In the 1970s and early 1980s, there may not have been a more popular R&B or Funk group than Kool and the Gang.
I admit I was a big fan. So, I jumped at the chance to do the interview in advance of their performance at this year’s San Luis Salute.
I got to interview Kool himself, Robert Bell. We covered the band’s history, plans for a Kool and the Gang musical and hopes of a documentary to be shot as the group celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.
But one question has been burning in my mind ever since I found out I would get to interview Kool. How the heck did a band known for its funk and R&B sound end up on tour last year with rock group Van Halen?
That seems such an unusual pairing.
“That was all the work of (Van Halen lead singer) David Lee Roth,” Bell said. “He saw us play at (Glastonbury Festival) in England in 2011. That was a mostly rock-n-roll audience. It was us and Beyonce that weren’t rock groups. And we had everyone enjoying what we did. We had 40,000 people in the audience.”
So Roth went to the concert producers LiveNation and convinced them that the Van Halen tour, marking Roth’s return to the group, should include Kool and the Gang.
“David told us that 60 percent of the Van Halen audience is women, so he knew that once we played ‘Ladies Night,’ the women would go wild,” Bell said.
It was during a meeting with Roth and the band’s founding brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen that Bell found out something else he didn’t know.
“They told us that when they were coming up in the 1970s they used to play our music,” Bell said. “That was something to find out.”
Of course, Van Halen is no stranger to cross over music.
The rock group’s “Diver Down” album featured remakes of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” the Kinks’ “Where Have Al the Good Times Gone,” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” Van Halen also remade the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me Now” on its debut album.
Eddie Van Halen also teamed up with Michael Jackson for “Beat It,” which was featured on Jackson’s “Thriller” album that went platinum and won two Grammy Awards.
Bell said the tour was a blast and it expanded Kool and the Gang’s fan base somewhat.