Five Kool Bits of Trivia

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
1. Who's Kool?: Many fans in the '80s and '90s wrongly assumed the "Kool" from Kool & The Gang was deep-voiced, drowsy-eyed lead singer James "JT" Taylor. In fact, it was (and still is) bassist and founding member Robert "Kool" Bell, 54. Taylor joined in 1979, in time for the band's Ladies Night and Celebrate! albums. He left the band in 1988 while Bell and the core bandmates -- sax players Ronald Bell (a.k.a. Khalis Bayyan) and Dennis "DT" Thomas, trumpeter Robert "Spike" Michens, guitarist Charles Smith, and drummer George Brown -- grooved onward.

2. Funk, pop ... or jazz?: While best known for their disco hits "Ladies Night," "Celebration," and "Get Down On It," as well as the Top 40 pop hits "Fresh," "Joanna," and "Cherish," Kool & The Gang started out as a jazz-fusion band in the '60s. They initially formed The Jazziacs in 1964 with several neighborhood friends. Based just outside the Big Apple in Jersey City, N.J., the group became Kool & The Gang in 1969 and played a brassy style of funk and jazz more in line with James Brown's heavy stuff, The Meters, and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

3. They're "officially" accomplished: During their career, the band won two Grammy Awards and sold almost 70 million albums. The band's sixth LP, 1973's Wild and Peaceful, put them at the top as the single "Funky Stuff" became their first Top 40 hit, followed by chart-toppers "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging." Celebrate!, released in 1980, spawned the Gang's only number one hit, "Celebration." The song was used as something of a thematic anthem in 1981 to help welcome home the 52 freed hostages from Iran -- and in 1984 to laud presidential candidate Walter Mondale's nomination at the Democratic convention (one wonders if the Minnesota statesman still has the catchy bass line stuck in his noggin).

4. They're still releasing albums: The band's current album is titled Hits Reloaded. Originally a two-disc set released in the U.K., the 28-song album was released as a one-disc edition for the U.S. The "reloaded hits" feature guest performances by Lisa Stansfield, Ashanti, Jamiroquai, and some early live recordings of Jazziacs live at the Kool Jazz Cafe.

5. The "Godfather of Soul" found them funky: In the early '70s, James Brown was quoted as saying, "[Kool & The Gang] are the second-baddest out there. They make such bad records that you got to be careful when you play a new tape on the way home from the record store. Their groove is so strong you could wreck!"

6. They hammer their point home with their listeners: The gang never beats around the bush with a lyrical message. Almost in unison, the band sings the phrase "get down" 44 times during the song "Jungle Boogie." They sing the word "celebration" 10 times and the word "celebrate" 21 times during the song "Celebration." That's pretty clear.

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Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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