Pop music fans may only remember the group Klymaxx for a couple of irresistibly sweet love ballads, but Soul and Funk music aficionados know Klymaxx as one of the pioneering female bands, a unique act that enjoyed nearly a decade of critical and commercial acclaim.
Formed in the late 70s as one of the first all female soul/funk groups, Klymaxx came out of the box with an in-your-face attitude and a funky sound that was both sexy and musically interesting. Consisting of Bernadette Cooper (vocals, drums), Joyce Irby (bass, vocals), Cheryl Cooley (guitar), Ann Williams (guitar), Robbin Grider (synthesizers), Lynn Malsby (keyboards), Lorena Porter (vocals), and Judy Takeuchi (percussion), Klymaxx had a certain obvious novelty value in the male-dominated world of Funk. But it was their stage presence and sense of melody and fun that brought them to the attention of SOLAR Records head Dick Griffey, who signed the group in 1981 after hearing them perform the Cooper/Cooley composition "Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman." As Cooper put it in an interview with SoulTracks, "We worked to have a positive message about women feeling sexy and good about themselves."
Unfortunately, the SOLAR signing didn't result in immediate success. Klymaxx toiled in relative obscurity through their first couple albums, Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman and Girls Will Be Girls, landing a minor hit with the single "Never Underestimate" but failing to gather steam despite working with members of Lakeside and future hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Some felt that the group's sound and look may have been ahead of its time. More likely, problems were related to SOLAR's distribution problems, which also negatively affected releases around that time by the label's flagship stars, the Whispers and Shalamar. But maybe the biggest issue was that there was the seed of a revolutionary female R&B band that was inadvertantly being confined into a sound and an attitude of a male-dominated industry.
That would all change with 1984's Meeting In the Ladies Room, Klymaxx's most polished disc to date, and importantly the first disc produced by the band itself. Despite losing Williams and Takeuchi, the remaining members of the group created one of the most engaging, fun funk albums of the year, and landed top ten R&B hits with "The Men All Pause" and the title track. But the song that brought the most acclaim was "I Miss You," a gorgeous ballad highlighted by Irby's plaintive vocals. It hit the top of the Pop charts and made Klymaxx a hot commodity.
The group immediately attempted to build on the momentum, recording their next disc, Klymaxx, with the help of some of the hottest names in popular music. Rod Temperton (Michael Jackson, Heatwave) provided them with the infectious dance cut "Man Size Love," which again brought crossover success, and a young Babyface gave them "I'd Still Say Yes," a sweet ballad that was the logical successor to "I Miss You," and which included an excellent guest performance by labelmate Howard Hewett.
Sadly, on the brink of stardom, internal band problems took their toll, resulting in the departure of the most visible member, Cooper, as well as Irby and Malsby. As Cooper says, "In a group, every decision is made by committee. And it becomes difficult to always work in a group setting when you see your own destiny and you are personally growing." Cooley, Hardiman and Gridder took the lead for Klymaxx's next album, 1990's The Maxx Is Back. It yielded the hit single "Good Love," but the album stalled on the charts.
Klymaxx soon split, though a few members of the group worked with Irby on the album One Day, in 1997. Various members of Klymaxx continued in the music industry after the break-up. Cooper had a successful singing and production career (including the notable solo hit "I Look Good"), and Irby remained active behind the scenes (including working with R&B artist Lloyd). Some friction among the former members of Klymaxx occurred when Cooley began performing on the road with a new group under the Klymaxx moniker and issuing a live album covering many of Klymaxx's biggest hits.
VH1 came calling on the band in 2003 to join back together on the series Bands Reunited. While the group performed admirably, personal sparks flew, particularly over the use of the band name. But the show instigated a more permanent reunion of Cooper and Irby to tour again as Klymaxx with new touring band members. Cooley remained outside of the original band, touring again with her group and later with a new all-female group, Unruley Cooley. Unruley Cooley released an eponymous debut EP in early 2007, featuring a diverse set of songs that touch on rock, Latin, and straight up funk music.
The Cooper and Irby-led Klymaxx issued an album in 2009. Cooper described the new recordings as "fresh." "We've kept the vibe and the sexiness, but with a more mature feel to it. We have a broader perspective because we've experienced so much more as women since our earlier albums." Their hope is that longtime female fans -- and the daughters of those fans -- will find a lot to like in the new sounds of Klymaxx.
Now, more than a decade later, Cooley continues with her version of Klymaxx, and Irby also fronts a version of the group. Cooper remains prolific as a solo act, regularly releasing singles.
In the end, while the trials of the group Klymaxx too often took center stage, there is much more to celebrate in the triumphs of a group of women who rose to the top in a male-oriented scene and set the stage for the next generation of female stars, from En Vogue to Destiny's Child, and in the process created for themselves a permanent spot of glory in the R&B annals.
By Chris Rizik