Kool and the Gang

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Kool and the Gang

Kool and the Gang, starting out in the mid-1960s as the jazz-oriented Jazziacs, evolved into a popular early-1970s funk band. membership: Robert “Kool” Bell, bs. (b. Youngstown, Ohio, Oct. 8, 1950); Ronald Bell, ten. sax. (b. Youngstown, Ohio, Nov. 1, 1951); Robert “Spike” Mickens, trpt. (b. Jersey City, N.J.); Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, sax., fit. (b. Jersey City, N.J., Feb. 9, 1951); Charles “Claydes” Smith, lead gtr. (b. Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 6, 1948); Ricky West, kybd.; George “Funky” Brown, drm. (b. Jersey City, N.J., Jan. 5, 1949). Vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor (b. Laurens, S.C., Aug. 16, 1953) was added in 1979.

Kool and the Gang gained popularity in the 1970s with crossover hits such as “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging,” only to be swept aside by the disco craze of the later 1970s. Employing disco producer Eumir Deodato in the early 1980s, Kool and the Gang established themselves as purveyors of both dance and ballad hits with the addition of vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor. Thereby expanding their audience to the easy-listening crowd, Kool and the Gang and vocalist Taylor fared far less well after Taylor’s departure in 1988.

Bassist Robert “Kool” Bell formed the jazz quartet the Jazziacs in 1964 in Jersey City, N.J., for engagements around Greenwich Village, playing with artists such as Richie Havens and Pharoah Sanders at the Cafe Wha. The other members were tenor saxophonist and brother Ronald Bell, trumpeter Robert Mickens, and saxophonist-flutist Dennis Thomas. Playing sessions in N.Y. from 1964 to 1968, the band was joined by lead guitarist Charles “Claydes” Smith, keyboardist Ricky West, and drummer George Brown. Moving toward soul and funk as the Soul Town Revue and the New Dimensions, the band changed their name to Kool and the Gang around 1968. Signed to De-Lite Records, the band soon achieved modest instrumental hits with “Kool and the Gang” and “The Gangs Back Again.” They broke through with 1973’s Wild and Peaceful, which yielded their first major pop (and smash R&B) hit with “Funky Stuff” and the crossover smashes “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.” Subsequently Kool and the Gang were largely relegated to the R&B field, where they scored smash hits with “Higher Plane,” “Rhyme Tyme People,” “Spirit of the Boogie,” the instrumental “Caribbean Festival,” and “Love and Understanding (Come Together).” Seemingly overwhelmed by the tamer and stylized sound of disco music, Kool and the Gang managed a minor pop and smash R&B hit with “Open Sesame” in 1976, and the song was later included on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.

Languishing for several years and enduring the departure of Ricky West, Kool and the Gang added vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor, whose smooth tenor voice could effectively handle ballads, thus allowing the group to expand its repertoire beyond dance hits. On Ladies’s Night, the group employed, for the first time, an outside producer, Eumir Deodato, and the album yielded smash R&B, pop, and easy-listening hits with the title cut and “Too Hot.” Retaining Deodato as their producer through 1982, Kool and the Gang scored a top pop, R&B, and easy-listening hit with “Celebration,” adopted as the theme of hostages returning from Iran and featured as the theme song for the television broadcast of Superbowl XV (and since played to death at weddings and bar mitzvahs across the land). For the attendant album Celebrate!, the group was augmented by keyboardist Curtis Williams, trombonist Clifford Adams, and trumpeter Michael Ray.

Kool and the Gang’s next album, Something Special, remained on the album charts for more than a year, producing a top R&B and easy-listening (and major pop) hit with the ballad “Take My Heart” and the pop and R&B smash “Get Down On It.” The group had hits with “Big Fun” and “Let’s Go Dancin’ (Ooh La, La, La)” in 1982 and were soon established on the lucrative casino circuit. Robert and Ronald Bell returned to producing the group’s albums with In the Heart, which yielded the crossover smashes “Joanna” and “Tonight.” Their next album, Emergency, provided four hits: “Misled,” “Fresh,” “Cherish,” and the title track. Forever, on Mercury Records, also produced four hits, including the crossover smashes “Victory” and “Stone Love.”

By 1987 Ronald Bell had quit touring with Kool and the Gang and brother Robert had invested in a resort on the island of Boulay, off the west coast of Africa. In 1988 James “J.T.” Taylor left the group, to be replaced by three singers. Neither Taylor nor Kool and the Gang have experienced much success since.


kool and the gang:Live at the Sex Machine (1971); Best (1971); Live at P.J.’s (1972); Good Times (1973); Wild and Peaceful (1973); Kool Jazz (1974); Light of Worlds (1974); Greatest Hits! (1975); Spirit of the Boogie (1975); Love and Understanding (1976); Open Sesame (1976); The Force (1978); Spin Their Top Hits (1978); Everybody’s Dancin’ (1978); Ladies’s Night (1979); Celebrate (1980); Something Special (1981); As One (1982); In tfie Heart (1983); Emergency (1984); Forever (1986); Everything’s K. and the G.: Greatest Hits and More (1988); Sweai (1989); Besi (1969–1976) (1993); Celebration: Best, 1979-1987 (1994). james “j.t.” taylor:Master of the Game (1990); Feel the Need (1991); Baby I’m Back (1993).

—Brock Helander

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