George Brown of Kool & The Gang on celebrating the band's long career
(SOUNDBITE OF KOOL AND THE GANG SONG, "CELEBRATION")
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
When it comes to party music, there's a few standards that everybody knows and just can't resist dancing to.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELEBRATION")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Celebrate good times, come on. It's a celebration.
RASCOE: These are classics and must-have music on every party playlist. Of course, I'm talking about the unmistakable funky groove of Kool and the Gang.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET DOWN ON IT")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Get down on it. Get down on it. Get down on it. Get down on it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADIES NIGHT")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Oh, yes, it's ladies' night, and the feeling's right. Oh, yes, it's ladies' night. Oh, what a night. Oh, what a night.
RASCOE: The band started making music nearly 60 years ago, but Kool and the Gang are still at it and released a new album this month called "People Just Want To Have Fun." And since it's the peak of summer party season, we wanted to talk to one of the band's founding members. George "Funky" Brown is the group's drummer and keyboardist. He joins us now to talk about the legendary group and his new memoir, "Too Hot: Kool And The Gang And Me," which came out this month. George Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
GEORGE BROWN: It's a pleasure.
RASCOE: In your book "Too Hot," you talk about your early passion for music - drumming on things before you had a drum kit. And you also talk about being able to hear and almost compose full symphonies in your head. Tell us about that process. How do you turn those ideas into the music that we all know and, like, groove to now?
BROWN: Well, you know, I'm self-taught. And millions of musicians are the same. You know, you might just get that music. You might just get the groove. Or you get a lyric line with the melody. Or someone might say something, and you go, wow, that's a great line. And you write it down.
RASCOE: Like, get down on it (laughter).
BROWN: Yeah. Ladies' night.
BROWN: Things got too hot for me, man. I had to get out of there. You know, had to...
RASCOE: So you grew up in Jersey City, N.J., and that's where you met many of the band members when y'all were just kids. How did Jersey City influence the band's sound and the music that you made together?
BROWN: Well, we're talking about 1964, and Jersey City is a blue-collar town. None of us were silver spoon babies. Single parent - the mothers worked very, very hard. All Jersey City was in the city, meaning, you know, the minority and the hardships. And that lent itself to writing and playing a certain way - being untrained, but knowing or teaching ourselves how to play.
You come up with these ideas that are not in the books. You're off the page. And it comes out a certain way. And people go, oh, that's new. Because the older musicians back then said, boy, wow, you kids, man, that's some new stuff you're playing there.
(SOUNDBITE OF KOOL AND THE GANG SONG, "JUNGLE BOOGIE")
RASCOE: What is the Kool and the Gang sound? How would you define that?
BROWN: The sound of happiness.
RASCOE: Yeah. I mean, as I said, Kool and the Gang has a new album out called "People Just Want To Have Fun." Let's play a little bit of that here. I think the song is called "Let's Party."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S PARTY")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Let's party. Let's party. Let's party right now. Let's party right now. Let's party.
RASCOE: How do you and the rest of the band create music now versus earlier in your career? Has the process changed?
BROWN: It's changed quite a bit, but we still do some of the old-fashioned ways of writing the music and performing it. We get everybody in the studio still - drums, real horns, real piano, real everything. We might take a loop on some of them to lock it up a little bit, but that's about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE PARTY")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) We are the party. We bring the party. We make the party go.
RASCOE: In your memoir, you also talk about some of the challenges of fame - a struggle with prescription drugs and depression. How were you able to balance some really kind of heavy burdens and still maintain your spark for, as you said, like, happy music, upbeat music?
BROWN: Because that's what we do. You know, when it was time to go on stage, it's, OK, let's become Kool and the Gang. You know, that's what we do. So when it was time to do, we did it.
RASCOE: Yeah. And all the other stuff - you put it to the side?
BROWN: Yeah, everything else goes to the side.
RASCOE: Because I did want to ask you about that because there have been a lot of band members in the Gang over the years. Is it difficult to be dealing with a band and have to deal with other people? And then, are you driven by the chemistry of making music with a particular group of people, or is it something else?
BROWN: It's the chemistry. If the chemistry is there, bingo, it works. And you want to make it happen, and you want to see people happy, and you want to be successful with it. And you want to help create a culture, a world culture, where people come together with that music. That music is bringing people together and making this one-world culture greater than it was before.
And when you do music that's happy music, that's what it does. It brings people to the clubs to have a good time. And that's what we do. We say our prayer before we leave, and we say, let's go make some people happy.
(SOUNDBITE OF KOOL AND THE GANG SONG, "HOLLYWOOD SWINGING")
RASCOE: That was George Brown of Kool and the Gang. The Gang is out with a new album called "People Just Want To Have Fun." It came out earlier this month, along with George Brown's memoir called "Too Hot: Kool And The Gang And Me." Thank you so much for joining us, and thanks for getting me up on the dance floor all these years.
BROWN: Yes, yes, yes.
RASCOE: Thank you.
KOOL AND THE GANG: Blessings.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLLYWOOD SWINGING")
KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Hollywood, Hollywood swinging. I remember, not too long ago, I went to a theater, and I saw the Kool and the Gang show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.