December 24, 2018 Interview – Robert “Kool” Bell of Kool & the Gang
Life is full of challenges, but how we overcome them is what defines who we are. Dedicating their lives to making music, Kool & the Gang are closing in on 50 amazing years as an established band. Seven-time Grammy award-winners, and crowned the most sampled band of all-time, Kool & the Gang has also sold over 80 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most influential acts in modern history.
How did they get to the top? Facing new challenges each day, and founding member Robert “Kool” Bell thrives on those challenges, looking conquer his next feat. Partaking in various humanitarian efforts through the years, he also has shown an entrepreneurial spirit; in recent years launching Just Kool Enterprises, Lady Kool Enterprises, Le Kool Champagne, as well as Just Kool Cologne.
Eager to take on the tasks at hand, 2019 should be a big year for Robert as well as Kool & the Gang who will be touring and look to release new music. Recently we caught up with the highly accomplished musician to talk 5 decades of Kool & the Gang, his business projects, the key to success, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – As a founding member of Kool & the Gang you attained a mass of success over the past five decades selling over 80-million albums, striking 25 top ten singles, and so much more. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your musical journey?
Robert “Kool” Bell – Well it’s been an evolution of experiences. We started back in 1964 as The Jazziacs, then we changed the name to The Soul Town Band, then to Kool & the Flames, and then Kool & the Gang. You had James Brown and The Famous Flames, so we didn’t want to have any problems with the godfather on that one, so we decided to change our name to Kool & the Gang. We had been working on our first album and came out with it on July 7, 1969, so actually, next year will be the 50th anniversary of Kool & the Gang.
After that we went on to record several albums, the big one in the ’70s was Wild and Peaceful (1973). After that we recorded Light the World (1974) which had “Summer Madness,” a song that was in the Rocky (1976) movie. Then we did the Open Sesame (1976) album which had the title song “Open Sesame,” which was in the Saturday Night Fever (1977) movie. Going on to the ’80s, we decided to get a lead singer because we were out on tour with The Jacksons and the promoter said, “You guys are doing great, but I think you need a lead singer.” I said that might not be a bad idea, because Earth, Wind & Fire had Phillip Bailey and Maurice White, The Commodores had Lionel Richie, etc.
So we sought out a lead singer, which became James “J.T.” Taylor. We didn’t really audition a lot of people, a matter of fact, I don’t think we auditioned anyone. He was working in the same studio we were, called House of Music in West Orange, New Jersey. A guy who got involved with our management for a minute knew of J.T. Also, the studio brought us Eumir Deodato who we recorded “Ladies Night” with. J.T. stayed with the band for eight years and we had a string of hits in the ’80s – “Celebration,” “Get Down on It,” “Cherish,” “Fresh,” it goes on and on.
Here we are now moving into 2019 with various ideas of what we want to do. My son, Hakim, is doing a record called “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.,” and on it he is featuring Kool & the Gang as well as and one of our singers Walt Anderson. That brings everything up to date.
Cryptic Rock – It really has been an amazing career for Kool & the Gang with a lot of success. What is really unique about Kool & the Gang’s sound is it has always been a mix of styles ranging from R&B to Soul to Funk to Dance and Rock. Was that diversity something you always were looking for as songwriters and performers?
Robert “Kool” Bell – It kind of came to us as we evolved in the industry. The love for Jazz came at a very young age – I was listening to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Reggie Woods, Ron Carter, etc. That is how we ended up with the name The Jazziacs. Then we were listening to Motown, such as The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, of course, James Brown, as well as Sly and the Family Stone. Then we were listening to The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire. It all became part of our evolution to where we are today.
Cryptic Rock – What is also great about music is that it can open doors to other endeavors that can make a difference in the world. That in mind, you have been involved in projects around the world, and now you have Just Kool Enterprises. What can you tell us about this new venture?
Robert “Kool” Bell – Just Kool Enterprises is something my wife and I started 3-4 years ago. I lost my wife recently to glioblastoma cancer. We had set this all up and we had various projects such as Dream Starz, which my wife came up with. It is almost like a small version of American Idol where we are discovering young talent. My wife, myself, and my partner, Mohamed Moretta, came up with Le Kool Champagne. I wanted it to have that French vibe, so that was just released. We also have a cologne coming up around Valentine’s Day , that’s called Just Kool Cologne.
Then we have something my wife started called Ladies Night Cosmetics and Skin Care. We are having meetings and discussions about that for next year. I am also partnering with Dusty Baker for Kool-Baker Energy, and we are focusing on Africa with that. I have diversified with a lot of different things coming up in 2019.
Cryptic Rock – There are a lot of interesting products under the Just Kool Enterprises name, and it is great that you will continue Lady Kool Enterprises in honor of your wife.
Robert “Kool” Bell – Yes, that is my wife’s. Under Lady Kool Enterprises will be the cosmetics and skin care. “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.” will be dedicated to her, as well.
Cryptic Rock – That is a wonderful way to remember her. From your many years working in the music business and as an entrepreneur, what do you think is the most important key to success?
Robert “Kool” Bell – Hard work. You have to stay on top of your game and deal with all your challenges – especially in the music business, it is sometimes like a roller coaster. We have been blessed to stay in it for nearly 50 years now. Trying to be creative and have your own identity and your own sound, we have been able to do that. Sometimes that is is not easy to do, there are a lot of sound-a-like groups, but we have been able to push forward. We did 48 shows with Van Halen about 2 years ago, we played shows with Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Rod Stewart, and the list goes on.
Cryptic Rock – The diversity is an amazing thing to be proud of. Music is extremely powerful and can be something that brings us all together no matter where we are from. In your work and travels what would you say are some of the most important things you have learned about others?
Robert “Kool” Bell – To stay positive, stay focused, and don’t give up on your dream of what you want to do. I have traveled around the world, I have partners in Africa who are working with me on the energy project, I have partners in Europe working with me on the champagne as well as cologne, and of course here in America with Dream Starz. It’s hard work and you have to make the right connections. I accept the challenge; I’m a guy who accepts challenges, I have been like that my whole life.
Cryptic Rock – Without a challenge, what’s the point? The exciting part is challenging yourself and trying to meet the next goal, whatever it may be.
Robert “Kool” Bell – That’s right. They say only the strong survive, and we are surviving out here.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Kool & the Gang have some new music coming up and you have shows lined up into 2019. You released the single “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours)” in 2016. What can you tell us about new music in 2019?
Robert “Kool” Bell – “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.,” which is coming out at the top of the year, is also my son Hakim, Walt Anderson, and his writing team. I am looking forward to a couple of artists we have with Dream Starz, one is only twelve-years-old – she is a hell of a writer for being twelve years old! Then we have another artist in Kenya named Juliette. We have a lot going on!
Cryptic Rock – It will be very exciting to see where everything goes in the coming year.
Robert “Kool” Bell – Yes, we are hoping it will all be successful. It is not an easy business, but we want to reach out and help the young artists coming up like we had to come up.