Earth, Wind & Fire is all about inspiration, says bass player Verdine White…about saying something relevant to the people. And, despite their huge success, they're intent on staying in touch with everyday people...
OF ALL the contemporary black groups on the music scene today, no one single unit has achieved as strong a crossover to the pop market as Earth, Wind & Fire. The group has simply gone from strength to strength over the last two years until now they have an immediate and automatic chart placing with each new record. Their albums are now more likely to turn instant platinum than any other single group in the States today.
Such success has not come overnight for the nine-member combination. Unlike many others, the group built up their following via live performances before they received the kind of radio acceptance and media exposure that was needed to catapult them to the top.
Word of mouth essentially brought Earth, Wind & Fire's message of spiritual awareness and understanding across and their visually dynamic act attracted attention wherever they went.
The turning point in the group's recording career came with "Keep Your Head To The Sky", their first really big selling single and since then, the group have continued to top one achievement with another. "Devotion", "Kalimba Story", "Shining Star", "Happy Feeling", "That's The Way Of The World", "Reasons", "Can't Hide Love" — the story is one of continuing success.
Speaking with Verdine White — the bass player, co-writer of many of the group's best known compositions and brother of the group's founder, Maurice White — it's evident that Earth, Wind & Fire still feel that they have much to achieve.
"We've reached a certain point where we've penetrated through to a level. We're probably the only black group to have gotten this far and it's like we're opening doors for others. There is no doubt in my mind that whoever comes along next will be even bigger than Earth, Wind & Fire because that's the way it happens.
"Someone has to be the pacesetter. We're paving the way. I feel that Sly (Stone) really opened the doors in the first place and now we're opening other doors. Sure, we sell out every night now but we've still got to keep growing.
"I don't like to look at it all like this, but the way the world is you have to remember we're a black group and although black people are familiar with us, our audience is only about 40% white.
"Now if we were a white group, we'd be huge. Even bigger. Because you have to face the facts. A look at history shows you.
"Why do you think that most black people didn't feel particularly thrilled about the Bicentennial? Because in 1776 we were still in chains. But that was then. We're come a long way but we've still got a long way to go.
"I don't like to bring it down to a racial level but the fact is that we still have a huge audience out there who are not familiar with us because we're black."
Verdine feels that it is unnecessary for the group to compromise its music. "We're getting through to pop radio now the way we never did before. A record like "Getaway" is immediately programmed and that shows we're on the right path.
"As far as television is concerned, you have to remember that we're still very much a specialised group. We can hardly go on Dinah Shore show or Merv Griffin?"
The fact that Earth, Wind & Fire have made it as big as they have with virtually no help from the media is a testament to their talent.
However, the group has yet to make any definite impression on the European market and Verdine feels that "a lack of touring and poor promotion are the main causes. Naturally, we've been so busy establishing ourselves at home that we haven't had the time to go over to Europe. Because it has a great deal to do with people seeing you.
"We're aiming to go overseas in January of next year — to The Far East and Australia — and a European tour with us as headliners will follow during the course of the year too.
"You must remember too that European audiences may not entirely relate to what we're saying. Only by exposure will they really get into what we're all about."
What Earth, Wind & Fire is all about is inspiration. "You have to say something that's relevant to the people," Verdine concludes. "A song like 'Shining Star' has a message and what you have to do is like giving people candy with medicine. Then they can accept what you're saying — you have to give them something to attract their attention — in this case, a happy beat. And we know it works.
When you're playing to capacity crowds everywhere, it goes without saying that your message is going to get over. "But we don't want to be stereo-typed as 'that message group'. We'll do whatever's needed. Because whatever we say in our music is based around what we see going on.
"Sure, we all hang out — we all deal with people and so far, it's been no problem whatsoever getting next to just everyday people. That's where the ideas come from — whatever you see around you,"
Verdine says that the group are aiming for perfection. "It depends on your standards. But human beings are never satisfied. The world would just stop progressing if we were. We're in this world to be creative and people have to discover where their individual creative talents lie.
"Not everyone's creativity is in the arts. You can be creative behind a desk. People just have to realize their own points of creativity."
Unlike many other groups who become successful with their records, Earth, Wind & Fire still feel that performing is a must. "We made it to this point to a large extent on our in-person appearances. Even when we didn't have hit records, we still sold out in concerts.
"To begin with, we couldn't always do all the visual effects we wanted but in time, we've gotten to that point. But performing now is more important than ever to us. We've taken six months off this year and we'll be working for the next six."
During their time off, the group completed their new album, "Spirit" due for August release. Once again, it was produced by Maurice White and Charles Stepney — who recently died. "We don't feel that Charles has gone anywhere — he's just added another dimension to what we're doing," was Verdine's comment.
In the words of one of their own songs, Earth, Wind & Fire are simply "mighty, mighty". That they will continue their upward path, spreading their spiritual message of wisdom and positive thoughts goes without saying.
All that they ask is that we all just continue to keep our heads to the sky!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.