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Kool and the Gang concert at Pala reminder of band's jazz/R&B origins

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

Kool and the Gang received a reputation as a premier pop band when their songs “Ladies Night,” “Too Hot,” “Celebration,” “Get Down On It” and “Joanna” all reached the Top 10 on the American pop charts. The band’s concert Friday, July 28, at Pala Casino’s Palomar Starlight Theater was a reminder that Kool and the Gang had a history of jazz and rhythm and blues before the group’s pop hits.

“We’re doing everything tonight,” lead vocalist Sha Sha Jones said. “We’re going to take our time and get around to all those songs tonight.”

The band couldn’t perform every song during their 93 minutes on stage, not including an additional three minutes during which the band remained on stage after completing their music. The 14 songs played, however, included several extended versions. Kool and the Gang, which includes two members from when the band was formed in 1964 with a different name, played without a set list, since they have performed together for so long.

Robert “Kool” Bell is the bassist for Kool and the Gang and one of the original members. The band had several names before adopting the current one which has been used since 1969.

“We came up with Kool and the Gang,” Bell said. “Here we are, Kool and the Gang.”

It was also the name of the band’s first album, which was released in 1969 and peaked at No. 43 on the American rhythm and blues charts. Their next studio album, “Music is the Message,” was released in 1972 and peaked at No. 25 on the R&B charts. In 1973, the band’s fourth album, “Wild and Peaceful,” reached No. 6 on the R&B charts while also providing the band with its first single to reach No. 1 on the R&B charts when “Hollywood Swinging” obtained that position.

The 1979 album “Ladies Night” was the first Kool and the Gang album to reach No. 1 on the R&B charts, and it peaked at No. 13 on the American pop charts. Although the 1980 album “Celebrate” didn’t advance higher than No. 2 on the R&B charts it reached No. 10 on the pop charts to become the band’s only Top 10 pop album and “Celebration” became the band’s only No. 1 pop hit although “Joanna” and “Cherish” would subsequently peak at No. 2. The 1981 album “Something Special” which includes “Get Down On It” gave Kool and the Gang their second No. 1 R&B album.

Drummer George “Funky” Brown is the other original member of the band. Trumpet player Michael Ray has been with Kool and the Gang since 1979. Curtis Williams has been the band’s keyboard player since 1982. The presence of two saxophone players and a trombone player along with Williams indicated that the Pala concert wouldn’t consist of only pop hits.

Kool and the Gang had some pop hits, but they are also a jazz and rhythm and blues band and the Pala Casino concert provided some of those songs to the audience, who appreciated the origins of Kool and the Gang.

“We truly appreciate the love, and we hope to see you all again real soon,” Jones said.


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