Kool & the Gang are an American jazz, R&B, soul, funk and disco group, originally formed in 1964 as the Jazziacs based in Jersey City, New Jersey.
They went through several musical phases during the course of their recording career, starting out with a purist jazz sound, then becoming practitioners of funk and R&B, progressing to a smooth pop-funk ensemble, and in the post-millennium creating music with a modern, electro-pop sound.
They have sold over 70 million albums worldwide.
The group's main members over the years included brothers Robert "Kool" Bell on bass and Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone, lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor, George Brown on drums, Larry Gittens on trumpet, Dennis Thomas on alto saxophone, Claydes Charles Smith on guitar, and Rick Westfield on keyboards. The Bell brothers' father was an acquaintance of Thelonious Monk, and the brothers were friends with Leon Thomas.
Formation and early success
In 1964, thirteen-year-old Robert Bell formed an instrumental band called the Jazziacs with five high-school friends. They changed their name to "Kool & the Flames" in 1967, then "Kool & the Gang" in 1969 (to avoid confusion with James Brown's Famous Flames) and were signed by Gene Redd to his new record label De-Lite Records in 1969.
The band first hit the pop charts with the release of their debut eponymous album. Although none of the three singles from the album went far on the pop charts, their R&B success was swift and massive. Several live and studio albums followed, with 1973's Wild and Peaceful breaking into the mainstream with "Funky Stuff", "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging". Many reviews see the Gang's 1974 album Light of Worlds and 1975 album Spirit of the Boogie as the greatest achievements of the band, with the 1975 single "Summer Madness" gaining much attention. However, after the release of those albums the band abandoned deep funk music and switched to pop-funk and disco.
The late 1970s saw a lull in Kool & the Gang's output except for the album Open Sesame, which yielded the title track "Open Sesame", achieving some success as part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. New lead singer James "J.T." Taylor then joined the group, starting with 1979's Ladies' Night. Their number one hit in 1980's "Celebration" was from Celebrate!, co-produced by Eumir Deodato. More international hits followed in the early 1980s, including "Big Fun", "Get Down on It", and "Joanna". Their 1984 album Emergency yielded four top-20 pop hits, including "Fresh" and "Cherish". Their chart presence stopped after Forever. In 1988, Taylor left the group amicably to pursue a solo career. He returned for the 1996 album State of Affairs, which did not make much of an impact commercially. Taylor departed again in 2001 to resume his solo career.
Kool & the Gang today
Of Kool & the Gang's original members, the Bell brothers, Brown, and Thomas are still with the group. Ricky Westfield, the group's original keyboardist, left in 1976 to form his own band, and died in 1985. Guitarist Claydes Smith died after a long illness on June 20, 2006, aged 57. Original trumpet player Robert "Spike" Mickens, who had retired in 1986 due to poor health, died at the age of 59 on November 2, 2010, at a nursing home in Far Rockaway, New York. Kool and the Gang soon added Larry Gittens in 1975, from the Stylistics, along with Spike Mickens. Longtime members who continue to perform and record with the group include Clifford Adams (trombone), Curtis Williams (keyboards) and additional trumpeter Michael Ray.
"Jungle Boogie" was featured on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's well known cult classic Pulp Fiction. The band released the album Still Kool in 2007. "Hollywood Swinging" was sampled by DJ Kool in his song "Let Me Clear My Throat," and by rapper Mase on "Feel So Good".
Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness" from their 1974 album Light of Worlds has been sampled numerous times. Most notably, it was used by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for their 1991 single "Summertime". "Summer Madness" was also featured in the 1976 Picture of the Year, "Rocky". A live version of the track recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London was released in 1976 on the Love & Understanding album (De-Lite DEP 2018). Live at PJ's' track "N.T" has been sampled extensively by artists such as Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, N.W.A and Kris Kross. The song was also sampled by Jermaine Dupri featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg on the song, "We Just Wanna Party with You" from the soundtrack to the film in 1997, Men in Black: The Album starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
In 2012, Kool & the Gang toured with Van Halen. On November 5, 2013, they released their first Christmas album, Kool for the Holidays.