Band founder and Youngstown native Robert 'Kool' Bell says to expect a high energy performance.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
It's a safe bet that Kool & amp; the Gang will play your favorite funky song at the "Saturday Night Disco" concert at Cafaro Field in Niles.
"Our shows are high energy," says band founder and former Youngstown resident Robert "Kool" Bell. "We play a lot of our hits from the '70s and '80s." They will also insert "a little taste of jazz in there."
"That's our background as musicians," Bell said. "We please the crowd ... we do it all."
Even though Kool & amp; the Gang peaked years after the original disco era died, the band fits in well with danceable tunes such as "Ladies Night," "Celebration" and "Get Down On It."
"That's the movement right now. Radio is playing retro and disco music," Bell said. He doesn't mind being associated with genuine disco acts like The Village People (also performing Saturday in Niles) or KC and the Sunshine Band, except when Kool & amp; the Gang is trying to release new music.
"We try to stay away from being a disco band but a contemporary band that plays it all," he said.
Contemporary means updating past hits and recording future ones.
Label launched: The band formed KTFA Entertainment (which stands for Keep The Funk Alive) in 1998. "Gangland," the band's first project on its label, is scheduled for release in August. "Gangland" will feature vintage hits, such as "Jungle Boogie," that will be updated with elements of hip-hop while retaining a big-band sound. "We do it differently than your Nellys and your Puffys. ... We have more of a big-band approach with the horns," Bell said.
The inspiration for "Gangland" came from the number of bands that have sampled Kool & amp; the Gang's music. "So we're going back and recreating the '70s for this new millennium," Bell said.
"Gangland" will be followed by "Kool & amp; the Gang Music Odyssey," in which a variety of musicians will perform the band's hits. Jamiroquai has already recorded "Hollywood Swinging," Bell said. Carlos Santana, Sting, Whitney Houston and Outkast are also being pursued. "Odyssey" probably won't be released until next spring.
"We also plan to do another Kool & amp; the Gang studio album" of original songs, Bell said. That should precede the movie biography of Kool & amp; the Gang slated for 2003. Meanwhile, the band has a summer tour of music festivals throughout Europe; the release of a DVD in September that was made at House of Blues in Chicago; and five new acts that have been signed to KTFA, he added.
Original musicians: Kool & amp; the Gang is moving ahead with its core musicians intact. That includes Bell, original guitarist Charles Smith and alto saxophonist Dennis Thomas. Bell's younger brother Ronald, who plays tenor saxophone, and original drummer George Brown appear at some concerts, but they manage the band's East and West Coast studios, Robert Bell said. Former lead singer J.T. Taylor is working on another project, he added.
The Bell brothers started their first jazz band in 1964 in Jersey City, N.J., four years after moving from Youngstown, their birthplace. Robert Bell said he attended Lincoln Elementary until the family moved when he was 11. He still has aunts and uncles who live here, he said.
Asked what he recalls about Youngstown, Bell said he and his brother used to sit on a hill overlooking Immaculate Conception School. They used empty paint cans from a nearby factory as drums. "That was the beginning of our musical career," he said.