They started off playing jazz in the 1960s, switched to funk in the 1970s, with staples such as Hollywood Swinging and Jungle Boogie (which was memorably featured on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction), and filled dance floors in the 1980s with massive disco-pop hits including Fresh, Celebration, Ladies' Night and Get Down on It. We look back on five decades of groove with Kool & the Gang bassist Robert "Kool" Bell.
1 Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Kool & the Gang
“I didn’t expect to be together 50 days – let alone 50 years. We’re really happy about that. We still have four of the original eight members from when we started in 1964 – we lost four. There’s been some trying times, some hills and valleys, but we’ve been able to do it.”
2 It might be Kool’s gang, but the band is run as a democracy
“I have three other partners. Kool was my nickname, so I kind of became the one in charge out front, but there’s still four equal partners, and if I get voted out on something, the majority rules.”
3 Jazz legend Thelonious Monk was Kool’s godfather
“My father was a boxer, Bobby Bell, top five in the world. We lived in New York City. Before they built [the arts complex] Lincoln Center, there used to be apartments over there [on Manhattan’s Upper West Side], and my father and Thelonious Monk stayed in the same building. When I was born, he just asked.”
4 ... and Miles Davis used to hang out
“Miles Davis wanted to be a boxer, he used to come over to the gym and he wanted to get into the ring with my father, to spar a little bit. But my father wouldn’t do it. He said: ‘Miles, I respect you as a musician, I don’t want to hit you in the lip and mess up your career’.”
5 The band taped a song in the UAE last year with the Syrian singer Asala
Kool & the Gang's last public gig in the UAE was in 2006, but they were in town last year to tape a show for Coke Studios, where they performed She's Fresh with the Syrian singer Asala. "She sang in Arabic, we did it in English – she's got a wonderful voice. I was told the record was No 1 in the UAE for six or seven weeks and we got three million hits on that."
6 Kool was given some advice by his idol, James Brown
“He was like: ‘You guys are number two to me, man, I got the funkiest band in the land – you sound good, but I’m the godfather here. Make sure you take care of your publishing, man, or some guy’s gonna rip you off for your music.’ ”
7 The band recently toured the United States as co-headliners with hair-metal behemoths Van Halen
"People said: 'How the hell is that going to work? The rock bad boys of the 1980s and Kool & the Gang?' We surprised them all. David Lee Roth, he had a vision – he came to me and said: 'We were hot in the 80s with Jump when you had Ladies' Night. Our fan base is 60 per cent ladies – come on Kool, let's go have a party'. And that's what we did, and we shocked everybody."
8 There are some big names being lined up for the band’s next record
“We reached out to will.i.am and Pharrell – they’re busy, and you know the bureaucracy of record companies, but I think we’ll make something happen before the year is out. We might do something with Nile Rodgers – we already did one song. We reached out to Kid Rock and Van Halen – we’ll see.”
9 In another world, Kool could have been a mechanic
“My grandfather was a mechanic and at 1 or 2 years old I used to get under the car with him. Very young, I was attracted to that – I made my first motorbike from a lawnmower, putting it on a bicycle frame. If I hadn’t gotten into music, maybe I would have nailed a job with Mercedes or something. There wouldn’t be no Kool & the Gang then.”
• Kool & the Gang perform on Friday at 9.45pm