David Lee Roth was cool with Kool’s big party sound

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Rob Wil­liams

AT first glance, Kool & the Gang open­ing for Van Halen is a head-scratch­ing choice or a bril­liant cel­e­bra­tion of mu­si­cal di­ver­sity.

For David Lee Roth, it was about girls and par­ty­ing.

The front­man saw Kool & the Gang play the Glas­ton­bury Fes­ti­val last year and fig­ured the funk-pop band would be the per­fect open­ing act for Van Halen’s 2012 North Amer­i­can tour since they were both party bands cut from dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal cloths.

“I was talk­ing to him at re­hearsals that started in Fe­bru­ary and he said, ‘In the ’80s Van Halen was the rock party band and Kool & the Gang was the pop party band. Did you know 60 per cent of our fans are ladies, and you wrote the song Ladies Night? So let’s party,’” Robert (Kool) Bell says with a laugh over the phone from Cleve­land.

What at first glance ap­pears to be an odd com­bi­na­tion has been prov­ing to be a pop­u­lar move with fans. Many re­views from the first 27 shows note how the rock-ori­ented Van Halen crowd was singing and danc­ing along with Kool & the Gang, which has en­dured in var­i­ous in­car­na­tions since form­ing in Jer­sey City, N.J., in 1964.

The first ver­sion of the band was a jazz group, the Jazz­i­acs, Bell formed with his sax-play­ing brother Ron­ald, which be­came Kool & the Flames and fi­nally mor­phed into Kool & the Gang in 1969.

“You had James Brown and the Fa­mous Flames. We didn’t want to have any prob­lem with the God­fa­ther Sun­day, 7:30 p.m., MTS Cen­tre Open­ing for Van Halen Tick­ets: $41.75 to $165.50 at Tick­et­mas­ter with Flames, so we thought, why not change it to Gang? It has a street sound,” says Bell, the band’s bas­sist, who be­came Kool with a K to avoid con­fu­sion with an­other per­son known as Cool.

“Ev­ery­one in the neigh­bour­hood had to have a nick­name,” he says.

The band’s sound evolved from jazz to soul and into heavy funk in the 1970s. Sin­gles like Jun­gle Boo­gie, Hol­ly­wood Swing­ing, Higher Plane and Spirit of the Boo­gie hit both the R&B and pop charts and the band be­came known for its in­cen­di­ary live shows. In the early 1980s they would in­cor­po­rate more pop into their sound and score hits like Cel­e­bra­tion, Get Down On It, Fresh and Cher­ish.

The group’s 1970s ma­te­rial would re­ceive a sec­ond life when it be­came a source of nu­mer­ous sam­ples for rap­pers and pop artists in the 1980s and ’90s with DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, N.W.A., Deee-lite, the Beastie Boys, Public En­emy, Ice-t, Janet Jack­son and Madonna crib­bing beats, bass lines and horn sec­tions for their ma­te­rial.

The web­site whosam­pled.com lists 437 songs that use sam­ples of Kool & the Gang’s mu­sic with the in­stru­men­tal N.T., Funky Stuff, Jun­gle Boo­gie, Sum­mer Mad­ness and Jun­gle Jazz used the most.

“In the ’70s we didn’t have a lead singer sort of thing hap­pen­ing — we were more jazz, funk sing-along stuff. The drums had an edgy sound. With hip-hop, that’s the type of thing they were look­ing for to do their raps on. Some of the more pop­u­lar songs, peo­ple like Madonna and Janet Jack­son used,” Bell says.

The band’s pop­u­lar­ity re­mains high in­ter­na­tion­ally and the group plays fes­ti­vals all over the world. They were even given rare per­mis­sion by the United States gov­ern­ment to travel to Cuba in 2009 to per­form a one-off show for a crowd es­ti­mated be­tween 100,000 and 250,000 peo­ple.

“My fa­ther used to box in Cuba back in the day. He was in the top five of feath­er­weight box­ers and would box Cuban fight­ers and hang out with Cuban mu­si­cians. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence to go where my fa­ther used to hang out,” Bell says.

With that ex­pe­ri­ence un­der their col­lec­tive belts and the Van Halen tour go­ing “phe­nom­e­nal,” the band is look­ing for new chal­lenges and has been in talks with Bri­tish co­me­dian/play­wright Ben El­ton to de­velop a mu­si­cal us­ing the band’s mu­sic along the lines of El­ton’s hit We Will Rock You, based on the mu­sic of Queen.

“It would be called It’s a Cel­e­bra­tion, so that’s some­thing we’re work­ing on. It would be great if we could come in and out (of the show). We can’t lock our­selves in,” Bell says.

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