Growing up with Earth, Wind and Fire

After a couple of weekly blogs I am really excited about this one. Now I get a chance to talk about my favorite musical group: Earth, Wind and Fire. In this day and age of musical acts still performing in their 60’s, speaking of another group is common. But hopefully I’ll convince a few of you that Earth, Wind and Fire is anything but common. A careful study of their history shows how EWF are collectively more than an ordinary R&B outfit.

We must go back to 1969 to truly understand EWF’s musical roots. Maurice White, the band leader and founder, was working for the famed Chess Records in Chicago as a studio drummer for several high-profile recording sessions. White went on to play with jazz artist Ramsey Lewis before forming the Salty Peppers. After a name and group personal changes, White decided to move to Los Angeles and invited his brother, Verdine, to join him to start anew. With more personal changes, including one of my favorites Ronnie Laws, EWF began to solidify the lineup of musicians who would make history. And I, as well as many others began to notice and grow up listening to something special. You know it’s funny. I remember as a kid listening to EWF and many other groups at the time. Every once in a while my father, himself a professional jazz musician, would listen also. Speaking of EWF though, he would say, “hey, these guys are really good’. Of course, a kid never likes to admit he likes the same thing as his parents so I dismissed them as “just okay”. It wasn’t until I started to study music myself, realizing how hard those horn parts were to play, that my appreciation began to grow for the group. My high school band years gave me a glimpse into how good and different EWF was from other groups at the time. I learned chord progression and counter melodies by studying sheet music and started to arrange music for the high school band. My goodness, I thought, these guys are super talented songwriters and arrangers as well. Well, my high school musical career ended with graduation in 1981. But my appreciation for Earth, Wind and Fire, and my own musical interest were only starting to grow.

When I started college, my brain was like a sponge. Music theory became my best subject and some teachers wondered why I excelled in that particular discipline; especially since I really had not studied in great detail throughout high school. My father showed me a few things but thought best not to get in the teachers’ way. So he didn’t really “teach” me much at all. He just gave me a few tips and pointers. So why did I do so well in music theory classes? Yes, you guessed it! A steady diet of Earth, Wind and Fire sheet music gave me a good insight into what worked musically, and what did not. Now as a young adult, I sought out more EWF music; looking to purchase all albums I did not have already and look for new music. These included albums the critics did not give high marks and were not embraced by the record-buying multitude. I remember one incident when I played “Touch the World” for a bass player I knew. He actually hated the album saying it relied too much on electronic instrumentation. I thought it was very clever lyrically with good song structure, and I still listen to the album today. A wonderful writer and fellow musician I met a while back, Robbie Nevil, helped write some of the songs on that album. Historically, EWF always works with the very best musicians and arrangers. Still, they have kept an unmistakable sound throughout forty years of recording and performing. But still, that’s how it normally works with Earth, Wind and Fire. The hits are greatly embraced but other albums (without major hits) go unnoticed. Time has moved on and now, as an older adult, I am doing more publishing and writing. EWF is still performing in a much smaller form of course. Because of the longevity of the group, several generations are enjoying their songs and that’s fantastic. In fact, my daughter now listens to a great deal of their music. Recently I read that they have more concert dates, a couple in Las Vegas, coming up soon. I hope they record some new music soon.

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