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Kool and Together

Original Recordings 1970-77

(Heavy Light; US: 4 Oct 2011; UK: 10 Oct 2011)

They are pro-peace and anti-winoism.

If you’d been kicking around the humid vicinity of Texas’s 39th biggest city, Victoria, in the early ‘70s, you might have encountered a hard-working family funk band named either My Children +2 or Kool and Together. Patriarch Charles Sanders sang and managed between shifts at Dow Chemical, booking gigs and occasional recording sessions for himself and his three sons. Charles, Jr. switched off between bass and guitar, depending on which other local musicians the group could round up; Joe laid down some groovy but unexceptional time-keeping on the drums; while Tyrone played congas and hacked out vocals along with Dad. All told, they added up to something less than America’s 39th greatest funk band. In fact, their musical contributions don’t quite equal those of Victoria’s other favorite musical son, hick-hopper Cowboy Troy. (Did you know that guy’s got four albums out? And that’s not counting EPs!) On the other hand, one of Kool and Together’s singles is currently going for 100 bucks on eBay, so there’s that.


Only one side of that single, the Curtis Mayfield-y falsetto vamp “Hooked On Life”, appears on Heavy Light’s new compilation Original Recordings 1970-77. The A-side, “I Found You”, remains uncompiled, which guarantees this comp will satisfy only those ‘70s funk completists who aren’t too OCD about their hobby. We’ll see if people like that actually exist. For more casual funkateers who want to dig deeper, there are always dollar bins to scrounge, or Stones Throw’s fine Indianapolis-based comp The Funky 16 Corners. You could also check out reissues of Rodriguez or Betty Davis from Heavy Light’s parent label, Light In the Attic. Despite what the song titles claim, Original Recordings is far from the best way to Get Your Feet Off the Ground or Blow It Out Your Mind.


Not that Kool and Together were bad, exactly—they just weren’t that baaaaad. Best were singers Tyrone and Charles, Sr., who excelled at a kind of feral cool, with Tyrone squealing like an alto sax on the ‘73 single “Sittin’ on a Red Hot Stove”. The revolving door guitarists were accomplished, though their wah-saturated solos lacked any personality. (The liner notes compare the group to Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys—yeah, right.) And the rhythm section was solid but little else. In fact, most of these recordings sound like tight, clean demos, waiting for some crazy Dr. Funkenstein to spruce them up with sound effects and arrangements, until they could gleam like full-on Funk Songs. Or Rock Songs—anything beyond these templates for the real things.


You’ve gotta persevere to the later recordings, from ‘76 and ‘77, to hear spacier effects and fuller arrangments. “Better Days” has crazy falsetto voices playing off one another and stern snare drum fills; it’s a welcome jolt of life. And the demos that end the CD are raw, trebly garage-band funk. Just compare James Brown’s original “Hot Pants” with the Sanders family’s version. The J.B.s sound positively subtle, which is weird to say about a song like “Hot Pants”, but there it is—their instruments swirl and sting, and you get the sense that the song could float anywhere. Meanwhile, back in Texas, tambourine player Steve Thompson was screaming “HOT PANTS!!!” like Captain Beefheart scraping his voice off Joe’s cymbals—and Joe had a lot of cymbals. Bassist Doyle Baker and guitarist Charles, Jr. laid down the same generic funk licks over and over, but everybody played with such abandon, it’s easy to hear why they thought they had something. It’s just a shame they didn’t capture more of it on tape.

Rating:

Josh Langhoff is a church musician. He's written about music for The Village Voice, The Singles Jukebox, two EMP Pop Conferences, his church newsletter, his blogs Surfing in Babylon and The Flowtation Device, and the Burnside Writers Collective, where he also serves as music editor.


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