MAURICE WHITE REVEALS
As a young sessions drummer, Maurice White had appeared on hundreds of sessions recordings, for Etta James, Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart, and more. On the Top 40 hit single, "Rescue Me", by Fontella Bass she claims that it was driven by a crack rhythm section including drummer Maurice White (pre-Earth, Wind and Fire) and bassist Louis Satterfield, whose monster riffs are frequently credited with the song's success. So it was then that Maurice left his position, as Chess sessions drummer and joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1965. The gig lasted for several years, and then Maurice begin to development a rather interesting concept!
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 (a classically trained bassist) to join him in California. Verdine states, "I'll never forget it. Maurice called me in April and asked how I'd feel about going to California. I'd never been anywhere and I almost decided not to go. I was still in college. But literally that Saturday afternoon, June 6, 1970, I went from one life to another."
The first grouping initially took the name "The Salty Peppers." Maurice renamed the band Earth, Wind & Fire, which he took from his astrological chart. Founded in 1970 in Chicago by White and his brother Verdine, Earth, Wind & Fire released their self-titled debut on Warner Bros. a year later.
At first, Earth, Wind & Fire was loose and somewhat unfocused. The new group roster consisted of the members: Maurice White (kalimba), Verdine White (bass), Michael Beale (guitar and harmonica), Wade Flemmons (vocals), Sherry Scott (vocals), Alex Thomas (trombone), Chet Washington (tenor saxophone), Don Whitehead (keyboards), Leslie Dayton (trumpet), and Yackov Ben Israel (percussion) - embarked on a diffuse direction, embracing jazz, R&B and funk, as well as elements of Latin and ballad styles.
After the release of 1971's The Need of Love, the group disbanded and reformed with a fresher band, and rebuilt the unit, adding a four-octave singer-percussionist from Denver named Philip Bailey, a drummer-percussionist-vocalist from Los Angeles named Ralph Johnson, Ronnie Laws (saxophone, guitar), Larry Dunn (keyboards), Roland Battista (guitar) and Jessica Cleaves (vocals), and Verdine White (bass) rounded out the new members for Earth, Wind and Fire.
The new improved Earth, Wind & Fire left Warner Bros. for Columbia, releasing Last Days and Time and Head to the Sky in the two years following. After the departure, of Jessica Cleaves it was decided that the group had found its voice with 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.
The albums "Last Days and Time," "Head To The Sky" and "Open Our Eyes" propelled the group onto the radio backed with concert dates wherever they could play including clubs, colleges and theatres. The 1973 album entitled, “Open Our Eyes” features the number #10 R & B hit single, “Mighty, Mighty, which shows off the development of Earth, Wind & Fire's signature sound, mixing Motown harmony and '70s funk with African kalimba music.
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.
White's interest in Egyptology and mysticism provided a visual platform for the expanded group, particularly in their striking live performances. The elements 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. The band also appeared in the 1978 movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 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 frantic, 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."
During the mid to late seventies, Maurice wrote and produced hits by Ramsey Lewis, Deniece Williams and The Emotions (three opening acts for The Fire on tour at one point). Earth, Wind & Fire took a much-needed break to finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor in 1983 after nearly twelve years of non-stop recording and touring.
Individually they explored other avenues of musical expression. Maurice released a successful solo disc and produced superstars Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. Philip made several gospel records including a Grammy winner. "Easy Lover" was his smash international pop single, which was a duet with Phil Collins, who had been borrowing Earth, Wind & Fire's famed horn section for his and Genesis' recordings and tours. Verdine produced an album for British pop funksters Level 42. The time apart did them good. They were reinvigorated.
In 1987, Earth, Wind & Fire (a slim-line core quintet: Maurice and Verdine White, Andrew Woolfork, Sheldon Reynolds and Philip Bailey) came charging back with "Touch The World," paced by the hit single, "System of Survival," followed by a second volume of greatest hits. The albums, “Heritage” (featured cameos from rapper M.C. Hammer and Sly Stone) and a collector's dream box set, "The Eternal Dance," arrived in the early 1990's. The group returned to Warner Bros. and released Millennium in 1993.
The "Millennium" album brought another Grammy nomination in 1994, their fourteenth to date, for the single "Sunday Morning." In 1996, Maurice decided to unpack and get off the road after thirty years of touring. Maurice's farewell performances (Recorded during a Japanese tour in 1996) were captured for posterity on "Greatest Hits Live." The group, lead by Philip, Verdine, and Ralph keep the rhythm strong. Maurice continues to produce and sing on Earth, Wind & Fire's recordings.
While the band played show after show, Maurice built a state-of-the-art recording studio (Magnet Vision) and produced several compelling jazz projects including a pair of all-star "Urban Knights" albums, which feature his old mentor Ramsey Lewis collaborating with Grover Washington Jr., Gerald Albright, Jonathan Butler and others. He also unveiled a boutique record label called, what else, Kalimba Records. "Some people still don't understand my decision fully (to get off the road)," Maurice, stated. "I'm focusing on the next phase of my career. With what I'm doing now, I'm still able to be creative and fully express what I'm feeling musically."
Year after year, tours after tour, concert venues worldwide are packed with fans that converge upon Earth, Wind & Fire shows. The warm feelings of love that permeate the celebratory concert extravaganzas exude from both the band and the audience and have forged a lasting bond. VH1 and HBO have both aired a pair of concert performances over the last few years and Earth, Wind & Fire has appeared on numerous television shows including NBC's "Today," "Oprah" and "Rosie O'Donnell Show." Since their inception, Earth, Wind & Fire has won six Grammys and four American Music Awards while selling over 20 million albums in the U.S. alone. They have been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, collected a Hall of Fame Image Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and been honored with the prestigious ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Heritage Award.
"I wanted to create a band and a library of music that would stand the test of time," reflected Maurice. "What makes Earth, Wind & Fire different is that Cosmic Consciousness is a key component of our work. Educating and expanding people's awareness and uplifting their spirits is so important in this day and age.
It's so tough out there and people are looking for more. They want more, and without sounding preachy, I hope our music can give them something positive…some encouragement and peace."
On August 21, 2001, the group released their brand new documentary called, “Shining Stars: The Official Story”, on VHS and DVD. This film documentary chronicles the last thirty-years of the group. In September, of 2001, Earth, Wind & Fire launched a new worldwide tour. On July 30, 2002, Earth, Wind & Fire released "That's The Way of the World 75". In January 14, 2003, Earth, Wind & Fire will release "Earth, Wind & Fire Live in Rio". This is a concert recorded in 1980 at the Maracanazinho Sports Stadium in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Their newest CD is slated for release in April 2003.
On May 20, 2003, Earth, Wind and Fire will release their
first album in over six years, entitled, "The Promise". Don’t
forget to check them out, at venue nearest you!