Beginning as The Jazziacs in Jersey City (New Jersey) in 1964, the band renamed themselves Kool and the Flames – named after bass player, Robert ‘Kool’ Bell.
The band’s break came via the efforts of James Brown‘s bus driver, who envisioned a career behind the mike instead of behind the wheel. He enlisted Kool and the Flames as a backup band for a demo session before an independent producer named Gene Redd.
Redd sent the bus driver back to the highway but took Kool and the Flames to New York’s De-Lite Records. In a final shift, Kool himself replaced Redd as overseer of the gang’s financial matters.
By 1974 they had reaped critical and popular success with Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging. But the group was caught off-guard by the sudden rise of Disco in the late Seventies.
They decided they needed to smooth out their vocals and – taking The Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire as their role models – they brought in mellow-voiced James ‘JT’ Taylor and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell handed over the main vocal duties to him.
Ladies Night set the new standard: slick vocals, smooth horn section and a simplified sound, under the aegis of Brazilian pianist-composer-arranger-producer Eumir Deodato.
The public responded, and from Ladies Night through Celebrate and Something Special, Kool and the Gang had their new audience – upscale whites and blacks, with a dash of the MOR and harder-edged funk fans – yelling for more.
Guitarist and co-founder Claydes Charles Smith died on 20 June 2006 of unspecified causes. Robert ‘Spike’ Mickens retired from the band in 1986 due to poor health and died on 2 November 2010, aged 59, at a nursing home in Far Rockaway, New York.
Drummer George Brown died in 2023.
James ‘JT’ Taylor
Robert ‘Kool’ Bell
Dennis ‘DT’ Thomas
Robert ‘Spike’ Mickens