Robert ‘Kool’ Bell and Kool & the Gang: still relevant

(News4usonline) – For over five decades, Kool & the Gang have been putting down music tracks that have become heavy hitters among the rhythm and blues, soul, smooth jazz, funk and pop crowds. How do we come to that conclusion? The list of those taking snippets or sampling the group’s music over the years is not a small one.

You must be on your game when your music is sampled by the likes of Ice Cube, Coolio, Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Q-Tip, 2Pac, LL Cool J, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys, and Lady Gaga. According to the website, Who Sampled, Kool & the Gang has had their music sampled over 1,600 times and other artists have used their music for covers at least 124 times.

That’s pretty impressive. The number of times Kool & the Gang has seen their sound imitated by other artists, particularly by rappers, speaks volumes to the creative genius of the group’s music and its longevity, said Kool & the Gang founding member Robert “Kool” Bell.

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Kool & the Gang founding member Robert “Kool” Bell. Courtesy photo

“The music that we’ve created-from the jazz to pop to the R&B, to the funk…we’re the top sampled bands out there,” said Bell. “People are sampling our music throughout the years…..People like Will Smith (Summertime)…We’ve had samples from Madonna, samples from Janet Jackson. So we’re diversifying Kool & the Gang. We did 43 shows with Van Halen a couple of years ago. We did 10 shows with Kid Rock. We worked with the Dave Mathews Band, so we’re crossing over to the rock world. So we’re just continuing to move and do our thing.”

After hitting the Southern California circuit to celebrate the group’s 50 years in 2019, Kool & the Gang bring their distinctive and unmistakable sound to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, Jan. 17. To keep their SoCal trip going, the group will also be performing at the Pechanga Resort and Casino the next day.

Bell says that the longevity of the group is due to a couple of things.

“I think just moving and staying positive in what we do and not giving up what we do,” Bell said. “The music industry is an up and down situation. You have to be strong in this business. A lot of rock groups…they have an established audience. When it comes to an R&B group, it’s hard to do. It’s a struggle out there.”

Bell and the rest of the members from Kool & the Gang rekindled interest in their music among Southland fans by making hotbed appearances at the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade and the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Making trips to the Golden State is always a treat for the New Jersey-formed band since some of the group’s members have families out in California,” Bell said.

“It’s wonderful. We always talk about it. ‘Hollywood Swinging,'” Bell said in reference to one of Kool & the Gang’s biggest hits. “I’ve got three guys living out there.”

It’s 2020, and Bell and his team of funkateers are still going strong, even if soulful crooner James “J.T.” Taylor (the lead vocalist on many of Kool & the Gang’s biggest commercial hits during the 1980s) has been long gone from being part of the band’s official lineup. In a 2018 interview with reporter Dennis J. Freeman, Bell talked about the group’s longtime sustainability and its future.

Bell attributes the group’s success, like doing concert gigs with Van Halen and Kid Rock, as a way to expose the group’s music sounds to another genre of music lovers. This would allow their music to continue to flourish, he said.

“I think just moving and staying positive and doing what we do and not giving up,” Bell said. “The music situation is up and down.”

Bell and his crew have managed to keep their unique blended sound of funk and soul moving forward and getting fans revved up to hear their blended fusion of jazz, rock, funk and R&B. A great example of this is Kool & the Gang’s electric performance at the annual Playboy Jazz Festival in 2019, which the group headlined. Led by Bell’s driving bass guitar, the music produced by Kool & the Gang was both fresh and on point.

That’s one of the perks of being able to listen to an actual band perform. You can hear and listen to good musicianship. Kool & the Gang gives you that with their large depository of songs to pull from. If you want to get funky with it, Jungle Boogie should be able to quench your musical thirst.

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Kool & the Gang founding member Robert “Kool” Bell has expanded musical empire to include successful business ventures such as Kool-Baker Global and Just Kool Enterprises. Courtesy photo

For that intimate sound, you can’t get too much smoother than Kool & the Gang’s panting Too Hot. Oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trying to riff off all of the legendary group’s many hits in over a half-century of work. We’re not going to list every one of their hits, but we’ll drop a few hit-making nuggets that have made the group world famous.

You’ll recall the surprising and timeless Summer Madness, a creative and commercial game-changer for Kool & the Gang. Singles like the party anthem Ladies Night, Cherish, Misled, Get Down on It, and the sultry Take My Heart helped give Kool & the Gang the platform of being one of the most successful groups to come around. The group’s 2018 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame cements that legacy.

Despite its longtime success, like any group, Kool & the Gang has had to weather some storms. Some of these wounds are self-afflicted while other things were just out of the band’s control. Kool & the Gang took a major commercial hit after Taylor, the lead vocalist behind some of the group’s biggest commercial hits was out. Then there is the matter of the music industry evolving through the years.

When Kool & the Gang were banging out their biggest hits, the music industry changed dramatically. Record companies have now gone belly up. The industry has welcomed and said good-bye to vinyl records (making a comeback), dismissed 8-track tapes, erased the livelihood of cassette tapes, and is now in the process of bouncing CDs out of the music market.

Now with live streaming services available to consumers, Old School artists like Kool & the Gang have had to adapt to stay relevant. If they don’t, they will become like the dinosaur: extinct.

“The music industry is up and down,” Bell said. ” Right now, CD sales are not what they used to be; There was a gap between cassettes to the vinyl to what we have today. Now you’re talking about streaming. The actual royalties on that are kind of questionable. If you don’t hone into your game, in terms of establishing your group to be able to tour around the world…right the now the market, in terms of streaming and doing videos and stuff-that’s really a live performance. If you don’t have a live performance and if you’re not on a reality show, it’s hard to survive.”

While the music of Kool & the Gang continues to bless music fans worldwide, Bell is spreading his wings in a business and entrepreneurial way. Bell has turned his stage moniker “Kool” into a brand, forming Just Kool Enterprises, LLC, which has launched Le Kool Champagne and Just Kool Cologne.

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Old School: Robert “Kool” Bell (second right) and three other original members of Kool & the Gang. Courtesy photo

“My wife and I came up with that,” Bell said. “We were diversified [to] move into other areas. We set up a company that I’m doing-not necessarily Kool & the Gang, but it is because I am ‘Kool’ of Kool & the Gang. But there are other things that I’m doing now under Just Kool Enterprises.”

Adding to his diversified business ventures, Bell is the guiding force behind The Collaborative Marketing Agency and London Gate Management, which he put together with his late wife, Sakinah Bell, and Cosa Ross.

When he is not wrestling around with building his business portfolio, Bell also serves as an ambassador of music to the Ivory Coast of Africa, a place he has a special affinity for. Africa has enamored Bell so much that he has teamed up with former Major League Baseball manager Dusty Baker to form Kool-Baker Global, a company seeking to address renewable energy and technology needs in Africa.

“I’ve been going over to Africa for years, over 25 years,” Bell said. “I have a special love for Africa. So the whole solar project makes sense to me. That seems to be the way of the future, especially in Africa. Our focus is on solar energy. You have the sun. It all makes sense. You have the grids from the sun, from the [solar] panels. We have the ability, and not like in America, where you have all the cables and wires and stuff being stuck into the ground, you start right off with solar panels.”

Bell’s philanthropy side also includes trying to manage the Kool Kids Foundation that he and Sakinah set up. Sakinah, who passed away in 2018 and whom Bell met as a teenager back in New Jersey, is the real driving force behind his humanitarian efforts, he said.

“That’s my inspiration,” Bell said. “She’s my partner. And I’m doing what I have to do. She was there all the time with me, the very first record-Kool & the Gang in New Jersey. She went to the shows with me. She supported me. She was a supporter. She was the mother of my kids.”

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