In a profession spanning seven many years, New Jersey’s denizens of funk and disco, Kool & the Gang, notched up eight Prime 40 albums and 20 Prime 40 singles on the US pop charts, alongside a swarm of hits on the US R&B chart. Their greatest recognized songs included Women Evening, Jungle Boogie, Summer season Insanity, Too Sizzling, Cherish and, above all, their go-everywhere signature tune, Celebration. All of those had been co-written by their drummer, George “Funky” Brown, who has died aged 74 after affected by lung most cancers.
He was one of many band’s founders, and was nonetheless behind the drum equipment for his or her most up-to-date album earlier this yr, Individuals Simply Wanna Have Enjoyable, which he additionally produced whereas being one of many essential songwriters. In his memoir, Too Sizzling: Kool & the Gang & Me (2023), Brown wrote: “I didn’t know the place the music would lead me, however I knew that if I remained centered and persevered, it will occur as God had meant. And it did.”
He was born in Jersey Metropolis. His father, George Sr, was within the coal enterprise, and his mom, Eleanor, labored as a maid in Fort Lee, New Jersey. From an early age, George grew to become fascinated with taking part in the drums, and first used butter knives as makeshift drumsticks to beat time on family objects.
He purchased his first drum equipment with cash he saved from doing a newspaper spherical, and paid $3 for a drumming lesson “from a gentleman who used to play with the Shirelles”. He recalled how “all my drum units got here from the pawn store piece by piece till I bought with Kool & the Gang”.
In 1964 he grew to become one of many 4 founding members of the Jazziacs, having been launched to the saxophonist Ronald Bell and the trumpeter Robert Mickens by the keyboard participant Ricky Westfield, who lived in the identical constructing as Brown.
All of them attended Lincoln highschool in Jersey Metropolis. Their repertoire was initially jazz, drawing inspiration from artists resembling John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Brown modelled his taking part in on jazz drummers together with Buddy Wealthy and Artwork Blakey, and of their formative days the group often performed with jazz musicians together with McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.
Because the group developed, taking part in gigs across the New York space, it added extra members, together with Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas on saxophone, Charles Smith on guitar and Ronald’s brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, on keyboards. The group went via a number of title adjustments, together with the New Dimensions and the Soul City Band, earlier than selecting Kool & the Gang in 1969.
That yr they signed to De-Lite Data, a label began by their supervisor Gene Redd, and launched their debut album, Kool and the Gang, an all-instrumental affair. It reached 43 on the US R&B chart. The group had been including vocals and components of funk and R&B to their sound, and their fourth album, Wild and Peaceable (1973), gave them a pair of massive hit singles with Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging. These reached Nos 4 and 6 respectively on the pop chart, with Hollywood Swinging topping the R&B chart.
Observe-up albums, together with Love & Understanding and The Pressure, discovered them treading water commercially, with the group out of sync with the booming disco craze, although they did contribute the observe Open Sesame to the Grammy-winning Saturday Evening Fever soundtrack (1977). They took remedial measures by hiring the vocalist James “JT” Taylor and recruiting the Brazilian producer Eumir Deodato, who moved them nearer to mainstream pop and dance music.
This paid off spectacularly with the album Women Evening (1979), which topped the R&B chart and pierced the pop Prime 20. The title observe and follow-up, Too Sizzling, had been each Prime 10 pop hits, with Women’ Evening additionally delivering an R&B No 1. The album Have a good time! (1980) cemented the band’s new discovered prominence by topping the pop and R&B charts and incomes them a platinum disc. Its signature observe, Celebration, topped the US chart and went Prime 10 within the UK, and have become Kool & the Gang’s theme tune, an automated selection for discos, sporting occasions, weddings and birthday events.
They scored additional massive hits with Get Down on It, Joanna and Cherish, however their industrial clout started to wane from the mid-80s onwards, although they loved some belated UK success with the compilation albums The Singles Assortment and Celebration: The Better of Kool & the Gang: 1979-1987.
The band’s catalogue of hits was given a flourishing second life with the appearance of digital know-how and sampling. Not least due to Brown’s punchy, swinging beats, their tracks have been among the many most sampled by rap and hip-hop artists (to not point out Madonna and the Killers), and have featured within the work of the Beastie Boys, De La Soul, NWA. and A Tribe Known as Quest. One observe alone, Summer season Insanity, has been sampled 250 instances. Jungle Boogie appeared on the soundtracks for the movies Pulp Fiction (1994) and Undercover Brother (2002), and Summer season Insanity was utilized in Rocky (1976).
Kool & the Gang received two Grammy awards and 7 American Music awards. In 2018 Brown, the Bell brothers and Taylor had been inducted into the Songwriters Corridor of Fame.
Brown is survived by his spouse, Hanh, and 5 youngsters.