The Gap Band was an American R&B and funk band which rose to fame during the 1970s and 1980s. Composed of brothers Charlie, Ronnie, and Robert Wilson, the band first formed as the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band in 1967, in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The group shortened its name to The Gap Band in 1973. After 43 years together, they retired in 2010.
After having grown up with a Pentecostal minister father, Ronnie Wilson formed the Greenwood, Archer, and Pine Street Band in 1967, with Tuck Andress (later of Tuck and Patti), Roscoe "Toast" Smith, and Chris Clayton. In 1972, Ronnie's younger brother Charlie joined the band, and in 1973, their younger brother Robert became the band's bassist. Eventually, the band would be condensed to a trio composed of Ronnie, Robert, and Charlie Wilson.
Early on, the group took on a funk sound reminiscent of the early 70s. This style failed to catch on, and their first two LP's, 1974's Magician's Holiday and 1977's The Gap Band (not to be confused with their 1979 album) failed to chart or produce any charting singles. However, they were introduced to LA producer Lonnie Simmons, who signed them to his record label, Total Experience Records. Simmons had recently gotten a distribution deal with Mercury/PolyGram.
When Lonnie signed them, the group had twelve musicians. The group dropped most of their personnel. Raymond Calhoun (writer of "Outstanding"), Oliver Scott (co-writer of "Yearning For Your Love"), and arranger/producer Malvin Dino Vice (co-writer of "Boys Are Back in Town") were retained as members of the backing band and contributed substantially to the Gap Band's later recordings. On their first Simmons-produced album, The Gap Band, they found chart success with songs such as "I'm in Love" and "Shake"; the latter became a Top 10 R&B hit in 1979.
Later that year, the group released "I Don't Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)" on their album The Gap Band II. Although it did not hit the Hot 100, it soared to #4 R&B, and the album went gold. The song, and the band's musical output as a whole, became more P-Funk-esque, with expanded use of the synthesizers and spoken monologues within songs (see audio sample). The song "Steppin' (Out)" also reached the top 10 R&B.
Charlie and Ronnie provided background vocals on Stevie Wonder's 1980 hit "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It" from Wonder's album Hotter Than July (1980).
The band reached a whole new level of fame in 1980 with the release of the #1 R&B and #16 Billboard 200 hit, The Gap Band III. The band adopted a formula of quiet storm ballads (such as the #5 R&B song "Yearning for Your Love" and "Are You Living") supported by anthemic funk songs (such as the R&B chart-topper "Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)" and "Humpin'"). They repeated this formula on the #1 R&B album Gap Band IV in 1982, which resulted in three hit singles: "Early in the Morning" (#1 R&B, #13 Dance, #24 Hot 100), "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" (#2 R&B, #31 Hot 100, #39 Dance), and "Outstanding" (#1 R&B, #24 Dance). It was during this time that former Brides of Funkenstein singer Dawn Silva joined them on tour.
Their 1983 effort, Gap Band V: Jammin', went gold, but was not quite as successful as the previous works, peaking at #2 R&B and #28 on the Billboard 200. The single "Party Train" peaked at #3 R&B, and the song "Jam the Motha'" peaked at #16 R&B, but neither made it onto the Hot 100. The album's closer "Someday" (a loose cover of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free") featured Stevie Wonder as a guest vocalist.
Their next work, Gap Band VI brought them back to #1 R&B in 1985, but the album sold fewer copies and did not go gold. "Beep a Freak" hit #2 R&B, "I Found My Baby" peaked at #8 on the R&B charts, and "Disrespect" peaked at #18. That year, lead singer Charlie Wilson provided backing vocals on Zapp & Roger's #2 R&B "Computer Love".
While their 1986 cover of "Going in Circles" went to #2 on the R&B charts, and the album it was released on, Gap Band VII, hit #6 R&B, the album almost became their first in years to miss the Billboard 200, peaking at a mere #159.
While they were beginning to struggle stateside, the group found their greatest success in the UK when their 1987 single "Big Fun" from Gap Band 8 reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart. 1988's Straight from the Heart was their last studio album with Total Experience.
The Gap Band caught a small break in 1988 with the Keenan Ivory Wayans film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. They contributed the non-charting "You're So Cute" and the #14 R&B title track to the film (The first was not on the soundtrack, but was used in the film). Their first song on their new label, Capitol Records, 1989's "All of My Love" (from their album Round Trip), is, to date, their last #1 R&B hit. The album also produced the #8 R&B "Addicted to Your Love" and the #18 R&B ""We Can Make it Alright." They left Capitol Records the next year and went on a five year hiatus from producing new material.
During the 1990s, the band released three non-charting studio albums and two live albums. The only album to chart was the live album Live & Well, which peaked at #54 R&B in 1996.
In 1992, Charlie ventured into a solo career and has had several moderate R&B hits on his own. Wilson's vocals were credited in part for inspiring the vocal style of New Jack Swing artists Guy, Aaron Hall, Keith Sweat, and R. Kelly. The band reunited in 1996, and issued The Gap Band: Live and Well, a live greatest hits album.
On August 26, 2005, The Gap Band was honored as a BMI Icon at the 57th annual BMI Urban Awards. The honor is given to a creator who has been "a unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers."Outstanding" alone remains one of the most sampled songs in history and has, astonishingly, been used by over 150 artists.
Robert Wilson died of a heart attack at his home in Palmdale, California on August 15, 2010.
"Outstanding" was sampled for a 1990s malt liquor commercial.
Since the 1990s, many of The Gap Band's hits have been sampled and covered by R&B and hip hop artists such as II D Extreme, 69 Boyz, Ashanti, Big Mello, Blackstreet, Mary J. Blige, Da Brat, Ice Cube, Jermaine Dupri, Mia X, Nas, Shaquille O'Neal, Snoop Dogg, Soul For Real, and Vesta. Other musicians inspired by The Gap Band include Guy, Aaron Hall, Jagged Edge, Mint Condition, R. Kelly, Ruff Endz, Keith Sweat, and D'Extra Wiley.
Hit producer Heavy D sampled "Outstanding" for his the hit single by his boy band prodigies Soul For Real, titled "Every Little Thing", which reached #17 on the Hot 100 Charts at the time of release.
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Image from Discogs