Kool comes to St. Petersburg

The Gang is joined by '70s funk icons the Ohio Players

mclear@bradenton.comJune 20, 2013 

Kool and the Gang have been part of some odd concert pairings. Even Robert "Kool" Bell thinks so.

The seminal '70s and '80s funk and soul band played 48 shows last year with rock band Van Halen. They're gearing up to tour with Kid Rock, and they have a date with the Dave Matthews Band lined up.

"People are saying, 'What are you doing playing with those guys?' " Bell said in a telephone interview from New Jersey, where he's lived since 1960.

But the lineup for their upcoming show at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater makes a lot more sense. The Gang will be joined by Ohio Players, who burned up the '70s with such funk hits as "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster."

Unlike a lot of bands whose chart success came in decades past, both Kool and the Gang and the Ohio Players still include a lot of their of their original members.

"I have four of my original members," Bell said. "And we've had four pass way over the past 10 years or so."

Bell formed the band in 1964. They were called the Jazziacs, the Soul Town band, and Kool & the Flames until they became Kool and the Gang in 1968 just before their first album came out.

They had already had a few hits, including "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging" before singer James "JT" Taylor joined the band. They adopted a less funky and more pop-soul sound and scored their biggest chart success with such songs as "Celebration" and "Ladies' Night." Taylor left the band in 1988, then rejoined in the mid-'90s but is no longer a member.

The Ohio Players have stayed together since their formation in the '70s, and most of the members have been together for 40 years. Even the "new guys" have been with the band 15 or 20 years.

"We may not be in heavy rotation, but we've been able to live on through Sirius," said drummer James "Diamond" Williams. "And Chef Gordon Ramsay uses 'Fire' as the theme song for 'Hell's Kitchen.'"

Both the Ohio Players and Kool and the Gang have new albums in the works, due out in 2014. Kool and the Gang also have their first Christmas album coming out this year.

But for the St. Petersburg show, both bands are concentrating on their hits, and Bell says he and his gang will showcase a lot of their early, funkier hits.

"Yeah," he said, "when we're with the Ohio Players we have to do ''Funky Stuff,' 'Jungle Boogie,' all of that."

Details: 8 p.m. June 21, Mahaffey Theater, 401 First St. S., St. Petersburg. Tickets: $39-$75. Information: 727-892-5767, www.themahaffey.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear

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