Influenced by the likes of Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Jack DeJohnette, among all the great jazz drummers of the time
Drummer George “Funky” Brown, along with Robert “Kool” Bell on bass, his brother Ronald Bell on tenor and lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor, was one of the main songwriters in their pop/R&B band Kool & The Gang, whose classic hits like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Celebration,” “Get Down on It” and “Joanna” made for a novel and immensely successful pop-funk groove in the 1970s and ‘80s. Such songs have been featured in films (“Jungle Boogie” was in Pulp Fiction while “Summer Madness” appeared in Rocky) and have been sampled countless times by artists including DJ Kool, Mase, Too Short, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, N.W.A., Kris Kross and Jermaine Dupri.
Jersey City, N.J. native Brown used to bang on things with butter knives when he was a child, and was later influenced by the likes of Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Jack DeJohnette, among all the great jazz drummers of the time. He and future Kool & The Gang keyboardist Ricky West lived in the same building, and West introduced him to the band’s future saxophonist and musical director Ronald Bell and future trumpeter Robert Mickens, and soon they were playing in clubs six nights a week in a jazz band while still in high school.
In 1964, Bell and his bother Ronald Bell (keyboards), Mickens, Dennis “D.T.” Thomas (saxophone), West, Brown and Charles Smith (guitar) were performing together in an instrumental jazz and soul group called the Jazziacs. After playing clubs in New York City under various names--and serving as backup in a Motown covers band--they became Kool & the Gang in 1969, and have since played jazz, soul, funk, rock and pop music, but struck commercial success in 1973 with their album Wild and Peaceful, which yielded the Top 10 hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.” Brown’s drumming on those early Kool & the Gang recordings, meanwhile, became heavily sampled 20 years later by countless hip-hop artists.
After adding vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor and partnering with Brazilian composer/producer Eumir Deodato, the group struck gold from 1979 and 1986 with major, self-written hits like “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna,” “Cherish” and the chart-topping “Celebration,” with the 1984 album Emergency selling two million copies. “Celebration” was later used in national media coverage of the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl, the 1981 NBA Championship, and the 1981 return of the Iran hostages.
Brown, with Kool & the Gang, has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame--and there’s a street in Jersey City named in their honor. The Grammy-winning group has received the Soul Train Legend Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.