Gary James' Interview With Robert "Kool" Bell Of
Kool And The Gang
Back in the mid-'60s, a group of neighborhood kids formed a band called the Jazziacs. Their hometown was Jersey City and by 1969 they were calling themselves Kool and the Gang.
We spoke with group leader, Robert "Kool" Bell. When we talked with Kool, his group had the Number One selling record in the United States - "Celebration".
Q - Kool, where do your song ideas come from?
A - They come from various areas. When we're on tour we might pick up a certain vibe from the audience when we're playing. We might take that same idea to the studio, lock into a certain groove and say, hey, let's try this groove we tried in such and such a city. We kind of write what people are into, the lifestyles of people.
Q - How do you determine who gets what credit for each song that is written? I notice quite a few songs list one writer and then Kool and the Gang.
A - The person who comes up with the basic concept of-the song, is the fifty percent writer of the song and the group involved, we might make changes here and there, would share in the other fifty percent. A song like "Too Hot" was written by George Brown and he is the writer of the song, getting 100%, unless George wants to split it 50/50. It's his decision. Anything where the group is in total collaboration becomes a Kool and the Gang song.
Q - How many guys in the group - six or nine?
A - There's nine guys. Five guys are really the principal of Kool and the Gang - the stockholders of the company. When we were in the process of putting the "Ladies Night" album together, the group had been cold for two years. At the time we were forming the other three members of the group. We finally locked into what the group was gonna be as a unit of nine with the "Celebrate" album.
Q - Are touring costs high for Kool and the Gang?
A - Yes, but at this time we need to be on the road to help support the album and to re-establish the group in the marketplace. It is a little expensive being out there but our production is not as heavy in comparison with some of the others, let's say The Commodores or Earth, Wind & Fire. We're not spending two hundred to three hundred thousand on stage production. We do have a production, but our production is pretty economical for us right now. We try to have a tasteful show, but at the same time we don't want to cut back to where the show isn't effective.
Q - Are you.doing any merchandising?
A - Yes we have t-shirts, jogging suits and a jacket we're not merchandising yet. That's something we'll do in our summer tour. We also have jeans with the logo on the back. If we can get a store to pick 'em up, it'll be great.
Q - How do you guys manage to stay friends when you're always around each other?
A - We did grow up together. We know each other pretty well. When we have any problems, we're not afraid to sit down and bring 'em out. We sit down at the table and discuss what the problems are. We can always relate back to what our purpose is and what we want to do as musicians. That's the key for us. That keeps the unity together.
Q - Why the ladies on the cover of your last two albums?
A - Our last album was called "Ladies Night" and we felt that with ladies on the cover, it would kind of be open to what the concept of the album was about. It was kind of like saying celebrate the woman. Our "Celebrate" album is the record company's idea, since "Ladies Night" was a successful album. The merchandising department of the record company felt they wanted to go with the same concept. Our future covers will not have ladies on them.
Q - Are you planning to change your style?
A - Yeah, not totally though. There will be some changes on the next album. We have a little formula now that's workin' for us. We will expand on the formula 'cause we as musicians don't like to get caught in a rut. At the same time, we do not want to get too far away from our commercial audience.
Q - I have to ask you...where'd you get the name Kool?
A - That's a nickname from the neighborhood I grew up in here in Jersey City. It's a faddish thing and I just happened to take the name Kool 'cause I'm kind of a laid back person.
Q - What would you like to do in the future?
A - We'd really like to do a tour with The Doobie Brothers. We respect them as muisicians and we're kind of like in the same direction musically. We'd like to be as successful as Earth, Wind & Fire and The Commodores.