Success didn’t come quickly for the Wilson brothers. Their first two albums didn’t chart, and there were no hit singles either. Then they met producer Lonnie Simmons, and things began to change. Simmons signed them to his Total Experience Records label, which was distributed by Mercury/Polygram.
When they signed with Simmons, there were 12 members of the Gap Band. The first order of business was to dump most of them. The second was to finally have a hit record. The first album that Simmons produced for them spawned hits like “I’m In Love,” and “Shake” in 1979. The next year they released the appropriately titled Gap Band II, and “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)” became a #4 hit on the R&B chart. “Steppin’ (Out),” from the same album, also went Top Ten R&B, and Gap Band II became the band’s first gold album.
It was in 1980 that the band got really hot. It was that year that they released another imaginatively titled album called Gap Band III. It was an album that topped the R&B chart and crossed over to #16 on the Billboard albums chart. On Gap Band III the Wilson brothers successfully combined soulful “quiet storm” hits like “Yearning For Your Love,” and “Are You Living,” with undeniable funk like “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me),” which reached #1 on the R&B chart, and “Humpin’.”
Two years later they did it all over again with Gap Band IV, which once again topped the R&B chart. Three enormous hit singles could be found on the album. The first of these was “Early in the Morning”, which was #1 R&B, #13 on the Dance chart, and #24 on the Hot 100. The song was written by Charlie Wilson, along with Simmons and co-producer Rudy Taylor. It was a hit all over again when Robert Palmer covered it in 1988. In fact, Palmer’s version did even better on the Hot 100 chart, reaching #18.
The hits didn’t stop there however. The Gap Band’s single, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” was another smash. The record #2 on the R&B chart, and #31 on the Hot 100. The final smash from Gap Band IV was “Outstanding” which took the band back to the top of the R&B chart.
Gap Band IV was the peak for the Gap Band. Their next album, Gap Band V: Jammin’, went gold, but didn’t do quite as well as the previous efforts. Even so there so pretty sizable hits contained within, including “Party Train” (#3 R&B), and “Jam the Motha (#16 R&B),” but neither single crossed over to the pop chart.
Although Gap Band VI returned the band to the top of the R&B chart, it didn’t sell well enough to go gold. There were three more R&B hits on the album however: “Beep a Freak” (#2), “I Found My Baby” (#8), and “Disrespect” (#18). Gap Band VII included a hit cover of “Going In Circles,” but was the first Gap Band album to miss the Billboard top 100 albums in several years. Gap Band VIII contained the UK chart hit “Big Fun.”
The next Gap Band album, no, not Gap Band IX but Straight From the Heart, was their last for Total Experience. They had a hit with the title track to the Keenan Ivory Wayans film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and signed with Capitol Records. There they had their final #1 R&B hit with “All of My Love” from the Round Trip album. “Addicted to Your Love” and “We Can Make it Alright” from the same album also found R&B chart success.
The band left Capitol in 1990 and decided to take a five year break from recording new material. There were three more studio albums and two live albums in the ’90s, but only one live album, Live & Well, charted.
“Outstanding” is to date one of the most sampled songs in history. Samples from the song have been used by over 150 artists. Artists who have sampled and covered Gap Band songs include Ashanti, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Blackstreet, and Mary J. Blige.
The Gap Band were without a doubt one of the most influential funk bands ever, and one of the most important acts of any genre in the ’80s.
A heart attack took Robert Wilson on August 15, 2010.