Kool & the Gang are a New Jersey-originated jazz/R&B/funk/soul band that have become one of the successful groups on this side of the 20th century, having sold 70 million records worldwide which spawned the hits “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Too Hot,” “Get Down On It,” “Ladies’ Night,” “Cherish” and their most famous single “Celebration”.
Led by lead vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor with his talented henchmen, Kool & the Gang scored gold-and-platinum winning albums: Wild and Peaceful, Light Of Worlds, Ladies’ Night, Celebrate!, Something Special, As One, In The Heart, Emergency and Forever. In the late 80s Taylor left the group to pursue a solo career, which he has been doing much up to now (except for his temporary return to the Gang’s fold for the release of their 1996 album State Of Affairs). The remaining members continue to perform in live gigs and on TV shows.
Formation and early career beginnings
The group what would be Kool & the Gang originated in Jersey City, New Jersey sometime in 1964. Robert “Kool” Bell, a pro boxer who was also a jazz buff, formed the Jazziacs that year, together with his brother Ronald. The group’s initial lineup rounded out with several other musician friends: Clifford Adams (trombone), Charles Smith and Woody Sparrow (guitars), Robert “Spike” Mickens (trumpet), Dennis Thomas (alto saxophone), Ricky West (keyboard — sometimes he was called Ricky Westfield) and Funky George (drums).
The band changed their name to Kool & the Flames and then finally into “Kool & The Gang” to avoid being confused with the James Brown-led group Famous Flames. The band inked their first deal with a small label De-Lite Records.
Their earliest singles “Kool & The Gang,” “The Gang’s Back Again,” “Let The Music Take Your Mind,” “Funky Man” and several others didn’t make much of an impression on the pop charts although they achieved massive hits on the R&B territory. But their time would certainly come.
Breaking into the mainstream circuit
And it arrived, with Kool & the Gang’s 1973 album Wild and Peaceful, which climbed as high as #33 on the Billboard’s overall album rankings, and their first Top 10 R&B album, marking the group’s break into the mainstream. The album’s spawned three hits: “Funky Stuff” (at #29 on the Hot 100) and two Top 10 pop hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” (at #4 and #6 on the same charts, respectively).
Following the success of Wild and Peaceful, Kool and the Gang were experiencing a lull of sorts although their singles such as “Spirit Of The Boogie/”Summer Madness,” “Caribbean Festival,” and “Love and Understanding” continued to rack up high positions on the R&B singles charts.
In 1979, the group added two new vocalists: Earl Toon, Jr. and James “J.T.” Taylor (No, not that James Taylor). They also began collaborating with the famed Brazilian jazz composer/arranger Eumir Deodato. It wasn’t until that year that Kool & the Gang surfaced into the mainstream again with Ladies’ Night, their first #1 album on the R&B chart, as well as their first Top 20 album on the Billboard 200. Singles from the album — “Too Hot” and the title track — reached #5 and #8, respectively, on the Hot 100. But the biggest hit for Kool & the Gang was yet to come.
Signature hit “Celebration” and other big chart smashes
It finally arrived with the released of their album Celebrate! in 1980. Its single “Celebration” became Kool & the Gang’s first and only #1 hit on the Hot 100. It also topped both the dance and R&B singles charts. The album itself reached its peak position at #10. “Celebration” has become a staple for numerous parties.
Much in the 1980s, Kool & the Gang were still enjoying big hits. They include “Get Down On It” (at #10 on the pop chart), “Joanna” (at #2), “Fresh” (at #9), “Misled” (at #10), “Cherish” (at #2), “Victory” (at #10) and “Stone Love” (at #10), which was their last Top 10 pop hit in 1987. After this, their chart performance began to slide.
After the peak years
In 1988, Taylor left the band to pursue a solo career, and his absence left a large void. Kool & the Gang sought Taylor’s replacements: Skip Martin, Odeen Mays and Gary Brown. But their subsequent releases failed to chart.
Taylor returned to the group in 1995 in time for the group’s release of their next album State Of Affairs which was well-received by critics although it sold poorly. Six years later Taylor left for good to resume his solo career.
Many of the band’s original and earlier members had passed away: Ricky West died in 1985; Claydes Charles Smith who had played guitar with the group, passed away in 2006; Robert “Spike” Mickens, another original member, died in 2010.
Kool & the Gang (since re-formed with newer and younger members) continued to perform and release albums: Gangland (2001), The Hits: Reloaded (2004) andStill Kool (2007).