S. 22 High School friends Robert “Spike” Mickens, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, Ricky Westield, George Brown and Charles Smith.
Calling themselves the Jazziacs, they forged a musical blend of jazz, soul and funk. They went through several name changes before settling on the moniker they use today, accompanied by their famous, trumpet-crowned logo.
They played steadily for next several years, perfecting their sound and opening for acts like musician Ritchie Havens and comedians Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor. Their self-titled 1969 debut album yielded the band’s first Billboard hit, “Kool and the Gang,” and the gang was off and running.
After several more live and studio offerings, the band third studio album, 1973’s “Wild and Peaceful,” drew white-hot attention with funkadelic singles like “Funky Stuff,” “Hollywood Swinging” and the platinum-selling “Jungle Boogie,” which brought the band mainstream success by skyrocketing to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Their subsequent albums, “Light of the Worlds” (1974) and “Spirit of the Boogie” (1975). The former record’s “Summer Sadness garnered critical ecclaim and the latter album’s eponymous “Spirit of the Boogie” became the group’s fourth top-40 single.
Kool & the Gang, evolving with the dance-centric times, next moved on from deep funk to a more pop- and disco-drenched sound. Fittingly, “Open Sesame (Groove with the Genie)” from the 1976 album Open Sesame graced the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack.
And in 1979, the group summoned the fairer sex to the dance floor with their party anthem, “Ladies Night.”
A few die-hard funk fans accused the goup of selling out but, as bassist Robert “Kool” Bell explained to the New Jersey Monthly, their then-producer Eumir Deodato advised them to make room for the singer.
It was a sage move, making the group an ubiquitous chart presence throughout the ’80s. The band kicked off 1980 with their No. 1 hit “Celebration” off the album “Celebrate!” followed by “Big Fun,” “Get Down on It” and “Joanna.”
The hit-making started to slow down after Kool & the Gang’s “Emergency” produced four top-20 hits, including “Fresh” and “Cherish.”
By then, however, the group had earned a loyal audience, enough to support nonstop touring by a group the world has come to cherish.
While the band’s coups include two Grammy Awards and 31 gold and platinum albums, it has not been without its lowpoints. They have suffered a number of personnel changes and some losses over the years. Kool & the Gang’s first keyboardist left to form his own band in 1976, and died nine years later.
Guitarist Claydes Smith died in 2006 at 57, and original trumpet player Robert “Spike” Mickens — who retired in 1986 due to failing health — died in 2010 at age 59.
The band is currently working to raise money for longtime trombonist Clifford Adams, who needs a liver transplant and has no health insurance.
The Bell brothers, Brown and Thomas are still with the group, which revisited the Billboard R&B chart in 2006’s “Steppin’ Into Love.” They still work at a furious pace, performing hundred of shows a year, with notable stints including a 2012 gig as the opening act for a national tour by rockers Van Halen.
This was followed by a 2012 tour with Kid Rock. In a Chigaco Sun-Times article, bassist Robert “Kool” Bell weighed in on the unlikely pairing with David Lee Roth and the boys of Van Halen.
“When I met with David Lee at a rehearsal, he mentioned to me that in the early days they used to play Kool & the Gang in the clubs, and he loved it. We talked about doing this tour, and he said, ‘Sixty percent of the audience is ladies, and you guys wrote ‘Ladies Night.’ Let’s just go out and have a party.’ That’s how he ran it by me. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s get down on it!'”
The Bell brothers are deeply grateful for their career longevity, much of which they attribute to their parents, who used to drive them to performances when they were budding teenaged musicians.
“They told us, regardless of what happens, stay together as a family, as brothers,” Robert told the New Jersey Monthly. “Now there have been hills and valleys. We argue. But that spirit has stayed with us.”