Are you ready to get down on it and celebrate good times at Wolf Trap in Virginia?
Kool & The Gang performs a double bill with Morris Day & The Time on June 3.
“We’re very excited about coming to the Wolf Trap again,” Robert “Kool” Bell told WTOP. “I’ve got a saying that goes a little like this: ‘Hey, hey, hey, what you got to say? COVID go away, we want to play, we want to see the happy faces again, we want to get down on it again, so you all come on out and have a big party and celebrate good times — come on!'”
Born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1950, Bell grew up listening mostly to jazz.
“My uncle would be playing a little Miles Davis, my grandmother played the piano a little bit, we just listened to AM radio,” Bell said. “We used to take paint cans and depending how much paint was in the bottom of the can created a certain tone. We sat on this little hill … it would echo down into the valley. Eventually, when we got to Jersey City, I was able to get some bongos.”
He moved to New Jersey in 1960 and formed the group in 1964 with his brother Ronald Bell, Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert Mickens, Claydes “Charles” Smith, George Brown and Ricky West.
“Several name changes, the Jazzy Acts, Soul Town Band, Kool & The Flames … but we had to change that because of James Brown & The Famous Flames, we didn’t want to have any problems with The Godfather,” Bell said. “[Manager] Gene Redd had a label, Red Coach Records, we signed to his production company, then he did a deal with De-Light Records.”
Under De-Lite Records, Kool & The Gang released its self-titled debut album in 1969, followed by “Music is the Message” (1972) and “Good Times” (1972). However, it was their fourth studio album, “Wild and Peaceful” (1973), that delivered the hit “Jungle Boogie.”
“We went to a studio downtown in the Village area,” Bell said. “We went in at 8:00 in the morning, came out at midnight and we had created ‘Jungle Boogie,’ ‘Hollywood Swinging’ and ‘Funky Stuff.’ … It was ‘Jungle Boogie,’ we were trying to create a jungle, funky vibe. ‘Jungle Boogie’ is our No. 2 most sampled song. … It was nice when The Muppets did ‘Jungle Boogie!'”
Their 11th studio album “Ladies’ Night” (1979) featured a title track that hit No. 1.
“‘Ladies Night’ came about [when] my wife and I were hanging out in New York over at Studio 54 … J.T. Taylor had just joined the band, so I went back to the guys and said, ‘I got a perfect title for a song for our new lead singer … ‘Ladies’ Night’.’ The guys said, ‘Wow, yeah they’re all over the world, every weekend there’s a Ladies’ Night.’ That’s how it came about.”
Their next album “Celebrate!” (1980) featured the immortal No. 1 hit “Celebration.”
“We were out for the American Music Awards and won two,” Bell said. “My brother said, ‘I got a great idea. The tag on ‘Ladies’ Night’ is, ‘Come on, let’s all celebrate, this is your night tonight.’ I got this idea for a song called ‘Celebration.’ … There’s not a lot of lyrics, it’s just a good time. This record lives on and on, Super Bowls. .. They even played it at the space station.”
Their next album “Something Special” (1981) included the hit single “Get Down On It.”
“That was my brother,” Bell said. “There was a friend of ours that came to him and said, ‘Have you ever listened to Bob Marley?’ My brother said, ‘No.’ … My brother started listening to Bob Marley. The track is not reggae, but it had that feel to it: ‘Get down on it, get your back up off the wall.’ … Ask my man in ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ he got down on it!”
Their 16th studio album “Emergency” (1984) included the hit single “Fresh.”
“‘Fresh’ was a saying in the street,” Bell said. “If you see a girl and she looks good, you’d say, ‘That girl’s fresh.’ That’s how they came up with the whole fresh concept, a conversation going down, you see a lady walking down, ‘Oh, she looks great. She looks fresh.'”
It also featured another hit single with “Cherish.”
“We were all down in the Bahamas,” Bell said. “Everybody was cooling out, we had been working and had various hits and we were down there with family. My brother came up with the track, then J.T. and the rest of us said, ‘We have something to cherish.’ Yeah, let’s cherish the love, let’s cherish the fact that we’ve been able to maintain for so many years.”
The group’s most recent album was inspired by recent politics.
“When [Joe] Biden was nominated, they played ‘Celebration,’ then his nomination speech mentioned ‘pursuit of happiness’ and ‘perfect union,’ then my brother came up with a great idea for a song called ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’ which happens to be our latest single on our album ‘Perfect Union.'”
Through it all, they’ve been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame. Could the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be next?
“We don’t know what the politics is,” Bell said. “The president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was in the elevator at the ceremony … that my brother-in-law worked at and he asked, ‘How come Kool & The Gang is not in the Hall of Fame?’ He said, ‘I vote for them all the time.’ … I guess there’s a certain few, I don’t know who you are, but give us a little love this time, please?”
After all, it would be a great hometown hero story.
“I was born in Ohio, now, I’m a buckeye, if that means anything. The Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, Ohio,” Bell said. “Hometown hero!”