Do you remember the first time you ever heard Earth, Wind & Fire? Do you remember smiling, singing along, shaking your rump or cuddling with your loved one while listening to their albums?
Do you remember the energetic rhythms, sultry love songs, feel-good vibes and lyrics that were intelligent, positive and uplifting? Do you remember the vocal interplay between Philip Bailey’s highs and Maurice White’s lows, propulsive bursts of funk from the horn section, sophisticated instrumentation and complex arrangements?
Do you remember the first time you saw them in concert?
Do you remember the full spectrum of vibrant colors, masterful musicianship and extraordinary theatrics?
Do you remember the purity and spiritual elements that always seemed to elevate your mood and expand your consciousness? And here we are, a breath away from entering a new millennium, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s music is as timely and timeless as ever.
History.. Maurice White knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish when the Memphis-born, Chicago-reared drummer left his gig as a member of renowned jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis’ quartet and session drummer for the famed Chess Records. Simply put, he wanted to form a band that abolished the lines between musical genres. He wanted to be able to freely borrow from all styles of music without regard to convention. “Although we were basically jazz musicians, we played soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and dance music which somehow ended up becoming pop,” Maurice recalled. “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. We were coming out of a decade of experimentation, mind expansion and Cosmic awareness and I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners spiritual content.”
After heading west to Los Angeles, Maurice coaxed his younger brother Verdine, then nineteen, to join him. Verdine was a classically trained bassist who previously had never been outside of Chicago. The first grouping initially took the name “The Salty Peppers.” Maurice renamed the band Earth, Wind & Fire, which he took from his astrological chart (he’s a Sagittarian – no water). At first, EWF was loose and somewhat unfocused. They even tried unsuccessfully using female singers in the mix. After his vision wasn’t quite realized on two 1971 albums for Warner Brothers Records, Maurice demolished the band to its foundation and rebuilt the unit, adding a four-octave singer-percussionist from Denver named Philip Bailey and a drummer-percussionist-vocalist from Los Angeles named Ralph Johnson. Verdine stuck around. Good thing.
Beginning to gel… Maurice’s charismatic tenor and Philip’s stratospheric falsetto helped chisel the band’s vocal identity. The two fit together and complimented one another remarkably well. In the studio, Maurice floated a thicket of elaborate vocal arrangements over a stream of musical rivers. Philip brought an innate sense of melody to their songwriting efforts.
Earth, Wind & Fire created the soundtrack to a pioneering black film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song,” then promptly switched to Columbia Records, which became the home for so many of Earth, Wind & Fire’s classics. The albums “Last Days and Time,” “Head To The Sky” and “Open Our Eyes” propelled the group onto the radio and were backed with concert dates wherever they could play including clubs, colleges and theatres. An underground following began to amass. It was a soundtrack to an ill-fated film that busted them wide open. “That’s The Way Of The World,” was a total stiff at the box office (twice), but it did huge business at record stores. Earth, Wind & Fire got their first #1 single (“Shining Star”), first Grammy Award and first double platinum sales award. They were just getting started.
Music in motion… “Gratitude”, “Spirit” and “All ‘n All” made Earth, Wind & Fire superstars. Hit singles began to flow like the missing element – “Can’t Hide Love,” “Gratitude,” “Fantasy,” “Getaway” and “Got To Get You Into My Life,” an imaginative cover of The Beatles tune for a film. Grammy nominations and wins. Gold, platinum and double platinum sales plaques. Ceaseless international touring. Writing and recording new albums while at soundcheck or in hotel rooms and studios on off-days. The pace was frenetic, the band prolific. “The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1,” “I Am,” “Faces,” “Raise!” and “Powerlight” proffered hits “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “After The Love Has Gone,” “In The Stone” and “Let’s Groove.”