June 20, 2006 – Claydes “Charles” Smith (Kool & the Gang) was born on September 6, 1948 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was introduced to jazz guitar by his father at age 13, when in 1961, his father bought him a Kay Electric guitar at a pawnshop for $32.
Thomas Smith was so keen for his son to have a career in music that, in 1963, he financed the recording of the first single by Claydes & the Rhythms, the group the boy had formed with his schoolfriends George Brown (drums) and Richard Westfield (keyboards), although the end product – “I Can’t Go On Without You” – only served as a calling card for the embryonic band.
Claydes Smith left Lincoln High School in New Jersey in 1965 and, with Brown and Westfield, eventually joined forces with the Jazziacs, a group comprising the brothers Robert “Kool” Bell (bass) and Ronald Bell (saxophones, flute, keyboards), Robert ‘Spike’ Mickens (trumpet) and Dennis Thomas (alto sax), to become the Soul Town Revue.
In 1968, the group, now called Kool & the Flames, backed Walter Foster, a bus driver for James Brown, at an audition for the writer and producer Gene Redd. He wasn’t much taken with Foster but enjoyed the youngsters’ blend of jazz, soul and rhythm’n’blues. They used the title of their 1969 début single, an instrumental entitled “Kool & the Gang”, as their new moniker.
“Funky Stuff” (1973), “Jungle Boogie” (1974) and “Hollywood Swinging” (1974) crossed over from the R&B charts to the US Top Thirty but the group’s career seemed to be tapering off. In 1978, the Gang decided to broaden their mainstream appeal and recruited as lead vocalist James “JT” Taylor and also added Clifford Adams (trombone) and Kevin Bell (keyboards).
With the help of the Brazilian jazz-fusion keyboardist turned producer Eumir Deodato, their reinvention as a soulful group, equally able to fill dancefloors and write catchy, classy, radio-friendly singles, was complete. In 1979, Smith changed his first name to Charles. Smith shone on the million-selling albums Ladies’ Night and Celebrate! as well as on Something Special, As One and In the Heart which made the charts in the first half of the Eighties.
JT Taylor left in 1987 but returned in 1995 to help the Gang complete State of Affairs, their 22nd album. Following the departure of Mickens, Kool & the Gang were down to a nucleus of five original members when Smith was forced to take a sabbatical early in 2006, a sabbatical that sadly became permanent.
Equally adept at playing rhythm or lead, Smith co-wrote some of Kool & the Gang’s biggest hits, like “Joanna” (a US and UK No 2 in 1983), and provided singles such as “Love & Understanding (Come Together)” (1976), “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It” (1981) and “Stone Love” (1987) with their instantly recognizable grooves. He was also co-writer of others, including “Celebration,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Jungle Boogie.”
Illness forced him to stop touring with the group in January 2006. He passed away due to an unknown prolonged illness at age 57 on June 20, 2006.
“We’ve lost a member of our family, as well as an infinitely creative and gifted artist who was with the band from the very beginning,” band manager Tia Sinclair said in a statement.