Kool & Together – Forever

Detroit black rockers Death, look out

Kool & Together – Forever

Black rock Texas funk outfit Kool & Together hits the Continental Club Saturday night for its fifth show in more than 30 years. A band of brothers from tiny Victoria in the Seventies, they were all but forgotten until Noel Waggener's local Heavy Light Records unearthed 19 master tapes and issued them last fall as Original Recordings 1970-1977.

We spoke with band leader Charles Sanders, Jr. in advance of Kool & Together's performance. It didn't take much to get the 58-year-old bassist to open up.

Austin Chronicle: We're looking forward to the gig, and I assume that you guys are too.

Charles Sanders, Jr.: Oh man, we're like caged animals here. We're cocked, blocked, and ready to rock. We're still kind of put off by last year. We were supposed to do South by Southwest last year with the Relatives, but we heard about some sound ordinance where we were playing and weren't able to perform. We're kind of upset about that.

We had a few other things, but I told the guys that we just need to keep practicing. We'd been out of it for a while aside from our playing at church. Our guitarist Johnny Ray [Barefield] is constantly playing. I told the guys, we just need to keep practicing and honing in on our musician skills and getting better.

We're a much better group than we were when we played the Continental Club [in October]. Much better. We're tighter. We enjoy it more. We're looser.

On our record, I was playing guitar, and I was playing all those wah-wah pedals and stuff. Since it was a family-oriented band, we would get people trading out from guitar to bass to drums. I could never hone in on my skills to get really good. So I decided to stick with the bass and got a call from my church. That's when I started playing bass.

Johnny Ray, he's extraordinary on guitar. He's one of the best guitar players I've ever seen.

Like I said, the guys are really into it. They want to continue to perform and play. Hopefully, we'll cut another album.

AC: Something new.

CS: We're in it for the haul. The main thing we want to do is let the people know that we're a good band – a good rock band. That black rock Texas funk, it's a black band playing rock, and we add that funk to it. The guitar is basically on strong chords, and that's what I like. I've always wanted to play in a rock band. Rock is in my heart. Metal, that's what I listen to.

I'm a rock guy. I'm a rock head. It's something that resonates with me with those hard-driving chords. With my brother Joe, he's a good drummer. And Tyler, he's in on congas. It's a unique sound and it's always been a unique sound.

When we came out, we had the show that goes with it – the lights, the fog, the electrical bills [laughs]. All that crap. When we went to play those clubs and did that stuff, people would look at us and be like, “What the hell is going on? We got these black guys up here doing these devastating chords and are loud.”

We played the Lincoln Center. We got in and were really tired. But we go in there and they've got everything set up. We kick in, and we just kind of crank it. The people there were saying, "I think you have to turn it down." I go, "What? This is just the soundcheck! We're not loud yet." So we start to soundcheck again and they ask us to turn it down a little bit more. I go, "You're kidding!"

We were bummed out, because loud is it. I like to play loud. I like loud music.

Finally, we started performing, and I had been told that New York folks, they're kind of stuffy, so if they don't get up.... That's what we were told in the green room: If they don't get up and clap with you guys, don't feel bad. They'll still like you.

So we go out and perform a couple songs, and by the third song, we've got people standing in the aisles and screaming and stuff. We're used to performing and getting people involved. Like I said, we're ready to go.

My daughter Candice Sanders is going to be performing with us, and my daughter Constance. And I've got two daughters here, Caitlin and Chelsea, and they're going to be singing backup, with Candice playing keyboards.

We're ready to go. We're so excited.

AC: When was that show at the Lincoln Center?

CS: Oh, wow. I'll have to ask my wife, man. That was last year in December, I think it was. That was the first time I'd ever been on a plane. I said I'd never get on a plane. We're on the plane and we're up there, and I'm going, “I'm not so crazy about this." Because when I go, I want to go on land.

But the Lincoln Center was a phenomenal show. As a matter of fact, we just called them and might have the opportunity to go back. We just just contacted them. We had emails and contact, and they had emailed us right back. When we left, they had talked about it, so I'm hoping. But right now, we're going to take it one show at a time. Right now, it's Austin.

I'm not used to the email stuff right now. When I was doing it back in the day, you call the owner of the club and talk to him. But my daughter tells me everything is done by email. We have to get acquainted with doing stuff on email. I'm old school. All this new stuff on the Internet, it's....

I want to hit Antone's bad, but I don't know how to get anyone at Antone's.

We want to let the people know that Texas has some badass music and that black folks can play rock as well as anything else. We got that rock sound that we call black rock Texas funk, but we can jib and jab with the best of them.

What we're trying to do is get back, because this will be our fifth show since we started performing again.

Excuse me for talking to much. This was my old man's dream. Charles Sanders, God rest his soul. This was his dream, and his kids; we're a little older, a little wiser.

It used to be in the old days that I could remember a song. Now, I have a pad and pencil at my bed at night and a tape recorder. Three, four o'clock in the morning, a song hits me, I write the lyrics down and then get a guitar and try to put the music on tape, or hum a couple bars so I don't forget it.

The music is back with us. It's in my heart. It's in my brothers' hearts. All we want to do is play for the folks, give them that good sound and that good feeling. Let 'em rock!

AC: One more question: how old are you?

CS: I'm 58.

AC: Okay, good.

  CS: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for this interview. Thank you so much.

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More Kool & Together
Sittin' on a Red Hot Stove
Sittin' on a Red Hot Stove
A Q&A with Charles Sanders, Jr. of Kool & Together

Thomas Fawcett, Oct. 6, 2011

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Kool & Together, Charles Sanders, Jr, Lincoln Center, Johnny Ray Barefield, Noel Waggener, Heavy Light Records, Continental Club, Antone's

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