It's always a celebration when Kool & the Gang comes to town

Most-sampled band in hip-hop history has little-known museum in South Florida

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Dennis Thomas, from left, George Brown, Robert "Kool" Bell and Ronald Bell of the musical group Kool & the Gang arrive at the 59th annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center, Feb. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles.

MIRAMAR, Fla. - On a nondescript road off a nondescript thoroughfare in South Florida sits the home of Cleveland Brown. But it's more than just a house for the longtime friend of Ronald Bell.

Within sits a voluminous history of Kool & the Gang.

"It's a respectful tribute to Kool & the Gang and the culture that produced them," Brown described to during a recent tour of the Koolzeum Archives.

From the stained-glass windows depicting poses of the legendary funk-jazz-soul band's members to countless records, honors and promotional posters celebrating the band's lengthy career, which spans more than half a century, it's obvious the Koolzeum Archives is a labor of love for its resident curator.

Perhaps that's why Bell, his brother "Kool" and the rest of the gang enjoy spending their time here when they're away from home. It's where they'll likely be at some point during their trip to South Florida for Wednesday night's performance at the Hard Rock Event Center at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Ahead of the concert, Bell fondly reflected on the band's beginnings in the early 1960s and its various name changes.

"I asked the first members of the band to be in the group," Bell recalled.

Bell recruited five of the six other founding members -- his older brother, Robert "Kool" Bell, and neighborhood friends Spike Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Ricky Westfield and George Brown. The late Charles Smith was the only original member who didn't go to school with Bell in New Jersey.

Formed as the Jazziacs in 1964, the group later became the Soul Town Band, the New Dimensions and then Kool & the Flames. The current name took form after a producer suggested they avoid any confusion with the "Godfather of Soul."

"When we met Gene Redd, whose father used to work for James Brown, he said, 'You can't use that name because of a copyright infringement,'" Bell remembered.

Brown was the lead singer of the Famous Flames, who broke up a year before Bell's band settled on Kool & the Gang in 1969.

Why Kool & the Gang? Bell said "Kool with a K" was the name his brother gave himself on the streets.

"You couldn't have called it 'Ronald & the Gang,'" Bell said. "I mean, how corny is that?"

Their self-titled debut album was released in 1969, but it wasn't until their fourth studio album -- 1973's "Wild and Peaceful" -- that the gang found commercial success with songs like "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging."

Speaking of Hollywood, Kool & the Gang's music made its big-screen premiere in the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever." The movie helped popularize the disco revolution and introduced a whole new audience to "Open Sesame," which had been released a year earlier.

Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Robert "Kool" Bell, from left, Ronald Bell, Dennis Thomas and George Brown attend a ceremony honoring Kool & the Gang with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Oct. 8, 2015, in Los Angeles.

The song appeared on the movie's soundtrack, which stayed atop the album charts for 24 straight weeks from January to July 1978 and remained on Billboard's charts for 120 weeks until March 1980.

"We knew that it was going to be in the movie, because we had to cut a deal to get it in," Bell said.

But he didn't realize then the impact it would go on to have. The "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack later won a Grammy Award for album of the year.

"I was really proud of that," Bell said.

Another John Travolta movie to prominently feature a Kool & the Gang song was 1994's "Pulp Fiction." In an early scene from the movie, "Jungle Boogie" can be heard in the background on the car radio during Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson's "Royale with Cheese" conversation.

"We've been blessed with that kind of thing," Bell said.

They've also been blessed with posterity, thanks in large part to plenty of radio play and a laundry list of songs that have borrowed from Kool & the Gang.

"We have over 1,000 songs that are embedded in the hip-hop generation," Bell said.

Among the artists who have sampled their sounds are the Beastie Boys, Color Me Badd, Ice Cube, Mace, Nas and Public Enemy.

"I put all my kids through school through that, man," Bell said of the royalties the band has received.

Bell isn't concerned that Kool & the Gang's music has taken a backseat to the hip-hop generation.

"I'm not mad at hip-hop," Bell said. "I love hip-hop. Now, I don't like all of it."

Bell is particularly fond of Bruno Mars, saying he has "brought back the funk."

AP Photo/J. Pat Carter

Members of Kool & the Gang perform during halftime of the Orange Bowl, Jan. 5, 2010, in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Of course, the Kool & the Gang song that has probably endured the most is "Celebration." Bell called it the "new happy birthday," routinely played at bar mitzvahs and weddings.

When asked what fans can expect when Kool & the Gang takes the stage, Bell answered with the opening verse from the song.

"It's a party, man," Bell went on to say. "It's a party from the beginning to the end."

Kool & the Gang and Maze featuring Frank Beverly will perform at the new Hard Rock Event Center at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $50 to $130. Click here to purchase tickets.

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