Interpretations: Celebrating The Music Of Earth, Wind & Fire
It’s totally fitting that the first release on the newly re-launched Stax imprint should be a tribute to the music of Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire. Fitting because, although he spent a number of his formative years in Chicago, the founder of one of the most influential supergroups of all time was born in Memphis. As such, Maurice White was the drummer for The Mad Lads and was a classmate of Booker T. Jones (the leader of The MGs, the virtual Stax house band through the ‘60s and early ‘70s when the label was creating hit after hit). The assembled cast of artists expressing their love and appreciation for the timeless music of Maurice and EW&F includes the legendary Chaka Khan (who, surprisingly, has never worked with Maurice or the group even though they are musical contemporaries), gospel hitmaker Kirk Franklin, neo-soul stars Musiq Soulchild, Bilal (with the Randy Weston Experience) and Dwele. I also had the good fortune to write the liner notes for the CD, interviewing and getting comments from Maurice, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over three decades, starting with a life-changing conversation on a plane going from Los Angeles to Seattle in 1975.
With such an illustrious slate of soulful participants to draw upon, we chose five artists (Angie Stone, Ledisi, Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, Me'Shell NdegeOcello and Lalah Hathaway) as interview subjects, basically asking for their thoughts on their involvement with the project. We did speak with Lalah Hathaway but the ‘gremlins’ got to our computer so alas, we don’t have her quotes anymore. To make it easy, we’ve abbreviated the other four artists’ names: MN is Me’Shell NdegeOcello, LD is Ledisi, MC is Mint Condition and AS is Angie Stone.
Soul Music.com question: What impact did EW&F’s music have on you during your formative years?
LD: EW&F was the soundtrack to my life and to be able to be a part of something like this was full circle for me. We heard it at cook outs, family gatherings, Christmas, holidays. “Reasons” was my song to sing when it came to family talent shows. I think my career would not be complete had I not been apart of something like this that is why I begged to be apart of it!
AS: The impact was major. There’s no greater music in the world than the music of EW&F and it’ s my first love.
MC: It was major, massive. EW&F were there for many people, musicians and non-musicians and as a group, they covered everything from musicianship, harmonies, lyrics, theatrics, their concepts and they drew everyone in. Their music was the soundtrack to our lives. I remember listening through our boom boxes, listening to “Gratitude,” “That’s The Way Of The World. They were also a serious influence on us from the standpoint of songwriting.
MN: It was such an intricate show and they had all the African instruments... it was the first time I heard a kalimba
Soul Music.com question: Why did you choose the song you did for the project?
AS: “Be Ever Wonderful” had a personal meaning for me… I’m also thinking of possibly doing it during my live performances.
LD: I didn't choose my song (“Devotion”). It was given to me. Collin Stanback (the Concord) A&R person for the project told me, ‘Led I hear you singing this song.’ I thought he was out of his mind!I It was a challenge cause I thought it was too high and too hard to sing. And I didn't want to mess it up!l LOL! But (my producer) Rex Rideout and I came up with a great arrangement keeping with the old and adding some new flavor to it. I think we did a good job.
MC: Well, we do “Love’s Holiday” in our show but Lalah was doing that one. There are so many great songs; We chose “After The Love Is Gone” because we always loved it. We like to do our own arrangements but after we listened we said, ‘there’s nothing else we can do with it’ so we stayed close to the original intention of the song.
MN: Because "Can't Hide Love" was taken. And I love "Fantasy" lyrically.
Soul Music.com question: What was your initial reaction after being asked to participate in this project?
AS: I was overwhelmed. Having the opportunity to work on the music of artists who you grow you listening to was a mind-blower. The experience was one to go down in history and to have all these great people on one album… I was so happy that I was involved, it was blessing and I’ m so glad I didn’t let it pass.
LD: I wasn't asked. I forced them to let me be apart of it.lol! I was the ‘nobody’ on the project so luckily I'm signed to Verve and considered a new artist. It all made sense.
MC: Ecstatic! We felt it was about time we met Maurice! We’d already met Verdine and Philip. Our PR people, Sol 2 Soul arranged it. Some folks have called us the “EW&F” of our generation and we take it as a compliment.
MN: My first reaction was "Can't Hide Love"! because that's my favorite EW&F song!
Soul Music.com question: What informed your creative approach to and treatment of the song?
AS: I didn’t want to do something too difficult
LD: I didn't wanna go to far away from the original but I wanted to shorten the song a bit and speed it up which is what Rex Rideout and I did. We both thought it should stay close to the original.
MC: When you cover great songs, you cannot veer too far away from the original so we didn’t…
MN: I just follow the pictures in my mind.
Soul Music.com question: Did you get an opportunity to meet with or speak with Maurice White prior to, during or after you recorded your song for the CD? If so, what was his response to your approach to the song you recorded?
AS: He’s a Sagittarius like me so I feel like he’s a musical soulmate. He’s one of the people I idolized, he comes from this really spiritual space. It was quite emotional speaking with him afterwards
LD: Yes, I met the living Legend Maurice White. He was incredibly classy and humble. I find him to be not only a wonderful musician, performer, producer and composer but an extraordinary businessman. So to be in the same room with him was breathtaking. I finally met the voice I heard when I was little, staring at the vinyl as it turned on the turntable. An amazing feelingI I was also floored when he expressed to me how he really enjoyed my version of “Devotion” and the arrangement Rex and I did. I never really spoke to him when we first met. I was too nervouse and when he leaned over to me to express how much he loved “Devotion” it took everything in my body to get a sound out. LOL! It was the most incredible feeling in the world.
MC: After the recording, we met with him. He was like our musical uncle, like a university, a man all the tools. It was like meeting this professor that taught you so much. I had so many questions and I got a lot of answers. He told us he thought what he did with “After The Love Is Gone” was great.
MN: I didn't get to meet him…
Soul Music.com question: If you’ve heard the entire “Interpretations” CD, what are your thoughts on the other performances?
AS: I adore the Lalah Hathaway track.
LD: I love Lalah's version of “Love's Holiday” It's my favoriate on the record. It's so unexpected and fresh. I love it! Lalah Hathaway is one of my favorite singers. Chaka always rocks too so “Shining Star” was hot too.
MC: I loved Lalah, Dwele, Bilal and Me’shell took it out! Everyone did a great job
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.