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  Kool and the Gang

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Click below for a Kool and the Gang sample:


Rhyme Time People

Open Sesame

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At the height of their powers, Kool and the Gang was the most devastating funk band on the planet, more powerful than even the JBs.  Equally capable of delivering highly spiritual, jazzy grooves or punishing party anthems, their versatility placed them far ahead of the pack in the 70s.

From their base of Jersey City, the band was assembled around the core of Robert "Kool" Bell (bass), Ronald Bell (keys, horns), George Brown (drums), the guitar tandem of Woody Sparrow and Charles Smith and Ricky Westfield (keys).  The horn section was comprised of Spike Mickens, Clifford Adams and Dennis Thomas. 

Honing their skills by playing gigs as the Jazziacs, most did not stop to think that they were teenagers.  A promoter's mistake led to their being billed as Kool and the Flames, and they went with the flow, renaming themselves Kool and the Gang.   It was sensible to build the group around Kool since he was the musical and organizational bedrock of the group.  But don't be mistaken - every member made significant contributions to the sound.

Gene Redd recognized their enormous potential and signed them up to De-Lite in 1969.  Several tentative covers punctuated the first album, indicating their inexperience in the studio.  It was a different story on stage, so the decision was made to record them live for the next few albums.

The plan worked, as their audience grew and the band won the praise of James Brown, who was notorious for ignoring anything not in his immediate circle.   The Godfather had good reason to be checking the competition: with their airtight ensemble skills and more flexible repertoire, he knew it was only a matter of time before they challenged his funk supremacy.

After years of preparing for the big time, the moment finally arrived with the release of Wild and Peaceful.  Anchored by "Funky Stuff" and "Jungle Boogie," two early pre-disco dancefloor smashes, the record officially made them funk superstars.

From that point on, the Gang was riding high with "Higher Plane," "Rhyme Time People," "Open Sesame" and "Spirit of the Boogie."   LPs were a complete experience, with fans latching on to sleeper cuts like "Summer Madness" or "Wild and Peaceful" which indulged their jazz sensibilities.  Other recordings, notably "Father Father" and "Fruitman," made reference to their beliefs as members of the Nation of Islam.

Like many classic funk acts, they had a hard time adjusting to the new rules of disco.  "Open Sesame" proved they could lay down a progressive disco groove when inspired, but the consensus was that their sound was becoming outdated.

Their solution was to recruit lead vocalists for the first time and start working with a new producer (Deodato)  to give them a more commercial sheen. With the emphasis on JT Taylor's smooth but limited vocal range, a decade-long run of pop hits began with "Ladies' Night."  But how could anyone who felt the power of "The Penguin" and "Love the Life You Live" bear to hear "Cherish"?  They gained the larger audience they craved, but sold out in the process, leaving their original fans aghast.

Guitarist Charles Smith, who exhibited his diversity by writing both "Jungle Boogie" and their pop standard "Joanna," died on June 20, 2006.  

Kool and the Gang's Deepest Grooves

Kool and the Gang (De-Lite, 1969)

Live at PJs (De-Lite, 1971)

Live at the Sex Machine (De-Lite, 1971)

Good Times (De-Lite, 1972)

Music Is the Message (De-Lite,1973)

Wild and Peaceful (De-Lite, 1974)
With a nod to Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa," the Gang used a similarly Afro-inspired groove for "Funky Stuff," and the reward was a top 10 hit.  "Heaven At Once" is the obligatory conscious tune, indicating their relationship to the community.

Light of Worlds (De-Lite, 1974)
Kinda lost in the shuffle despite a #1 single in "Rhyme Time People."  Deserves a spot in any fan's collection.

Spirit of the Boogie (De-Lite, 1975)
Easing into more party-styled riffs, the title cut sounds like the stuff being cut by their proteges the Kay Gees.  Donal Boyce gets in a few apperances on "boogie" and "genie" vocals.  "Ancestral Ceremony" and "Mother Earth" keep the conscious level high. Fantastic cover art.

Open Sesame (De-Lite, 1976)

Love and Understanding (De-Lite, 1976)
Someone should explain the concept behind this album to me. Why would you want to mix concert performances with studio work, especially when the live stuff far outshines the new compositions? I think this was rushed to market.  

The Force (De-Lite, 1977)
The final installment of the original Kool and the Gang.  The lack of radio play for this album presumably led to the identity switch to a pleasant but toothless pop outfit.

Best of Kool and the Gang (Polygram, mid 90s)
Casual fans will be floored by the raw funk on this compilation.  The ideal starting point for those needing an education. 

New York City Kool (Music Deluxe, 1990s)

Kool Jazz (Polygram, 1997)

Kool Funk Essentials (Singular, 2001)
Previously unreleased cuts from their peak mid 70s days

Gangland (Eagle Music Group, 2001)
Compilation marks the debut of the 21st century Kool and the Gang, with a lot of hip-hop thrown into the mix.  Nice to see them evolving with the times, but likely to throw people for a loop.

Copyright 2001-2006 All rights reserved.

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