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 S