NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In trademark shades and wide-collared open shirts, Kool & The Gang claim there is no age limit to being cool as the group returns with a new album.
The group that formed in New Jersey in 1964 and has gone through several musical phases over the years, ranging from jazz, to rhythm and blues and funk, to disco, is releasing its first studio album in 10 years this week, called “Still Kool.”
Two of the four original band members, Robert “Kool” Bell, 56, and his 55-year-old brother Ronald, said the group has moved on since its 1980s hits like “Joanna,” “Celebration,” “Get Down On It” and “Jungle Boogie.”
Ronald is also known by his Muslim name Khalis Bayyan.
After largely falling off the public radar in the 1990s, the group is hoping a new generation of young musicians that has joined the band’s 12-man line-up -- including Robert Bell’s son Hakim and 23-year-old singer Jirmad Gordon -- will bring the group new success.
They spoke to Reuters about their long career and staying cool:
Q: Why a 10 year gap in albums?
A: RONALD - “The inspiration comes when it does. We’ve been touring and thinking about this but you have to wait until the inspiration comes and then comes the opportunities. The content, some of it, is very timely to the situation that is going on the world.”
Q: Is it hard to get known for new work, not just the old hits?
A: RONALD - “We have a couple of younger people in the band. We wanted to broaden our audience. People do get surprised as they expect us to be a dance band but we are more than just that. If you follow the history of Kool & the Gang, we were an instrumental band but when disco came along we needed to switch to that kind of music to stay involved and current. We did a rap album but I don’t think people want to hear their fathers rapping.”
ROBERT - “We constantly have our ears on what is going on. We tour a lot, and we travel everywhere from Moscow to Australia. There is a lot of inspiration that comes from that and keeps us going. We have young guys in the band with new ideas.”
Q: Is it hard to stay true to your name -- cool?
A: RONALD - “Everyone always want to be cool even when it is hot. Everyone loves those cool shades and everyone want to be cool. It is something of destiny. We picked a perfect name for it -- Kool was my brother’s nickname -- and I think that helps. We try to stay level headed.”
ROBERT - “Cool is fashion. Cool is what is happening and what is hip. I think cool will be around when we are long gone. People who are 75 and 80 years old can still be cool, there is not limit to being cool.”
Q: You’ve introduce a new generation to the band. Is this part of a handover plan?
A: ROBERT - “That could be part of the plan. We have our own record label now and the brand is there.”
Q: But not thinking of retiring just yet?
A: RONALD - “We are not over yet we have other things we want to do -- radio, TV show and movies. When my legs won’t run to those airports anymore then I might give up.”
ROBERT - “We have a few more years yet. I always say that Mick Jagger is about 65 right now and he is still rock ‘n rolling.”