Besides Chicago, it’s hard for me to remember a band I liked more in the early 1980s than Kool & The Gang. I remember having the 45 single of “Celebration,” a song I associate with the return of the hostages from Iran in 1981 … well, that song and Tony Orlando’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.”
After the success of “Celebration,” I was a big fan of the follow-up album, “Something Special,” which I saved up my allowance to buy. Actually, that record and Stevie Wonder’s “Original Musiquarium” are two of the first records I remember buying with my own money. But yes, “Something Special” was my jam. I used to listen to it front to back.
Kool & The Gang have been a part of some big moments in pop culture. Besides “Celebration,” the band also had a song on the soundtracks of two of the most influential movies of all time — “Open Sesame” on the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” and “Jungle Boogie” from “Pulp Fiction.” In fact, “Pulp Fiction” turned a lot of people on to the old Kool & The Gang jams that we fans had long since known about — “Funky Stuff,” “Hollywood Swinging” and “Wild and Peaceful.”
Kool & The Gang will return to the Coast with an 8 pm. show at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Tickets start at $39 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.
In an interview with the Sun Herald, Robert “Kool” Bell talks about a friendly rivalry with another funk band and a young Kool & The Gang fan named Prince Rogers Nelson.
I was listening to the new single “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours),” which I really like. It’s got that instantly recognizable Kool Bell bass line — it’s a modern take on classic Kool & The Gang. Are you working on a new record?
We’re working on a five-song EP — five new songs. We’re going to get that out. It’s called “The Legacy Continues” and we’re probably going to do an album in the new year. We’re also working on a musical based on our music, kind of like “Jersey Boys.”
As someone who has obviously seen a lot of changes in the music industry over the years, do you like where you are nowadays with control over your career?
It’s a good thing. We can deal with that. The way that record companies work now, they want to see you concentrate on the whole social media thing and then come to them. We’ve talked to a few record companies over the past few years and it’s hard to bring them to the party. They say, “You guys are old school.” We’re saying, “We still have some music to make.” It’s hard to get the record companies to go the party. So, we’re doing it ourselves and coming back at it a different way. People aren’t making big records like they used to. It’s all about using the social media. It’s the way the industry is going. But we’ve always been in touch with our fans through touring.
As someone who is a longtime fan, I vividly remember “Celebration” being used when the hostages were released from Iran. Are you surprised by the longevity of that song?
Yeah, we’re surprised, we’re blessed and we’re thankful. “Celebration” has been out for more than 30 years and it’s still a very popular song. It’s still our closer for the show. We can’t close a show unless we close it with “Celebration.”
You were able to follow up the success of “Celebration” with the “Something Special” album. But in the mid-’80s, you had the monster album “Emergency.” A lot changed for the band after that. Was there pressure on you guys after having a hit record like that?
Yeah, man, there was pressure. In fact, after “Emergency,” our singer JT Taylor left the band. We had a lot of pressure after that. After that record, we decided to start traveling outside of America and tap into the international market. We got a new singer and we recorded a few more records, but there was a lot of pressure to follow that up.
What was the relationship between Prince and Kool & The Gang?
Prince was such a great musician and writer and producer. He opened up for us when he was first starting. He was a fan of Kool & The Gang. He said one of the first songs he learned to play on the guitar was “Funky Stuff.” That was impressive. When we were rehearsing for the “Victory” tour, Prince had just finished with Paisley Park and he let us use his facilities to put the show up for a week or so. We were very indebted to Prince for that. He was such a great guy and he is very well missed.
We also lost Maurice White last year. What was the relationship like between Kool & The Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire?
We were friends. We were competitively friends. Maurice and Verdine (White) are my friends — I still talk to Verdine. We’re still trying to get that Kool & The Gang/Earth, Wind & Fire tour going. Verdine and I talk about it, but we haven’t been able to put it together yet. We’ve also talked about Kool & The Gang, Earth,Wind & Fire and Chicago. But they’ve done it with Chicago several times. I’m still hoping we can get that tour rolling.