Kool & the Gang: "Houston Better Be Ready"
With more than 70 million records sold, the men of Kool and the Gang stand as some of the most commercially successful funksters of all time. Born in Jersey City, N.J., the band was essentially just a group of friends with a jones for Miles Davis and James Brown. But they hit the big time in 1973 with their dance-party anthems and have never looked back.
photo by Silvia Mautner For Kool and the Gang, after 40 years the party is still going and every night is ladies' night.
Van Halen's David Lee Roth saw the Jersey boogie kings at the Glastonbury Pop Festival and approached them about opening the current Van Halen tour. What at first seemed like an odd pairing turns out to be two of the all-time party bands on the same bill. Winning.
Robert "Kool" Bell has been the throbbing bass funk-motor at the center of the Gang's down-and-dirty hits like "Hollywood Swinging" and "Jungle Boogie" since the band initially formed as the Jazziacs in 1964. Rocks Off caught up with him at sound check in San Antonio.
Rocks Off: Not many bands last 40 years, much less stay popular. To what do you attribute that?
photo by R. H. Yager Robert "Kool" Bell
Kool: We've always been conscious of building a fanbase and keeping that momentum rolling. And we stay out there. People can find us.
RO: What's been the hardest thing about keeping an organization this size together so long?
Kool: Family. My brother is in the band, and most of the guys who are in the band or have been in the band were close. My parents always instilled in us that family is the most important thing, that if you're a family, you take care of each other.
That's what it's been like. When we've had disagreements, we've always been able to be respectful of one an another, and to be concerned that everyone is happy with what we're doing. That's the secret for us, I'd say.
RO: You've been quoted as saying you guys came up with "Hollywood Swinging," "Jungle Boogie," and "Funky Stuff" in one long studio jam session. What was the situation that caused that creative outburst?
Kool: Our label was riding us about not having a hit. They had this producer they wanted us to work with to come up with something that sounded like some other things that were hot then. And we did one session with the guy, but we all agreed we weren't feeling it.
So we rented a studio in East Village for a day. We started about 8 a.m. and we just jammed all day. And by the time we finished that night, we had those songs. And we took them over to the label and they dug the songs and then the record came out and did well, so they never bugged us again.