POSTED ON APRIL 25, 2012:
Join the Party!
Kool & the Gang celebrates with Van Halen for the biggest party of the year
When word of a new Van Halen album got out, it was reason enough for long-time fans to celebrate. The first release of any new material with original singer David Lee Roth since the appearance of "Me Wise Magic" and "Can't Get This Stuff No More" in 1996 and the first full album with him since the release of 1984, 28 years earlier, caused old-school fans to go nearly apoplectic.
It didn't hurt that the album returned to the band's early, vintage sound -- aside from lead single "Tattoo" -- by mining a handful of early demos and adding a modern spin to the tracks. When an announcement of the corresponding US tour was made, though, Van Halen fans everywhere were ecstatic.
Perhaps the only thing that was called into question was the band's selection as special guest to open the first leg of the tour. Did I read that right? Kool & the Gang opening for Van Halen? Sure enough, that's the case. But how did such a seemingly odd pairing come about?
Last week, I was able to catch up briefly with Robert Bell, commonly known as "Kool" of Kool & the Gang, to discuss the band's history and the current tour.
As it turns out, Kool & the Gang's history isn't all that different from Van Halen's, although the group does have a few more years under its collective belt. After touring the US heavily through the '80s, original singer James "J.T." Taylor left to pursue a solo career and the band continued on, touring around the world in the '90s. According to Bell, "J.T. came back from '95-'99 and left again and we've just kept rolling since then."
When explaining how the Van Halen tour came about, he shared that "David saw us last year at Glastonbury Music Festival, this big festival that has bands like U2 and Coldplay and Paul Simon playing. We closed out the last night with Paul Simon in front of 60,000 people and we rocked it."
"Apparently, David went back and discussed it with Ed and Alex and they all agreed, so when they were talking to Live Nation about this tour, David said they wanted Kool & the Gang to be part of the tour," he continued.
"David went on to tell me that they used to play 'Funky Stuff' and 'Holiday in the Sun' when they started," Bell said. "He also told me, which I didn't know, that 60 percent of their crowd were ladies. So when David called and asked if we'd be a part of the tour, he said "We were the biggest rock party-band of the '80s and you were the biggest pop/funk party-band of the '80s -- so let's just get together and have one big party!'"
Although Bell admits it's an odd pairing at first, he also shared that it has gone over incredibly well with the audiences. Word has gotten out that the match is working and "Each week, at each show, more and more people are coming out early," he said. "Now, by the time we're finishing our set, 80 percent of the arena is full -- which is great. Normally, as an opening act, you might have 40-50 percent of the seats full by the time you end your set, so it's been great and the crowd is really getting into it and enjoying it."
After discussing the band's history and the fact that it has primarily been touring overseas, Bell admitted that it's been a little bit of a transition touring the US again. "We haven't been on the touring scene in America for over 15 years," he said. "When I say touring, I mean with two busses and 16 trucks of equipment and the whole thing. We've done some casino dates and private events, but nothing on this scale for a long time."
"We spent a lot of time touring Asia and Australia and Africa, so this is something; we're having a lot of fun with it this time," he continued. "We had our success in the '80s and a little more in the '90s, but after touring overseas, it kind of puts things in a different perspective. We're back running around America again and it's a different fans base, but it's been fun. We're really just getting back in the flow of touring like this again."
Looking to the future, Bell shared that Kool & the Gang was going to do the summer leg of the tour with Van Halen, but after receiving a number of calls from Europe with offers to play the major summer festivals, plans were already made by the time Van Halen came back to the table to announce the summer dates. After spending the summer in Europe, however, Kool & the Gang will likely rejoin Van Halen for a possible fall tour.
Aside from that, when asking what the future holds, Bell shared that he's currently working on a solo record of sorts, Kool and Friends, for which Bootsy Collins and Jason Scheff (of Chicago) have already agreed to be a part. He also admitted he'd love to get Eddie Van Halen to take part, but that hasn't been discussed or worked out yet. He also shared that another Kool & the Gang album is being planned as well.
In addition, Bell said that "We've been meeting with Ben Elton, who wrote "We Will Rock You." We've been talking about a possible Kool & the Gang musical and he's putting the story and songs together. He's a big Kool & the Gang fan and he's a professional, this guy's on top of it, so we'll see where it goes."
As for now, Kool & the Gang is enjoying a successful return to the US touring circuit with Van Halen. And while Van Halen fans have been elated with a set list that runs the gamut of DLR era songs ranging from "Running with the Devil" and "Ice Cream Man" from the band's debut all the way through "She's the Woman" and "China Town" from the band's latest offering, the real surprise of the night for many fans has been the explosive opening set Kool & the Gang brings to the stage. Add the band's '70s and '80s hits ranging from "Funky Stuff" and "Ladies Night" to '80s party anthem "Celebrate" and you've got a full scale party on your hands.
You'll want to arrive early when the tour hits BOK Center next Tuesday night, May 1, because according to Bell "The party starts at 7:25; we've been starting five minutes early so we make sure we don't go over our time." Ticket prices range from $29.50 to $149.50, so there's a ticket for everyone to be able to join the party.
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