Hello, I hope you’re doing well. I’m very excited this week to be bringing you a chat with Robert Cole Bell. He’s the founding member of the legendary group calling the gang formed as a jazz ensemble in the mid 60s called on the gang became one of the most inspired and influential funk units during the 70s and one of the most popular r&b groups of the 80s after this one went to number one.
Kool and the gang have always been funky like James Brown or Parliament, and their music has been sampled just as often. That means it’s been copied by other artists. They’ve sold over 80 million albums worldwide earn two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards. Are you interested to hear their story? Here’s Robert Kool Bell to share it.
How are you?
Wonderful. How are you?
Yeah, I’m good too. I can’t complain. Where do we find you?5
I’m in Orlando, Florida. I just got back from Germany and Cairo, Egypt.
Really? Were you playing there or are you a holiday?
Yes, we did. 18 shows with the German Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s going there. We went over to Cairo and you play in front of the pyramids in Cairo.
What was it like in Cairo?5
Oh, it was great. To play in the pyramids. Got a chance to ride some of the camels.
What a sensational career you’ve been enjoying. You’ve won seven Grammy Awards, you’ve sold more than 80 million albums across the world and you’ve influenced the music of generations, haven’t you?
Yes, we have been blessed with surviving criticism over the years, we started back in 1964 as the jazzy acts and then the soul town back then cooler the flames we have to change that because the jig is up so good when you always interested in music,
I play a little bongos switched over to the bass guitar. And I learned how to play one song on that guitar on the one string one day by bus to pick up the guitar and play one song that you know, and that became come on baby. And that’s when I started playing bass guitar.
Did you know you’d make music your professional career?
I love for jazz, you know, little history of I mean, my father was a boxer top five fell away. People are gonna smoke Miles Davis his child getting a ring of My Father upon said mouse, oh, well, he led us up to career. So we kind of started back there my grandmother used to play piano a little bit and and we moved on up and moved to Jersey City. And that’s when we met the rest of the band and for the name cooling again.
How did you get that name?
Well, cool was a little nickname that I picked out when I moved from Ohio. I was born in Youngstown Ohio and Jersey City. There was a lot of nickname going on around in Jersey City New York in New York and out the country boy coming to the big cities and I want to fill in everybody will love the guys and they will say Well, I think cool would be a good thing for me. But you know what? I’m gonna spell it with a k instead of C and that was the beginning of cool I guess
right we were you always pretty cool about them called Ladies Night. Remember it well
you first started off as being cooled on the flames though didn’t do, how’d you get the call in the game?
Well, we’re working after we left Soul Train bad, who work in a club and newer and older, the Master of Ceremonies from the soul town band came up with this idea. He had took a picture, he called out my name KU on top and the gang on the bottom. It’s in the big ice cube. We know we had to change that. Because you had James Brown, and the famous flame. So we didn’t want to have any problem with the godfather. So imagine at that time, they want you guys to call yourself cooling again. And that’s what we did. Came up with a very first record in 1969. Go Kool.
And that took off straightaway didn’t ever just busted out onto the r&b charts?
Yeah, at the top all the racket. You know, we were surprised we just get no high school. One around Jersey said, hey, that’s us. Well, you must have been an amazing feeling.
Yes, it was. Yeah.
So you never expected such success? What do you think it was about that first album that really caught everybody’s imagination?
Well, I think it was it was a little different alternative of young guys coming into high school. And we were more instrumental group and we kind of mixed some of the sounds that we did with backing up the audit from the song town review. And we create this out and everybody fell in love with some people thought I was a Spanish man, because of the Mongols. The whole lot who they weren’t. It was really,
it was very different at the end of the day, wasn’t it? Yeah.
said that your early influences have been jazz? You kind of lost the jazz quite quickly in turn to funk, didn’t you? How did that change happen?
Well, after the jazz dx, we started backing up local talent. With the solar town review. We became this old town band there was singing mostly all Motown songs that we found ourselves playing you know, since I lost my baby, and dictations and then also miracles and listen to James Brown. That’s kind of how we moved from the DSI over to the army side at that time, but I’ve been tracking again on an album you go back There’s a song called since I lost my baby by the temptations we covered that song
and made it a huge hit. Yeah,
it was a big hit before us. Yeah. With that says I lost my baby.
Kool in the gang were known for their instrumental pieces. They didn’t have a lead vocalist in the band, and their sound didn’t really need one. Everybody agreed with the direction you were heading it?
Yeah, because we will And like I said, we were young 1415 years old, your style and because of backing up the various schools and moving forward to try to establish our own style. Everybody agree can we didn’t know who was best to the GUI, then lateral grip. And that’s how we moved on. We were fine. Well, Y’all have a great time creating some good music at the time. You know, then like I said, we will not have to well, she’s the wild Hollywood spider monkey stuff younger women. Will we just have a great time after that? Pull yet? Another big hit? Was the tail wow and peaceful. Java buoy, Hollywood sweat. Okay, so, now we had saw that we toyed around with Waukegan grande funky man good time. Well, hamburgers, all that stuff. We’re just having fun.
Robert Bell had formed the group in 1964 with his brother Ronald. The bill boys enlisted their friends Robert spike Mickens Dennis d. T. Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith to create that musical blend of jazz, soul and funk. But it wasn’t really until 1973 that the album Wild and peaceful went gold. And the band reached another level.
We have a world useful. The record company came to us and said Listen, you guys have had some territorial hits. So it does make it out to your calls. So I’m acoustal mongrel the Bengal who wants you to sit down with this producer and see if I can come up with a big record. We met him once we said who weren’t feeling so we went to a studio one more and we just started jamming by the time we finished we have created Hollywood swinging Jungle Boogie and thought yourself no more problems from the market. Those are big records for you.
Right funky stuff became calling the gangs first top 40 hit at the end of 73 then both Jungle Boogie and Hollywood swinging reached the top 10
What did all that success do for you Robert? It must have changed your lifestyle incredibly when you first hit it big you’re young you’re free you’re on top of the chart to radio is blaring out your music What does that mean to the way you live to live?
Well we feel good about it I felt good about throughout the 70s you know as we moved up in our career we came somewhere madness
right right, summer man is the father song called you don’t have to change. And at the end, you don’t have to change. There was a vamp there. And my brother was listening to that band one night he had just got the opposite decide, hey, stop fooling around with it. And he played over the VAM and Oh, you got something here. So spike Megan’s Good. Well, you don’t have to change. He said, Well, hey, I like that. Shiva What are we gonna call it call it some of madness that Noah that daps and become a big Mecca?
Summon Madness was released in 74 and featured in the Rocky moving in 76. It reached number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has become one of the most sampled r&b compositions of all time, to date more than 150 recordings of sample dirt. For those of you who don’t know what sampling means, it’s when an artist includes an element of someone else’s recording in their composition. It can be anything that’s been sampled from another track or rhythm melody, a beat vocals or speech which will then be manipulated, edited, chopped up or looped to fit into their own work.
We have felt pretty good about it that in order to sample you have to get okay for the record. Of course then we started getting paid and the fact that you know, people will get more into our music because ours was sampled that music, there were 1800 samples. We have become the most sample goo and hip hop in the world the most. So James Brown sent you another one. And he used to say I’m number one. Number two,
see what you’re learning on a breath of fresh air. Standby for more.
This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye it’s a beautiful day
thanks so much for hanging in. We are on a timeline journey with cooling the gangs Robert Kool Bell
and then we move on open sesame John to Walter you know Saturday Night Fever he’s on the dance floor go on this day.
Open Sesame was cool in the gangs eek studio album. In 1976. It reached number nine on the US Billboard Top solo albums chart, and 33 on the US Billboard Top jazz LPS chart. The title track became a top 10 r&b single and later part of Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. According to record world, the title track features the group laying down a funky back beat geared for the Disco’s that was our career. We changed We were all on tour with the Jacksons and a guy by the name of Deke Griffey was a promoter of the tour. And he said, Hey, you guys doing all right on the tour? Is if I think you need a lead singer. We said, Yeah, we do. The Commodore that lived with you. For five more his wife, Philip Bailey.
So a lot of us had that sickness. So at that time, disco was like dying a little bit. You know, they were buying records in Chicago and discos stinks and all that other kind of stuff. So we thought about and some of our music, you can, you know, sitting on top of the tracks, and so we decided to get a lead singer and that person, as you know, became James gay to jail. Yeah,
you actually added two vocalists at that time, didn’t you?
No, we’re just Janesville. At that time. Not built in Jr. He was in the singer. Earl tune was probably the band and doing back off the fall of our writing team. But actually singer was yanked he killed.
Right. And what did the audition of James do for you?
Well, my wife and I was hanging out in New York. And he had just joined the band. And I realized that every weekend at the studio 54 and Regina, there was a ladies night. So I said wow, I told the guy I can’t agree I did for the first song. He said, ladies, I’m gonna say wow, George was creating the music. That would be great. Without producer give me to do that analysis. That would be a great song. And Frankie Crocker you know who he is in New York who broke the record and the rest is history
although you’ve had so many big hits, but ladies night must have been up there as one of your biggest
Celebration. Yeah, we have won two American Music Awards out in LA. And my brother came to us and say listen, you know that tag of ladies night? This is your like tonight. Come on. Let’s all celebrate. That’s another song. And he will want to create a music which became celebration that came from Ladies Night and the success that will happen now we didn’t know that celebration gonna be such a huge hit. That’s all the time. Because record right now. All right, go. About the ladies. Now, ladies night still hanging in there real tough
to know us himself. Robert Kool Bell from Kool & the Gang. Tell me a little bit about what it was like during those heady days of the 70s in Studio 54. And the lock pages a little bit of a picture of what those days were like.
Oh, that’s kind of crazy. You’re hanging out. You had the big bounces out the door on the guest list. Only coming have a good time. He was counting it was kind of crazy to not realize at that time. We didn’t know that we were going to have a ladies night. But after that, which chamber he was lucky. Him we walked up steel good before. Oh, yeah. Well, I guess there’s come Yeah, I got VIP area for you and everything changed. But that’s, that’s a hard career.
And were you married already at the time? Yeah. So you couldn’t even take advantage of all the women that were throwing themselves at the band.
Why couldn’t I have All right. No one will be woman. Sneak up one. Kiss you take the picture. You’d have Internet back then. Show up to your pitch you will you know that girl tonight in Dubai. So fair? Yeah, right.
It’s amazing that you managed to hang on to your marriage through all of that. I mean, she must have been a very good woman.
Oh, excellent. I guess she’s my wife passed about five years ago. I’m sorry to hear that. Yeah.
But yeah, now it actually uniforms. ensembles album covers, she made the uniforms. Also, she set up a foundation with my two sons, and the cool kids foundation. We’re supporting that now. Fourth, coup kids fundraiser back in Jersey, he lives in Jersey. And she was always, you know, she would listen now. I’m not sure about that particular guy. I’m not sure about that particular guy. I’m not sure about this particular guy. Or you watch out for that that particular time and a half the time she was right. You know, so she was my support. Yeah.
He was lucky to have Robert, the music was really important. But so was the whole showmanship during those times, wasn’t it? You mentioned she made your costumes. You had to put on this whole performance to go with the music, didn’t you?
Yes, we there. We had to develop a show. First record when the game came out, and we got a shot to play it and part of the theater. Planet Apollo Theater. We made it do it’s a band called Willie fish and the mighty magnificence and skipped Sunday and the pace brothers. And they came up with VAs and methods singers and they ran us back to Jersey. We just had a play like Gandalf show me go and that’s what we did. And then one night we had him back at the cheetah back we had him on stage so yeah, but that’s the competition
do you have to go and take dance lessons and like who was guiding you through all of that
love that was fished out for one tour though we did take some dance lessons from Paula and we will host those that show at presses studio in Minnesota Minneapolis and that was a tie we did have some bass lessons but
because you move pretty well on stage he’s still moving that well today
but he might so I got some younger guys work the show I’m still hanging the tuna check me out next time you see well I possibly become Australia
I definitely will! I definitely what is it more difficult for you today than what it was when you started as you get older?
Yeah, when I was younger I can have some nice moves and whatnot but as you get older the body can oh we got some young guys show they can still get down on
are you gonna do it if you really don’t want to dance by standing on the wall? Did you back up are you gonna do it if you really don’t want to dance by standing on the wall
so the whole showmanship thing is still a really big part of it.
Check us out on YouTube. Yes, we did with Van Halen, the shows we did with us recently over in Europe. You see us getting now? We still don’t.
So celebration was released in 1979. And it’s been played it 1000s countless numbers of weddings and all sorts of celebrations ever since. Did you know when you release celebration that you had a massive heat on your hands?
We didn’t really know. Like I said it was laughter. Ladies Night. And we were celebrating that we were able to turn a career around a new leasing or detail. So something like that, you know, it just became number one, record. Number one r&b Top 10 Top number two, I think, some chart? Back then you have record? Well on Cashbox. So what’s the number one record? Well, in CASPA, Billboard made is number two. And the record just continued to grow. I mean, for all the different Superbowl winning World Series, even play Celebration at the Space Station. That’s a question. There’s only one Celebration.
That’s yours. Must make you feel amazing. It is. Who wrote this song.
My brother Ronald Bell. And we all know, at the team like so happened but my brother wasn’t a writer. Because like I say, the hook of our ladies I came up with this idea.
What happened was, we were out in LA we have one to American Music Awards. The vamp of ladies night. This is July Come on, Let’s all celebrate. So my pallisa has another song. So we’re back to Jersey. He’s in the studio, fooling around with the track. So he plays this track for us. And I had the kind of down home vibe to it like grandma or grandpa down there somewhere in Birmingham, Alabama sipping on some Kool Aid. And then we had a little party with the Yahoo and it was one of those kind of records that we didn’t know directors don’t become one of my biggest factor syllabus. And that’s what it is today.
celebration going on right here. Celebrate the last throughout the year.
The post disco song celebration was calling the gangs only American number one. Ronald Bell told Billboard that the song came out of a time of religious study. He reported that the initial idea had come from reading the Koran, where God had created Adam, and the angels were celebrating and singing praises. It’s been featured on countless TV shows and movie soundtracks, in his head over 300 million streams. We’ll be back in a sec.
This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye.
Welcome back. I’m chatting with calling the gangs Robert Kool Bell, who founded the group with his late brother Ronald back in 1964. The youngsters could have never imagined that they’d enjoy nearly 60 years of incredible success. A lot of the work that you did since the beginning was a collaboration with your brother, wasn’t it?
Ricky worse, Spike reconciles with Clifford Alaba. George Brown, we all work together.
Did you fall into the same trap as so many artists of the time with all of the excesses of drugs and alcohol that really took a toll on your health? I mean, you are you obviously didn’t. And maybe that’s because of your wife you looking fabulous shape today. But were you seeing that around you a lot?
Well, we tried our best to stay out of this, like a lot of the other groups is some of my guys slipped through the back door every now and then. But I had to go back to the bank, go and get the scope, man, we gotta go to work. So we work together. You know, I was able to make it through that particular time period, because it was kind of like a drug scene going on. And he was good. You had each other’s backs.
Yeah, absolutely. Now you can smoke marijuana around the world, everybody, you know, it’s like, Oh, wow. But John, how about the California whole city spike of joy?
Um, what do you think about today where it’s all been legalized?
Well, sooner or later, it’s gonna happen. But at the same time, you know, all things in moderation, though. Sometimes people don’t deal with moderation. That’s the truth. Absolutely. That was getting locked up for now. You don’t have a problem anymore? How many people within jail? Wow. Would you want to join or bad? Legal? Yeah, right.
Robert, when the decade changed from the 70s to the 80s the music change too, didn’t it? How did that affect cool in the game?
Well, that was right. When JT Taylor joined the bear 1979 That’s when we started creating the music coming out of the singer. But right before that, it was anti disco. You know, there was a record Stadium in Chicago. You know, people are against dance music and etc, etc. But I don’t think I’m using with Just Dance though. I mean, we heard that
you really managed to transcend genres, didn’t you? Oh, yeah,
we slipped into this.
At 17 we fell in love. high school sweethearts. Love was so brand new. We took the vows of man and wife forever I remember how we made our way all the time we pray and imagine that this love is through filming the pain girl when you lose.
I believe that you started getting into Brazilian jazz fusion with Boomer Deodato.
Actually, when he started working with us, he kind of took us in the direction. We thought we’re gonna get into some of that jazz They said he was no he said no we’re gonna go in this direction and we started writing the material for celebrations all like too hot and Joe had a totally different from what we saw years ago bring to the table
You worked with him through the 80s then still, didn’t you?5
Well, we worked with him for three days a celebration album. And then there’s something special.4
Well, you had a string of seven gold or platinum records right through till 1986 which was just unheard of. You guys were on fire. You couldn’t put a foot wrong?
Yes, we were. We had careers up and down. He left with 10 years after that. So we went out to develop our international market. That’s when we started going into Romania. Sophie Slavia we deserve a high current news in Bel Air before the wall came down. We just continued to grow and Lamesa spread around the world.
Why did JT leave? Well, yeah, there’s probably some management that he liked how things he wanted to do it all day. You know, that happens.
Yeah, it happens to everywhere, doesn’t it?5
Like Michael Jackson and you go on and on.
But you never replaced it? Yes, we did. But we have various singers. After that. We had a skip Martin’s. We had who the maze. And then Shawn Nicola, who’s does almost 30 years.
How did you find him?
We were working in Singapore. And is it was a band at a club knew where we were. And we noticed that we say, Well, hey, we’d like to style the boys. Let’s talk to him about become a member. Cool. And he was a big fan anyway. And that’s what happened. Pull them out of Singapore. And now he’s on the stage. Cool.
What do we see from you when you do a concert do you do when you hit?
Well, it depends. You know, we do both. We have three different segments of why show men loving around the world. I bet. You never get tired of playing all our songs.
Yes, we do. But at the same time, we don’t. Two years off COVID Zuma talking to the world. We didn’t work. It didn’t work for two years. Yeah. People are having fun. People are loving what we’re doing and coming back out and everybody had been locked up in their houses. And yes and no. Yes. Because we’re out there. Yeah.
And I’d imagine you get really energized by the audience loving what you’re doing.
In recent years, you’ve teamed up with a whole lot of younger artists as well as you as you said, You’ve got young guys now in the band. How does that affect you?
That’s great for us, because it has more energy to what we do. We got a young guy. They were Waldensian perfect unit. He’s the singer on that particular.9
In the air is no collusion, no oil spill in the ocean. So today I made the motion just A crazy notion I was hoping for overall blood inclusion. Let’s uphold the Constitution. Bring it into all the confusion is the only solution more than Lincoln’s Mark Kennedy’s and kings. Could you send somebody to help us someone to help us with the dreams? We need another Molly, a Gandhi, a preacher, a teacher? So I’m asking you today, because the world we believe me, I want to I want her in a world. That’s right. We have used different things at different times. But the music is the music. The music is there. The band is just different members. But still, the original core is still here. The last remaining members of myself and George Brown, perfect union that you mentioned made in 2021. Your late brother Ronald bill and the late Dennis Thomas both died after the completion of that album, right. You were lucky that you got that one. You must miss them both terribly.
Oh, yeah, we do.
I mean, talking about the family, we grew up together. Perfect Union came up the concept to one of the key writers for celebration. And there were present bilingual children nominated for a presidency. They play celebration, and his species woke about the perfect union. And he spoke about the suit of happiness. And
that’s pretty special, isn’t it? where to from here then Robert? What comes next? Is there anything left on your bucket list?
To fill that bucket
but you’ve done it all you’ve been doing it for nearly 60 years.
You have another and a skull people want to have they enjoyed that he put that together the single we have what’s called less fun it’s 15 songs.
Robert just to finish up with call on the gangs message through your songs has always been one to party and be happy. Is that what you set out to do to help people have a good time to tell them to get out and enjoy themselves?
Beer? Well, most of the songs have been that but then you have some like who’s gonna take the week. Songs like love understand it sounds like God’s country. It was that that we use was a message in that music. So now is just the dance. It’s the mess. And one thing our parents always told us, my mother or joy found ditches mother told us always hang in there. Don’t give up, always stick together. We kept that message when I say that our career didn’t have some hardships and misunderstand. But we was always able to work it out, get a different set up for every problem. It is a solution. So we had to tell find the solution. So keep moving on.
It’s a great life lesson.5
That’s where the blessing is that we’re able to still hanging in love with. Robert. Kool. Bell. Thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you, Robert there who was honoured recently with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today. Robert also offers cool champagne as part of the band’s merchandise and says the only thing he’s still yearning for is that elusive Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
thanks for joining me here today. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story of cooling the gang. Don’t forget if there’s someone you’d like to hear from just send me a message through the website a breath of fresh air.com.au I hope you have lots of fun till we meet again. I look forward to being back in your company same time next week.