George Brown is grateful for the love.
As the esteemed drummer and percussionist for the Grammy Award winning band Kool & the Gang reflects on his career in music, he really wants to thank the fans who have supported the music group across the globe all of these years. “It’s become generational,” Brown said during our phone interview. “Love and blessings to you all.”
Over the course of our conversation, Brown shares the creative inspirations behind his upcoming book Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me, Kool’s upcoming new album People Just Wanna Have Fun, and how weed inspired the group to push the boundaries of what’s possible and expand creatively into uncharted territory.
High Times: Growing up in Jersey City, what was your first introduction to music?
George Brown: Gloria Lynne, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Count Basie—there were so many that were my introduction to music, and of course, the pop music of that day.
High Times: Was there a distinct moment where you realized music was something you wanted to pursue?
George Brown: There was no distinct moment, it was…the moment, I just knew it. As a child, I just knew it. I felt it, I heard it, and it was there.
I don’t think there’s any difference from the millions of musicians who have come before or those who you now feel it when you hear it.
Most musicians hear music in their heads. As a child, you probably hear the music, and at a certain point, you can experiment with it, even though you’re not playing an instrument. You can mentally manipulate it because it’s in your head. You can speed it up, slow it down, change the key, create different pitch patterns, make the strings do vibrato—you can make it all happen because it’s in your head.
If you’re writing it, you’re hearing it. Take any of the great songwriters—John Coltrane, Quincy Jones, Mozart—they’re hearing the music in their heads.
High Times: You hear it first, experience it internally, and then push it outward.
George Brown: Absolutely, and it can go the other way, too. You could be messing around on the keyboard, guitar, or horns—and then bingo. You got something that just came right out.
High Times: What gave you and your bandmates the confidence to follow the music in your heads and to choose that path?
George Brown: What else would you do if it’s in your head? It’s giving you patterns, melodic structure, and harmony. Where else would you go? Would you try to clear that out of your head and go someplace else? I don’t think that would work. It’s actually directing you, “Hey, do this.”
High Times: But you still had a choice. You could have chosen not to answer the call.
George Brown: When it’s in your head like that, it’s not much of a choice. It’s telling you, “This is it.” It’s like the bandit with the gun, “Give me your money.”
High Times: So in many ways the music was leading you.
George Brown: Absolutely.
High Times: Did you ever experience a moment validating that the decision to listen to the music in your head was the right choice?
George Brown: When you get a gold record or people are giving you great acclaim, you know the music in your head was giving you the right direction. You can’t deny that.
High Times: You have a new book coming out and Kool & the Gang has a new album coming out. What were the creative inspirations for both?
George Brown: For the book—Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me—it was the journey [laughs].
You grow up in the ghetto, you do the things to move forward and help develop yourself as a musician or basketball player or academic—whatever it is to embellish oneself. You work hard, and then the journey of life that we go through—the ups, downs, ins and outs, marriages, non-marriages, pains and things, slings and arrows, outrageous fortune—all of that is in the book. Cautionary tales about “If you keep doing x, this will probably happen. If you do this, that will probably happen.”
When you’re putting your energy, your mind, and every piece of inspiration into an area of your life, eventually, it’s going to come to fruition because you put so much time and energy into it. It will happen.
It will start small and become larger and larger—but it will happen—and the book is about that. It’s also about all of the sufferings we go through, all of the happiness that we go through, and all of the relationships we get involved in—business wise, romantic wise.
Everybody goes out and thinks “she’s the one” or “he’s the one,” and it doesn’t turn out that way. Everybody receives a heartbreak. There are so many avenues of life that this industry—which is the heartbreak industry—teaches you a lesson in. When things don’t go quite right, you learn a lesson. You learn a spiritual, physical, and financial lesson—and all of that is in the book.
High Times: Do you view relationships—business, romantic, or otherwise—as tools for growth?
George Brown: Relationships are tools for growth. That’s why the creator puts them in peoples’ lives. We find each other through a bunch of cogs. If you join this organization, you become one of the cogs. That cog moves you through to another cog—you see what I’m saying, right? It’s like a clock. Then you run into another person or another cog—and it works for a while. Maybe one of their hinges breaks, or one of yours falls down and it just won’t move and you have to find a way to move on…when here comes another cog that actually moves you. It’s all for your personal, spiritual, physical growth. When you look back on it all, you go, “Man, I’ve grown from that.”
Life is a school of pain and sorrow, and we learn love and compassion through it. That’s the way you learn love and compassion. If it was just all love, how do you get to learn love? Love and compassion come from pain and suffering.
High Times: Are these learnings and life reflections we’re talking about something you guys have put into the new Kool & the Gang record?
George Brown: Absolutely, and that’s why we call it People Just Wanna Have Fun. When you break it down, people just want to have fun. I don’t mean that as a commercial, people just want to live and be happy.
You see people running away from their countries all over the world for asylum and for a better way. That’s what the album is about: Peace, happiness, humanity, and we infused that into each song.
The single “Let’s Party” is about having a good time. “Heaven’s Gift” is whatever heaven’s gift means to you—whether it’s a newborn child, a wedding, or a healing. We’ve got “99 Miles to JC,” which is our hometown [Jersey City], and it’s us speaking about the love for our hometown on our way back from being on the road. It’s purely instrumental and you get to see the depth of musicianship of Kool & the Gang—the jazz part of Kool & the Gang.
Also on the album, you hear gospel harmonies, which we never really used, and you hear Sha Sha [Jones] singing lead. We never had a female lead singer, so it’s just brand new in so many aspects.
High Times: So those are some of the creative influences on the new album. How has cannabis played a role in your creativity?
George Brown: It’s provided me with the element of growth and has helped me exceed certain boundaries that Kool & the Gang were always held to. We’ve broken those boundaries.
We’ve always been very eclectic, we’ve always taken bits and parts from different styles of music. It was never the same genre, and the audience has always followed through with us.
There are still more boundaries to exceed as well.
High Times: You’re saying the plant has helped you see different possibilities, which then allowed you to exceed what you as a band set out to do.
George Brown: Absolutely.
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