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George Brown of Kool & The Gang on party music, his memoir and the band's new album

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Kool & The Gang has never really needed a reason to party, but it certainly got one last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELEBRATION")

KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Celebrate good times, come on. It's a celebration. Celebrate good times, come on.

RASCOE: After 60 years moving and grooving and giving us all reason to get down, the band will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET DOWN ON IT")

KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Tell me. Get down on it. Get down on it. Get down on it. Get down on it. Come on...

RASCOE: Kool & The Gang is still active, though there's just one original member now, Robert "Kool" Bell. He told Rolling Stone last week that as excited as he is about the honor, it was bittersweet. In November, drummer and keyboardist, George "Funky" Brown, died at the age of 74, just a few months after the band released their newest album, "People Just Want To Have Fun." George Brown had also written a memoir, "Too Hot: Kool & The Gang & Me." When I talked with him last summer, I asked him about how he wrote songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GEORGE BROWN: 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. Yeah. Ladies' night.

RASCOE: Yeah.

BROWN: Things got too hot for me, man, I had to get out of there.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

(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: So you grew up in Jersey City, N.J., and that's where you met many of the band members when you 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 the inner city, meaning, you know, the minority and the hardship. 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. 'Cause the older musicians back then said, boy, 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 & The Gang sound? How would you define that?

BROWN: Sound of happiness.

RASCOE: I mean, as I said, Kool & 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, get on down. Let's party. Let's party, get on down. Oh. Oh.

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. We are the party. We bring the party...

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, OK, let's become Kool & The Gang, you know? That's what we do. So when it was time to do, we did it.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Yeah. And all the other stuff you put it to the side?

BROWN: Yeah. Everything else goes to the side.

RASCOE: 'Cause 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. 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 the late Kool & The Gang drummer and keyboardist, George Brown, talking to me last July. He died from cancer just a few months later. This fall, Kool & The Gang will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLLYWOOD SWINGING")

KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Hollywood, Hollywood swinging. I remember... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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