Still Kool after all these years
R&B hitmakers bring the party to the Ventura County Fair
By Shane Cohn 08/08/2013
Kool and the Gang still love to party.
Most would think that after touring for 49 years, a band would have seen it all. But for Kool and the Gang the road is still wide open. The R&B ensemble from New Jersey, whose hits include “Jungle Boogie,” “Celebration,” and “Get Down On It,” is fresh off a summer tour with rapper Kid Rock, and last year the band went out with Van Halen for a 50-plus-city tour. Pairing Kool with Van Halen, and even Kid Rock, seems to defy logic. But what fans and critics discovered is, if you like to drink and dance and rage all night, it’s the most perfect billing. Kool and the Gang is also the most sampled band of all time, having sold more than 70 million records worldwide, and still, the New Jersey-based ensemble is finding brand new audiences as it approaches its 50th anniversary. The VCReporter spoke with Kool the morning after his final show with Kid Rock.
VCR: So how was the Kid Rock tour last night?
Kool: It was a bang rocking with the Kid! We did 10 shows with him, and here we are in Irvine, California. It was a party town so we had lots of fun.
Back in the ’80s, if someone were to tell you that you’d be touring with Van Halen in 30 years, would you have believed it?
Not in the ’80s! We always wanted to do a rock tour but it didn’t come around until they came up with Van Halen. We have done shows with rock groups like Elton John and Dire Straights, but that was in a festival setting. But Van Halen and Kid Rock is a tour. We [recently] did a show with Dave Matthews, and we’re hoping to do some things next year for our 50-year anniversary.
We have a throwaway culture in our society, in one minute and out the other. But you guys survived disco. You’re one of the last of the old-school jams generation. What’s been the key to your longevity?
Just tried to stay true and in charge of our music. You know, keeping our horns in the front so you could always hear the song with the Kool and the Gang horn sound so you know that’s Kool and the Gang. Coming back to today, we get the call for Van Halen and we added more of our rock songs to our repertoire. Took people by surprise because they were used to “Celebration,” “Get Down On It” and “Joanna.” You could see their expressions like, “They can rock a little bit too.”
You’re one of the most sampled bands of all time. Does it ever get on your nerves? Do you ever think, “Man find your own hook”? Or is it still an honor for artists to take from you and use your groove to get themselves heard?
They love what we do and respect it enough to want it in their own music. One time, people were able to sample whatever and get away with anything, but now they have to have sample clearance. It’s OK. We’ve had some big hits and sold some records with Will Smith’s “Summertime.” It was double platinum. And people say, “Hey yeah, that’s Kool and the Gang!”
Would you say that “Jungle Boogie” being in Pulp Fiction reinvigorated your career in the same way?”
Yeah. I feel there were two time periods. The end of the ’70s was Saturday Night Fever, with the song “Open Sesame.” John Travolta was in that movie. Then Pulp Fiction, and again John Travolta, and that gave us another kick.
So, in the end, get your music in a John Travolta movie?
(Laughs) You know that movie Be Cool? “Hollywood Swinging” was in that movie. Travolta again!
Kool and the Gang will perform at the Ventura County Fair on Friday, Aug. 9. Admission is free with entry.