Kool & The Gang Funk Legend, Robert "Kool" Bell, Still Getting Down On It! Let's Celebrate that!

Updated: May 2


Bassist, Singer, Producer, Songwriter Known for hit songs like, Celebrate, Jungle Boogie, Hollywood Swinging, Get Down on It, Ladies Night, Too Hot, Funky Stuff, Salvation and more! It was such an honor to interview the funk music legend himself, Robert ( Kool) Bell ! If anyone knows me well, they know I love funk music! I always have! So, to be able to speak with one of the original members of, Kool and The Gang, I was on cloud 9! Kool was such a beautiful heart. I really enjoyed our conversation. I learned so much about the journey of the band and even a few other things. Here's what we talked about.


Hi Kool, how are you? I'm doing fine, how are you?


I'm living my best life! Thank you so much! I'm so happy to speak with you today! I'm a super fan of Kool and The Gang! Thank you, Gina.

You're welcome! So, at the present, where are you residing? I'm in Florida.


Wow, that's one place that I've never visited, but would like to someday. How is the weather? They said it would be around 85 degrees today, but it is starting to cool off a bit. In the evening it's about 55 degrees, but in the daytime, it rises to the mid-70s and 80s.

Sounds like great weather! So, let's get into your story. Where were you born? I was born in Youngstown, OH, but my family left Youngstown in 1960.


At what age did you start performing? I began performing in grammar school. At age 14, while in high school I started performing in a few bands. One of the bands was called, called the “Jazziacs” and the other was called the “Soul Town Band." Even at that age, I knew that I loved jazz music.


Who were some of your musical influences? Well, I was into John Coltrane, George was into, Philly Joe Jones, Denis loved Cannonball Adderley, Ricky enjoyed listening to Herbie Hancock and I listened to, Ron Carter.

What was the formal introduction to your bandmates and in what year did this occur?

My brother Ronald Bell and I met some of the other original members, George Brown, Dennis Thomas, Charles Smith, Ricky West, and Robert “Spike” Mickens, who we called, “Spike.” We formed our first band in Jersey City, NJ. in 1964. We called ourselves the “Jazziacs.”

Later, our band name changed from the “Jazziacs”, to the “Soul Town Band.” The Soul Town Band as a part of the “Soul Town Review.” The Soul Town review was like the Motown review. So, we became the backup band for the Soul Town Review. We had to learn all the Motown hits. We learned songs like, “Since I lost my Baby'', We learned a lot of songs by the “Miracles”, “The Temptations'', “James Brown and so forth.” Once we left that organization, we decided to change our name to, “Kool and the Flames.”


Why the name change? The reason we changed the name is because we were working on our first record, and we didn't want any problems with “James Brown” (The Godfather of Soul). So, after contemplating a million names, we settled on, “Kool and the Gang.” So, our first album as “Kool and the Gang”, came out in 1969.


There are so many songs that I love from Kool and the Gang! Of my personal favorite songs are, Celebrate, Hollywood Swinging, Ladies Night, Jungle boogie list goes on! Did you write any of them? Who were some of your musical influences?

The songs were written by my brother, Ronald Khalis Bell. Unfortunately, we lost Ronald last year, in September of 2020. Not only did he sing, write, and play saxophone, but he also formulated the band along with me. He co-wrote some of our biggest hits such as, “Celebration, Ladies night and Jungle Boogie. He was also one of the key writers for the song called, “Salvation.” We All worked together on our hit song called, “Hollywood Swinging.” Before he passed, he wrote and recorded a song called, “Pursuit of Happiness.” The song was released a month ago.


One of the proudest memories I have is when President Biden used “Celebration” as the theme song for his presidential nomination. What was also beautiful is that in his speech, he mentioned our song, “Pursuit of Happiness” from our new album, “Perfect Union.” This album was the last album that my brother Ronald was involved in before he passed a year ago. So, we dedicated this album to him.

Wow, that was a great thing that you shared with me about President Biden. What other great memories do you have from the past as it relates to your musical career?

That's a hard question. But if I had to answer it, I think I would say, that moment would be when we performed in Kenya for an AIDS awareness event. We played for over a half a million people in front of the “Ministry of Health.”


The Kenyan people started walking towards the event around 6:00 o'clock in the morning. By Showtime there were a half a million people in attendance. The event was called, “No Glove, no love. Please protect yourself.” The event was designed to encourage young people to protect themselves.


Wow, what an experience! What an amazing opportunity to visit the motherland! Yes, it was. In fact, I've been there about 20 times in the last 30 years. I was also involved in projects that supported the children of Nigeria. There are many projects that I was involved with in Africa.

That is amazing, so I'm going to shift gears a little bit and I would love to know more about the story behind Hollywood swinging. I love that song. In fact, it is one of my favorites!

Around 1974, we had some territorial hits like, Funky Granny, and so forth.” These songs were particularly popular in areas such as New York, Connecticut, and some of Washington. Well, one day, our record company, “De-Lite Records”, started putting a little pressure on us. They told us, “Listen, you guys have these territorial hits, but they had a writer and producer that just came off a big record whose name was, “Manu Dibango” and his album was called Soul Makossa. Because he had a big hit, our label was keen on having us work with him. So, we met with him once, and we decided we didn't want to do that.


So, we ended up going into the studio the following week. We got there around 8:00 AM in the morning. By the time we left we came out of there with, “Hollywood Swinging, Jungle, Boogie and Funky Stuff.” After that, we didn't have any more problems with the record company.


I love, “Jungle Boogie”! I’ve always loved that song! In fact, my dad showed me a funny photo of myself as a child, in Hawaii, with a grass shirt while dancing to that very song. The picture is hilarious! Do you have a favorite song that you like to perform? A few of my personal favorites are, “Celebration and Ladies’ Night. In fact, my wife and I came up with that song after hanging out in New York at, “Studio 54.” At that time, every weekend, there was a lady’s night. Also, during that time, James “JT” Taylor had joined the group. Unbeknown to us, that was the very event that would soon become the inspiration behind one of our big hits, “Ladies Night.”


Additionally, the phrase line from, ``Ladies Night” where it says, “this is your night tonight, come on, let's celebrate,” gave my brother another idea. The idea that came from that phrase became another hit song called, “Celebration.” It became bigger than Ladies' Night! “Celebration” is our biggest album to date!


I felt like Celebration was more of a crossover song. It was a sharp contrast from the funk music “Kool and The Gang” previously recorded. Songs like Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging. To me, because Celebration had a more crossover appeal, it broadened your audience, making it a major hit for the band. Absolutely especially songs like, Joanna, Fresh, Cherish, and so on.

Celebration has become like the standard New Year's song. I mean, who doesn't play this song? Celebration is played at weddings, graduations, New Year’s Day, and New Year's Eve celebrations! That song is loved and adored all over the world.

You’re 100% right.

What are some of the challenging moments that you encountered while on your musical journey? Around the mid-70s things started getting a little tough in the industry. People were anti-disco and so forth, so we had to make a change, so we did just that. We hired a lead singer, James JT Taylor. Came out with Ladies’ Night and our career began to take off again. From there, we just rolled through the 80s.

What year did James JT Taylor join the band? He joined “Kool and The Gang” in 1978. The first song he recorded with us was, Ladies’ Night.

Who are some of your most admired musical influences? As aforementioned, on the jazz side, Ron Carter, and on the funk side, James Brown. Some of the other artists I enjoyed listening to were Stevie Wonder, the time, and Sly and the Family Stone. And many more.

Have you ever had the opportunity to work with any of these artists? Yes, in concerts. We did a show with, “Sly and the Family Stone” and several with “Stevie Wonder.” Just four years ago we did 10 shows with “Kid Rock”, 48 shows with, “Van Halen”. We’ve worked with Elton John, opened for the “Dave Matthews Band” and did shows with several other rock acts. There's been quite a few.

How do you prepare yourself both physically and mentally for a tour? One of the ways we prepare ourselves for a show is by rehearsing. Being properly rehearsed before a show is important. Personally, I like to stay in shape by going to the gym and working out. I make sure that I have a proper diet. One of the healthy decisions that I made for myself was to stop eating meat. I made this decision about 10 years ago. So, I would say, my main objective is to physically stay in shape so we can get out there and keep doing what we're doing. That is making our fans happy.

Over the years, many bands have disassembled and have gone on to become solo artists. How have the original members of Kool and the gang managed to stay intact?

As for the original members, we had a standard that we stuck by. That standard was passed down to us from my parents. They used to always stress the importance of staying together as a band and as a family. So, we have learned how to do that. Whenever there's a problem, we have learned how to quickly solve it and move forward. In large families, conflict is unavoidable. Every family experiences conflict of some sort, but must learn how to pause, think about it, and come up with a wise solution for resolve. Like the famous quote says, “for every problem, there is a solution. Therefore, we look for a solution.”

Do the members of Kool and The Gang consist of brothers and cousins? No. Khalis and I are brothers. George and Dennis have their own families. We all have different mothers, but everyone's mothers are like all our mothers, and everyone's family is like all our family. That's why I say family and mothers. We're one big family.

That's true because that's how we did it back in the day. Everyone was each other's family. It’s a true saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Absolutely.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming artists about setting boundaries in this business? I would say that you have to work hard at what you do. You need to be clear on what your message is and how you pattern yourself. For us, coming from a jazz background, we had a different message. For example, when we were Kool and The Flames, one of our songs was called, Music is a Message. Another was titled,” Let the Music Touch Your Mind.” Who's Gonna Take the Weight”. That was talking about things that are going on in the world today. Like I said, it all depends on the message that you're trying to share with the world.

One thing I will say is that, learn about the music business. Make sure you get a good lawyer, accountant and pay your taxes. Another very important thing I would like to say is make sure that you understand what it means to copyright. Get knowledge on publishing like ASCAP and BMI, be sincere about what you want to do, and be clear on the market that you want to target.


What instruments do you play? I played bass guitar, but my brother, Khalis, was multi-instrumental.

What are the talents you have other than music? I'm working on my book. It's the Kool and The Gang story. We’re also discussing a potential movie or bio-doc. So that's exciting.


Additionally, I own my own champagne. Although it just came out this year, the concept spans from two to three years ago. The name of it is called, Le~Kool Champagne. My partners are in champagne country where they make the finest wines like Cristal and Dom Perignon. That's where my champagne is made. We plan on pushing it out this year. I even have a tasting coming up after this interview, so I'm excited about that.

Unfortunately, a lot of us haven’t been working consistently since the beginning of the pandemic began.

It's been a pleasure speaking with you today and thank you so much for your time. In closing, tell me about what you have coming up and what are you presently working on? Well, as I mentioned prior, I have new champagne that I'm excited about called, Le~Kool Champagne Grand Cru. lekoolchampagne.com .


To find out more about our band you can visit koolandthegang.com. We plan on touring next year. I do have a foundation. It’s called the “Kool Kids Foundation.” My wife, who passed three years ago, is the one that came up with the idea for the foundation. She was a strong advocate of music in the schools. I'm working with both of my sons, Hakeem, Mohammed, and another gentleman by the name of Mark Goldberg. We're all working together in order to keep my wife's dream alive by pushing the Kool kids’ foundation.


I did a tour several years ago. The name of the tour was, “It’s cool for kids to stay in school.” Cherry Coke was one of the sponsors for our tour. The group called, “Color Me Badd,” came to one of our shows and during the meet and greet and told us that they were cool, staying in school and doing their work. They also asked if they could sing something for us. So, I turned it over to the attention of my cousin, “Adil Bayyan” who is one of the managers of Kool and The Gang, at the present. So, they ended up signing a deal with Jive Records Had a major hit song and the rest is history. So, I discovered “Color Me Badd.”

If you can give our readers a final statement, what would it be? First and foremost, I would like to thank all my fans around the world for supporting Kool and the Gang for so many years. It's been well over 50 years. But I would say be strong, stay positive and pursue your goals. Just like a pursuit of happiness. In closing I would like to say, be serious about what you're doing and never give up.

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All photos are courtesy of Robert Kool Bell