Kool & the Gang are opening for Van Halen? This unlikely lineup sounds like the biggest tour on the planet … circa 1982. But make no mistake, this is a double-bill that is hardly past its prime, as many of the shows on the tour are sold out. Founding member and bassist Robert “Kool” Bell says that a group known for dancing the night away works well with a group known for jungle boogying.
How did this whole tour come about?
We’ve known [Van Halen singer David Lee Roth] for a year. What happened was that he saw us performing at the Glastonbury show last August and we had about 60,000 people in front of our stage. … He saw us there and said, “I want you guys to open up for us.”
And had you crossed paths before? Both bands were on top of the world in the 1980s.
Well, that’s one of the things that he brought to my attention. They were hot in the ’80s, with “Jump” and some of their big records. They were the rock party band, and we were the pop-funk party band.
Though the ’80s were big for Kool & the Gang, you guys aren’t really defined by those years.
Kool & the Gang have been playing since ’64, and we’ve been dealing with changes every decade. But we’ve been blessed to make it through the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s and now the new millennium.
So when you’ve been playing “Celebration” for more than 30 years, how do you keep that
Well, the people keep us excited, because “Celebration” is a song that’s lasted throughout the years. … They give us the energy and we give it back to them. … Plus we know, of course when the hostages were returned from Iran, they played “Celebration.” Also, here’s one that happened two or three months ago — the astronauts woke up to “Celebration” on the last space shuttle mission, on the space station. … And then you’ve got so many Super Bowls and World Series and basketball championships.
Did you know when you guys were writing it that it would be that kind of song?
No, we didn’t. We felt good about it. What happened was another career change. We were coming out of the ’70s and we decided to get a lead singer who became James “J.T.” Taylor, and “Ladies Night” was our first big record that took us into the ’80s. So, we were at the American Music Awards. I think we won two awards that night, so my brother came up with this idea, “Hey, this is time to celebrate!” So when we got back to New Jersey, he came up with this groove called “Celebration.” And we all came together and started writing the song. That’s how it started… not knowing that this was going to be a celebration that so far has lasted throughout the years — 32 years now.
‘Kool & the Gang: The Musical’?
Bell says Kool & the Gang have been working with Ben Elton to bring a Broadway show to life by 2013.
“It’s about our lives,” he says, “kind of like ‘Jersey Boys.’”