The Gap Band
The Gap Band
The Gap Band is a funk group that produced such 1980s hits as “Shake,” “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance,” “Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)” “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” and “Outstanding.” Brothers Charlie, Robert, and Ronnie Wilson formed the band in 1967 in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and were at the front of the funk sound that was popularized by such groups as Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rick James, and Cameo. Though always centered on the three Wilson brothers, the Gap Band has varied in size over the years; in the late 1970s, the group boasted a large horn section. In later years, the lineup has been significantly smaller.
Raised in their father’s Pentecostal church, the Wilson brothers, cousins of funk legend Bootsy Collins, were forced by their parents to learn to play various instruments, primarily piano. Like many children, they despised their music lessons. Ronnie, the oldest, formed his first band at the age of 14, and middle brother Charlie joined a rival group a few years later. The two bands were playing across the street from one another one night, and Ronnie caught his brother’s act. He offered Charlie a place in his band, negotiations ensued, and the family connection prevailed—Charlie joined Ronnie’s band as an organ player. Youngest brother Robert joined them when the group’s original bass player left the band.
The boys—Robert was barely 14—performed for a while without a name, then called themselves the Greenwood, Archer, and Pine Streets Band, after streets in their neighborhood. The cumbersome moniker was soon shortened to the Gap Street Band on advertisements, then further still, until the Gap Band was born. In a twist, the city of Tulsa named a street in the group’s honor in 2001. Gap Band Avenue intersects both Greenwood Avenue and Pine Street.
Charlie was the first Wilson brother to strike out on his own. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, certain that there was potential for them on the West Coast, and convinced his brothers to join him. Success was not immediate for the three, and their early days in Los Angeles included a string of unspectacular live shows, bungled record deals, and a general lack of interest or success.
Things began to turn around when they hooked up with Lonnie Simpson, a businessman in the entertainment industry who owned a nightclub and a recording studio. Simpson saw the band’s potential and agreed to support and guide them. The Gap Band released its first album, Magician’s Holiday, in 1974, with their self-titled album following in 1976. Rereleased in 1979, The Gap Band was the group’s major-label debut on Mercury Records. It produced the single “Shake,” which hit the top five.
The group capitalized on the popularity of synthesizer-based music by groups like Parliament/Funkadelic, and echoed the vocal harmonies of Earth, Wind, and Fire. “What we did was raw, with real instruments and real singing,” Charlie Wilson told Rosalind Allen in an Orange County Register interview. He was quick to latch onto the emerging hip-hop movement in the early 1980s by reciting his own rhymes in the group’s dance tunes. Noted singer-songwriter Leon Russell also played a big role in shaping the group’s sound. With Gap Band V-Jammin’ released in 1983 on Mercury Records, the group had perfected “a style that never strays far from a hearty dance beat, always keeps the arrangements spare, and usually offers innocuous lyrics,” wrote Rolling Stone critic Debby Miller.
The group then spent nearly six years in litigation with the Total Experience record label. The albums that were released on the label, Gap Band VI (1985), Gap Band VII (1986), Gap Band VIII (1987), and Straight from the Heart (1988) “were composed of material that we didn’t write and produce ourselves,” Wilson told Billboard. According to the Wilsons, those four albums were outtakes from old sessions, some of which all three members were not even directly involved with. Some tracks were actually recorded for Charlie Wilson’s solo album. Still, they garnered solid reviews. “However troubling,” Davitt Sigerson wrote in Rolling Stone review of Gap Band VI, “the music this group is making is intense, original, and of historic importance.” “As far as we’re concerned, our last legitimate album was Gap [Band] V,” Ronnie Wilson told Billboard in 1990.
For the Record…
Members include Charlie Wilson, lead vocals, keyboards; Robert Wilson, bass, vocals; Ronnie Wilson, trumpet, keyboards.
Group formed in Tulsa, OK, 1967; relocated to Los Angeles, mid-1970s; joined forces with businessman Lonnie Simpson and singer-songwriter Leon Russell, mid-1970s; released The Gap Band and the top-five single, “Shake,” 1979; involved with litigation against Total Experience record label, c. 1985-90; released Round Trip, 1990; concentrated on touring, 1990-95; released Ain’t Nothing but a Party, 1995; enjoyed renewed interest in funk music, late 1990s; released greatest-hits collection The Best of the Gap Band: 20th-Century Masters/The Millennium Collection, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Intersound, P.O. Box 1724, Roswell, GA 30077.
Round Trip (1990) turned out to be the Gap Band’s last recording for another six years as they embarked on a series of tours. Ain’t Nothing But a Party was released on Capitol in 1995, and Live & Well followed a year later. Despite the passage of time, the group found favor upon its return. “We didn’t have to change our basic sound,” Charlie Wilson told David Nathan in Billboard. “Music changes all the time and it seems like the music industry came back to us. But then, we’ve always though of ourselves as trendsetters rather than people who follow trends.”
A late-1990s funk revival brought attention back to the band. “It’s called funk, and it’s got an attitude,” Rosalind Allen wrote in the Orange County Register. “It’s raw and loose. It’s music with a jerky bass line thick as molasses, electrifying guitar licks, fun and passionate vocals, soulful syncopation. An earthy beat derived from African music, gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock. More important, it’s real. And it’s back.” Funk groups like Parliament/Funkadelic, Rick James, and Cameo all reemerged during this time with tours and new albums. The Rhino record label released the Gap Band collection called Testimony.
Ronnie Wilson became a born-again Christian and pastor in 1984, and performed in the play Mama, I’m Sorry. Charlie Wilson became a popular session vocalist, performing with such artists as Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, the Eurythmics, and Snoop Dogg, among others. He released an acclaimed solo album, Bridging the Gap, in 2000, and a single, “Without You,” employing the talents of such hit artists as producers Timbaland, Shek’spere, and Babyface. He also went public about his nearly 20 years of substance abuse, a habit he beat in the mid-1990s. “I’m really glad to be alive,” he said in an interview with Essence. “A lot of things were going on backstage…. It was a fast ride.”
The brothers wrote the title song for the 1988 comedy I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in just 24 hours. They continue to record and tour as the Gap Band, billing their shows as a return to old-school funk. During a 2000 concert, Charlie Wilson “confirmed that he was still the singer and showman he was in the early 1980s, when he led the Gap Band through its biggest hits,” wrote New York Times critic Jon Pareles. “They remain an influential urban group of the 1980s,” according to Rolling Stone online, and their work is heavily sampled by hip-hop artists. They released The Best of the Gap Band: 20th-Century Masters/The Millennium Collection in 2001.
Magician’s Holiday, Shelter, 1974.
The Gap Band, Tattoo, 1976; reissued, Mercury, 1979.
The Gap Band II, Mercury, 1979.
The Gap Band, III, Mercury, 1979.
The Gap Band III, Mercury, 1980.
The Gap Band IV, Mercury, 1982.
The Gap Band V-Jammin’, Mercury, 1983.
Strike a Groove, Passport, 1983.
The Gap Band VI, Total Experience, 1985.
The Gap Band VII, Total Experience, 1986.
The Gap Band VII, Total Experience, 1986.
Round Trip, Capitol, 1989.
Humpin’, Polygram, 1994.
Testimony, Rhino, 1994.
Ain’t Nothing But a Party, Raging Bull, 1995.
Live & Well (live), Intersound, 1996.
Y2K: Funkin’ Till 2000 Comz, Crash, 1999.
The Best of the Gap Band: 20th-Century Masters/The Millennium Collection, Mercury, 2001.
Billboard, January 6, 1990, p. 27.
Essence, June 2001, p. 66.
Jet, July 23, 2001, p. 13.
New York Times, October 10, 2000, p. E5.
Orange County Register (California), January 8, 1998, p.F51.
People, April 8, 1985, p. 26.
Rolling Stone, December 8, 1983, p. 61; March 28, 1985, p.97.
Village Voice, June 5, 2001, p. 72.
Washington Post, March 15, 1995, p. B12.
“Biography: The Gap Band,” Rolling Stone.com,http://www.rollingstone.com/thegapband (February 8, 2003).
“Gap Band,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2003).
“History of the Gap Band,” Soul Patrol, http://www.soulpatrol.com/funk/gap.htm (January 15, 2003).
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