Earth, Wind and Fire. Rick James. The Commodores. These were all big names back in the ’70s and ’80s—people who created music that made people want to dance.
However, no act made people want to celebrate more than Kool and the Gang. The R&B and funk band made numerous songs that became disco staples—and the group is still going, with four original members among the current 12-piece band.
Kool and the Gang will be performing at Spotlight 29 this Saturday, March 25.
During a recent phone interview with Robert “Kool” Bell, one of the topics we discussed was the group’s 1979 hit “Ladies Night,” which has been featured in many films, and is used by Eagles of Death Metal as an intro song at some concerts. Bell said he did not expect the song to become such a big hit.
“I’m happy that it did, but I’m surprised to some degree,” Bell said. “That came about back in 1979, when my wife and I were hanging out in New York, and we noticed some of the clubs such as Studio 54, they all had a ladies’ night on the weekend. When we decided to get a new lead singer, who was James “J.T.” Taylor, we were putting together the album. George Brown, who is one of the songwriters in the band, he had the music and was looking for a hook on the concept. I said, ‘Why don’t we go with ladies’ night, because every weekend has a ladies’ night around the world?’ So, we started working on the hook, and it was perfect. It became our first single with a new lead singer.”
Bell listed what the band members would like to be remembered for down the line.
“Our music, the songs we have written and the fact we were able to stay together for over 50 years,” he said. “We still have four of the original eight members of the band; four have passed away. If you work together and you decide to resolve your problems—because there are always problems in a group that you have to work out, and we have been able to do that—(you can). So, I’d say we’d like to be remembered for working hard, staying together, staying united together and being successful.”
During Van Halen’s 2012 U.S. tour, Kool and the Gang were asked by Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth to open.
“When that first came up, people were scratching their heads, of course, and couldn’t figure that one out: How is Kool and the Gang going to go on tour with Van Halen?” Bell said. “David Lee Roth was in London when we did the Glastonbury Festival. That weekend, it was Coldplay, U2, and it was all rock ’n’ roll. He saw us. They were getting together for their 40th anniversary tour and had just brought back David Lee Roth. He said, ‘I just saw Kool and the Gang at Glatonbury, and they rocked the house. That’s who I want to be our supporting act.’ They were like, ‘Are you sure?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, those guys back in the ’80s had “Celebration,” and we had “Jump.”’ Back in the ’70s, he used to play ‘Jungle Boogie’ and ‘Funk Yourself’ in the clubs. I didn’t know any of this. He thought it was a perfect match.”
But Bell wasn’t sure about the idea at first.
“He told me that 50 percent of his audience are ladies,” Bell said. “I said, ‘Oh yeah? I thought it was all hard rockers.’ He said, ‘You guys wrote “Ladies Night,” so let’s go out and have a party.’ We did that for 42 cities.”
A Van Halen tour isn’t the only strange place the members of Kool and the Gang have found themselves.
“We played in Algeria. We were doing festival at some Roman ancient ruins,” he said. “We were leaving the hotel and had to go through this little town, and our escorts in this little town were carrying guns for protection. We’re going through the city, looking up through the buildings and all that. We finally got out to the gig, and it was beautiful, because it was at this beautiful Ancient Roman coliseum. The people loved it, but that was strange. You understand what I’m saying? Algeria!”
Kool and the Gang just released a new single, “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours?),” and the group has some other new things coming in the near-future.
“(The single) has a bit of a young sound,” Bell said. “We’re always identified by our horn section. On the other side of the fence, we’re working on a book and a documentary. These should be out in the next couple of years.”
While you could sit at home and watch a Kool and the Gang concert on the Internet, trust me: It’s worth going and seeing them in person.
“A lot of our shows now are up on YouTube and the whole social media thing, but we do a segment of the ’70s in our show, and then most of the other songs are the hits of the ’80s,” Bell said. “We try to do a high-energy show, and we try to please our audience.”
Kool and the Gang will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 25, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $45 to $65. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-5566, or visit www.spotlight29.com.