Kool & The Gang Biography
Last updated: 06/20/2012 12:00:00 PM
Kool & The Gang's story starts in the Jersey City projects. They were teenagers, studying Miles Davis albums and James Brown singles, jamming in basements, partying for the people in a swirl of Black consciousness. In 1969 they made their first record. Still teenagers, and full of confidence, they named that first record after themselves. Their confidence and creativity produced a string of loose-but-tight, "fun" records, culminating in the Pop Chart smash Jungle Boogie. Kool & The Gang didn't need a singer then: the horns were the lead voice; the fans chanted along. Their songs were featured in films like Rocky and Saturday Night Fever.
In Jersey City, New Jersey, Willis and Thomas Smith give birth to their first child, Claydes Eugene Smith.
George Brown the first child of George and Eleanor Brown was born in Jersey City.
In Youngstown, Ohio, Robert "Bobby" Bell, a featherweight champion, and his wife Mabel have their first child, a son, Robert Earl Bell.
Ronald Nathan Bell, the second child of Bobby and Mabel Bell, was born.
Dennis Ronald Thomas was born in Orlando, FL to Elizabeth and Claude Thomas. He was their third child.
Robert "Spike" Mickens was born to Victor and Roberta. His father was a trumpet player.
Dennis Thomas moves with his family to Jersey City.
George, age five, begins hearing music in his head and composing songs.
1955Bobby Bell returns home from the road with a "Hi Fidelity" record player. Ronald hears Miles Davis Round About Midnight wafting from his parents' bedroom.
Ronald's Aunt Narvie taught him to play a gospel song on the piano.
Robert and Mabel separate. Mabel moves to Elmira, New York with Robert, Ronald and their two younger brothers Kevin and Michael. She takes a job with Remington Typewriters.
Mabel is laid off in Elmira. She moves back to Youngstown with her four sons. The steel mills where Mabel worked are closed down. With no job, Mabel and the four boys suffered extreme poverty. Ronald misses a year of school because he had no shoes to wear. Mabel wrote a letter to President Kennedy and sent a picture that Ronald drew of their home, a run down shack. The President read the letter on television.
George, age 10, meets Ricky Westfield who lives on his block on Storms Avenue in Jersey City.
Claydes' father purchases a Kay Electric guitar for Claydes at a pawn shop in Newark for $32.00.
Mickens and Dennis Thomas meet at P.S. #22 Elementary School in Jersey City. Spike's older brother, Butch, played guitar in a group called The Five Sounds. Spike takes up his father's trade and begins playing the trumpet.
Mabel Bell moves to Jersey City in search of factory work to support her boys. Ronald is 11 and two years behind in school. He is in the fourth grade. Robert, age 12, joins a well known Jersey City gang, "The Imperial Lords". He becomes Tamango, a name he took from the movie Tamango starring Dorothy Dandridge which depicted the life of a notorious African warrior.
Claydes' father buys him his first jazz guitar recording by Kenny Burrel.
Tamango checks out a violin from the music room at P.S. #22 in Jersey City.
George and Ricky begin playing at small coffee houses in Jersey City.
Tamango returns the violin and checks out the cello from the music room at P.S. #22 in Jersey City.
Tamango returns the cello to the music room at P.S. #22 in Jersey City.
George gets a paper route and begins purchasing a drum set one piece at a time.
Tamango begins playing the bongo and congas with Ronald Samuels and Chico and the Mighty Magnificents at P.S. #22 in Jersey City.
Dennis' father rents him his first alto sax on a three month rental. Dennis learns to play it in three months.
George invites Ricky to record with Claydes & The Rhythms at a studio on Broad Street in Newark. George travels on the #1 local bus with a drum set to the session. The A side I Can't Go On Without You; the B side I Can't Go On Without You instrumental version. The session was financed by Claydes' father for $129. They sold three copies to themselves.
Dennis begins hanging out with a neighborhood big brother type by the name of "Big Moose". Unbeknownst to his parents Dennis began running with Moose to New York's Greenwich Village. They played at The Cafe Wha? on "Hootenanny Night". Big Moose played Congas and Dennis played alto sax. They performed African jazz songs like Afro Blue. Dennis played with his mouth piece upside down.
At P.S. #22 in Jersey City, Ronald learns to play the steel drums by listening to Chico and The Mighty Magnificents a group that Dennis and Kool played in.
Ronald walks into a school assembly and Dennis is playing the theme from Clutch Cargo on alto sax.
Ronald decides to play the sax.
Dennis joins the Five Sounds, Spike's older brother's group.
Ronald begins playing with Chico and The Mighty Magnificents.
Dennis is eighth grade Valedictorian at his graduation from P.S. #22 in Jersey City.
While walking through the hallway of Lincoln High School, Claydes spots George who he has heard is a drummer. He approaches George to play with his group "Claydes and the Rhythms".
Buddy Mays, Spikes' sister's fiancée, lived across the street from Ricky and George on Storms Avenue. Buddy, a jazz enthusiast, was host to Ricky and George on many an afternoon listening to jazz recordings in his living room.
Meanwhile at his fiancée's house, Butch was mentor and teacher for Ronald and Spike. Ronald was picking up fingering for the guitar and flute from Butch. Ronald took the flute home to practice.
Dennis, Butch's fellow band member came to the house to pick up the flute which Ronald forgot to bring back. This was Ronald's first face to face meeting with the Cool Cat who inspired him to play.
Dennis only word's were "Get the flute man".
Buddy knew that his fiancée's little brother Spike and his friend Ronald were looking for a rhythm section to form a group. Buddy introduced the four and they formed the group The Five Sounds Jr. even though there were only four members: a tribute to the group that inspired them. They begin playing at The Coffee House at St. John's Church on Summit Avenue in Jersey City.
The Five Sounds, the senior group was playing in Greenwich Village at the Cafe Wha? When the Five Sounds Jr. showed up at the same venue, the senior group was not amused.
The Five Sounds Jr. changed their name to The Jazz Birds.
In exchange for sandwiches and exposure, the Jazz Birds began performing in Greenwich Village at the legendary club Cafe Wha? There they performed alongside rising stars Bill Cosby, Richie Havens and Richard Pryor.
Claydes , unable to convince his parents to allow him to travel to New York to play with The Jazz Birds, worked a series of jobs from milkman to mailman.
Claydes and Dennis meet in English class at Lincoln High School in Jersey City.
Ronald, considers an alliance with The Adventurers (formally the Imperial Lords) for survival's sake. He accompanies his brother on a night out with the "gang". He and Kool don their sweaters with giant A's and set out for a party 'up on the hill'. They were ambushed by the rival gang. Ronald is chased home by a guy with a hatchet. Once back on their own turf the Adventures find the snitch who tipped off the rival gang to their whereabouts and removed a piece of his nose with a straight razor.
Ronald declines all future gang invitations.
The Jazz Birds appear at amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Gloria Lynn is the headline act. The Jazz Birds come in second place in the amateur competition.
Ronald invites Robert to the Cafe Wha? Ronald borrows a base guitar from someone in the audience. He tells Robert, a cello player in school, to play the E note on Ben Tucker's "Coming Home Baby". Robert is saved by the groove. He drops Tamango and The Imperial Lords and decides to chill with the band. Tamango was a hot headed roughneck so he wanted his new name to reflect his newfound cool side. Jersey City was full of Cool's but he was the only "Kool".
By the end of the year The Jazz Birds change their name to The Jazziacs.
In his parents kitchen Claydes hears West Montgomery's "Going Out Of My Head" on the radio. He freezes in his tracks.
George is approached in study hall at Lincoln High School by Claydes who tells him he knows a man who needs a band to back up a Motown/Staxs revue. George tells his good friend and neighbor Ricky. Ricky and fellow Jazziacs Ronald, Spike, George and Kool join Claydes to become The Soul Town Band with the Soul Town Revue.
Spike is adamantly opposed to selling out to popular music.
Dennis leaves the Five Sounds and joins The Soul Town Band who have a slamming horn section.
Because they were too young to drive, George carted his drums in a shopping cart, traveling 14 miles or more to get home from gigs.
Claydes leaves high school after two years.
Claydes, who has a job at Can Do, a government program for community development, meets a prominent Jersey City businessman, Tom Paketas. Tom encourages the group to meet influential politicians. Tom gave them rehearsal space in one of his properties at the Junction in Jersey City.
Claydes drives an oil truck. The truck moves around horribly when full of oil. He leaves for a job at a box factory. He lasted three months.
Ronald also takes a job at the box factory, he lasts two weeks. It was his first and last "day job"
The Soul Town Band develops their own following apart from the revue. They change their name to Kool & The Flames.
Walter Foster, a bus driver for James Brown, had an important audition with Gene Redd of Redd Coach Records in New York. He hired Kool & The Flames to play back up for his audition. They played back up for Walter on Cold Sweat and Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay.
Kool & The Flames walked away with their first recording contract with Redd Coach.
Walter Foster did not. He continued to drive the bus for James Brown.
Kool & The Flames play the Cheeta Club in NYC. Wille Fester & The Mighty Magnificents feat Skip, Sonny & The Pace Brothers turned the show out.
Kool & the Flames decide to add choreography to their act.
Kool, Ronald, Claydes, George, Dennis, Spike and Ricky record their first album for Gene Redd on Redd Coach Records. To avoid any confusion with James Brown's "Famous Flames" they decided to make their recording debut as Kool & The Gang. The album spawned their first Billboard R&B charted single Kool and the Gang and later Let The Music Take Your Mind.
Redd Coach signs the group over to De Lite Records.
Under the careful tutelage of Gene Redd, Kool & The Gang developed a dynamic performance style.
De Lite was located on 56th and 8th Avenue in NYC. George Clinton of The Parliaments lived across the street on 56th and 8th. Ronald and Dennis run into George one day. He has shaved the moon and stars into his afro. He tells them about a concept he is working on - Parliament & The Funkadelics.
Kool & The Gang decide to add costumes to their act. Ronald dons a psychedelic wig. He becomes Funky Man.
Claydes daughter was born
machineJinx, a small time drug dealer and patron of the arts gave the group free space in his basement to rehearse. One day three men came into the basement and start yelling for the guys to stop the music. They are narcotics agents. They question the group. One agent takes a bag of drugs and places it under a pillow in plain sight. Another agent asks,
"If I find any drugs under that pillow, whose gonna take the weight for it?"
Another asks, "If I find any drugs under this couch, who's gonna take the weight?" No one answers. They handcuff the group and place them on the floor of the basement for seven hours. Everyone who entered the house that day was handcuffed and placed on the floor of the basement. At the end of the night they were taken to Greenville lockup. Gene Redd came to get them out. No charges were pressed.
The next morning at another rehearsal hall, Kool & The Gang collectively wrote Who's Gonna Take The Weight.
Kool & The Gang's audacious sophomore set Live At The Sex Machine peaked at #6 on Billboard's R&B chart. Kool & The Gang's first live album showcased the group's musical growth and their lyrical expression of spirituality, unity and the responsibility of mankind. This album produced three hit singles: Funky Man, Who's Gonna Take The Weight, and I Want To Take You Higher.
George has a son.
Ronald Bell has a daughter.
Claydes second child was born.
The Best Of Kool & The Gang Featuring The Penguin
Immediately after Kool's wedding, Kool & The Gang rush to Manhattan Center in NYC for their first big time professional appearance. They headline with Little Anthony & The Imperials
Kool has a son.
1972Kool & The Gang Live at PJ's and Music Is The Message
Kool & The Gang had very little control over their business. As was the standard practice of the time they were doled out money piecemeal by management. Gene controlled everything.
Kool & The Gang embark on their first international tour.
Ronald Bell is given a Koran. He takes it in Germany. He reads it cover to cover in Frankfurt on the tour bus.
Kool reads Message To The Black Man by Elijah Mohammed.
When they return to the United States Kool & Ronald join the Clairmont Avenue Temple of The Nation Of Islam in Jersey City.
Ronald Bell becomes Ronald Five X
Kool becomes Robert Nine X
The group parted with Gene Redd and signed to De-lite
Ronald Five X is given the name Khalis (intelligent) by Imam Wallace D. Mohammed
Robert Nine X is given the name Muhammed (praised much) by Imam Wallace D. Mohammed
Their family name becomes Bayyan (clear evidence), given by Imam Wallace D. Mohammed.
De-lite wanted to hire Gene Redd back by the end of the year after the dismal sales of Good Times. A & R suggests that Kool & The Gang re-record Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango.
Khalis is furious. They go into the studio for an all day session. They walk out with three songs for A & R. Hollywood Swingin, Jungle Boogie and Funky Stuff. Khalis quips, "Here's your Soul Makossa".
1973Good Times and Wild & Peaceful.
This album was Kool & The Gang's first certified gold album reaching #6 on Billboard's R&B charts and #33 on the Pop charts. The "wild" side of the album produced three party anthems, Funky Stuff, Hollywood Swinging, and the million selling single, Jungle Boogie. The "peaceful" side of the album continued their quest for peace and unity with songs like Heaven At Once and the title track Wild & Peaceful
Claydes third child was born.
Khalis' second child is born.
Dennis' son was born.
Dennis and Ricky get into a heated argument in the lobby of the Hollywood Holiday Inn. It is a financial dispute. Dennis, who doubled as tour manager, refused to give Ricky more money. The dispute escalated into a fist fight just as wedding caterers were wheeling a five tier cake through the lobby. Ricky, Dennis and the cake collide.
Riding high from the success of Wild & Peaceful, Kool & The Gang released the most spiritual album in their catalogue, Light of Worlds, in 1974. Light of Worlds represented a spiritual re-awakening. With a cutting edge synthesizer sound, the album was a testament to change. For the group it represented a change in the way they ate thought and lived each day. The album produced the #1 R&B single Higher Plane and the classic hit, Summer Madness. Summer Madness was featured in the movie "Rocky". The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy.
Kool & The Gang hire a road manager.
Kool's second child was born.
Instead of jumping on the disco bandwagon, Kool & The Gang remained true to their "message" releasing two hit albums in 1975: Spirit of the Boogie and Love & Understanding.
Claydes has a son.
The group studies eastern philosophy/ TM/ Yoga.
Dennis begins wearing a turban on-stage.
Ricky and Spike refer to the other band members as "the Spirits".
The group appears in eastern garb at restaurants.
1976 photo Ricky Westfield left the group and formed his own band, North East South West. Although they remained lifelong friends, this marked the end of the musical collaboration between the seven original Kool & The Gang members.
Late in 1976, Kool & The Gang released the smash album, Open Sesame. The title track was featured on the best selling movie soundtrack of all times, Saturday Night Fever, earning Kool & The Gang two Grammy Awards.
George's second child was born.
Ronald's third child is born.
Disco dominates the poplar music scene. Kool & the Gang have seriouscompetition.
Earth Wind & Fire and The Commodores emerged with powerful lead singers. Ronald Isley was still making hits and Parliament and the Funkadelics, George Clinton's group, had taken the Funk movement to another level.
Kool & The Gang decide to audition vocalists. James Taylor was the first candidate to walk in. Khalis played a few notes on the piano. He hired James on the spot.
Clifford Adams begins a long term stint as trombone player for Kool & The Gang.
Claydes fifth child was born.
While going through a painful breakup George writes "Too Hot".
ladies night Kool & the Gang hire an outside producer. They were looking for objectivity. They begin a successful affiliation with Eumir Deodato.
Kool & The Gang reemerged on the music scene with a new sound and a new vocalist, James JT Taylor. A former school teacher from Hackensack, New Jersey, JT added his smooth, sultry vocals and charismatic personality to the group's new polished sound. The result was Kool & The Gang's first platinum selling album. Ladies Night was produced by the legendary Pop/Jazz musician Eumir Deodato. The title track held the #1 position for three consecutive weeks on the R&B charts and peaked at #8 on the Pop charts. It was followed by Too Hot which reached the # 3 position on the R&B charts and #5 position on the Pop charts.
Claydes changes his name to Charles when he sees their name on the Billboard Top Ten.
Ladies Night wins them Best R & B Group at the AMA's in 1979.
celebrationKool & The Gang released the double platinum selling album Celebrate.
The international hit single Celebration remained at #1 on Billboard's R&B charts for six consecutive weeks and was the #1 Billboard Pop single. Celebration became the theme song for some of 1980's memorable moments including the return of the American hostages from Iran. This phenomenal single is still played at joyous occasions all over the world.
Kool & The Gang produced hit after hit between 1981 to 1983. The albums Something Special, As One and In the Heart gave the world the hit singles Get Down On It, Take My Heart, Let's Go Dancing, Joanna, and Tonight.
1984 Kool & The Gang released their second multiplatinum album Emergency.
The first single Misled went straight to #10 on Billboard's Pop charts. Cherish, the #1 R&B single and #2 Pop single, echoed a familiar Kool & The Gang theme: life and love. Fresh was a #1 R&B single and a #9 Pop single. The success of Emergency solidified the group's international superstardom. They had global commercial endorsements, supported countless charitable causes, and were the only American group to participate in Band Aid's 1984 Do They Know It's Christmas project for famine victims in Africa.
Kool & The Gang sign with Polygram Records.
Khalis has a daughter.
Ricky Westfield, a Kool & The Gang original seven, dies from a prolonged illness.
A young group auditions for Kool in Oklahoma City.
Kool & The Gang released Forever in 1987 which featured the hit R&B and Pop single Stone Love.
ruthless people1986 marked another departure by one of the groups original seven. Trumpet player Spike Mickens left the group due to poor health.
Khalis makes Hajj.
Khalis has a daughter.
Khalis takes a hiatus from the road to devote his time to writing and producing.
David Thomas, Dennis' son starts a group called "Exact Change" with Wyclef Jean. They were produced by Kurtis Blow and executive produced by Khalis.
Michelle Thomas, Dennis' daughter lands the role Justine on The Cosby Show.
Kool & The Gang released Forever in 1987 which featured the hit R&B and Pop single Stone Love.
At their New Year's show at Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City, NJ, JT Taylor leaves the stage during Cherish. He was ill.
JT leaves the group to pursue a solo career.
In a meeting, the group's road manager warns Khalis of impending financial doom. His words were, "You guys will be broke by the end of the year".
No one believes him.
Kool, his cousin Adil, and nephew Sam Sapp, negotiate a deal for the young group from Oklahoma on Giant Records. They debut as Color Me Badd.
George has a son.
Khalis has a daughter.
Internal financial problems begin by the close of the year.
Huge loans from the banks secured by Polygram royalties begin to default.
Record sales slow. Royalties are levied by the bank.
The group re-organizes a road show with three new singers. The show is a hit in Europe and Japan.
Big Moose's son makes his debut recording. PM Dawn are an instant success.
pm dawn Pras, a friend of Khalis' daughter, Lisa, knocks on his door. He is a rapper and wants help in the music business.
Khalis began working with Pras and his cousin Wyclef in Studio B at the House Of Music in West Orange.
Wyclef and Pras bought some singers to the studio as part of the act, Lauryn and Marcy.
They want Khalis to hear them sing and dance. He told them to form a group and they began recording demos for an album with Khalis.
Marcy decided to go to college after graduation that year.
Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras became The Rap Translators.
Michelle Thomas, Dennis Thomas' daughter, lands the role of Myra on Family Matters.
Kool's son Hakim forms the group POV. They sign to Giant Records.
fugeesKhalis' production company LeJam, signs the Rap Translators to Ruffhouse Records and David Sonnenberg for management. A name conflict with a group known as the translators forced them to change their name on the eve of their release date. They debut as the Fugees.
The Fugees first album, produced by Lejam is mildly successful. People think he's crazy for spending years with these kids.
Kool & The Gang's debt from the 80's is paid off. With the advent of sampling and renewed interest in the vintage 70's music, their income flourishes.
In 1996, Kool & The Gang reunited with JT Taylor to record their thirty-fifth album State Of Affairs on Curb Records.
state of affairs
Michelle Thomas lands the role of Callie Rodgers on The Young & The Restless.
Khalis has a son.
Kool & The Gang form their own record label, KTFA Entertainment, Inc.
Michelle Thomas is diagnosed with cancer.
Khalis' son Rasheed releases his debut album, Prototype, as Rachid on Universal Records.
Muhammad Bell's production company MadBall signs artist MC ROC to SoSo Def Records.
Michelle Thomas loses her battle with a rare form of cancer in December.
ktfa logoKool & The Gang launch KTFA Entertainment, Inc. a production and recording company.
KTFA Entertainment, Inc. signs Ray, Goodman & Brown, Gerald Alston, Blue Lovett and Soul Generation. They begin recording a soul revival project called Keep Soul Alive to be released in early spring of 2000
Kool & The Gang releases the single Where Da Boogie At? and finish recording their album Gangland to be released in January of 2000
Kool becomes a grandfather.