Earth, Wind and Fire retains original musical spirit
Donna Isbell Walker, [email protected] 12:22 p.m. EDT June 1, 2015
Earth, Wind and Fire has been around for more than four decades, burning up the music charts, and the dance floor, with hits like “Let’s Groove” and “Boogie Wonderland.”
The band, which plays a sold-out show at the Peace Center on June 10, has managed the rare feat of keeping its core lineup, retaining old fans and creating new ones in a world where traditional R&B has largely been unseated by hip-hop.
Earth, Wind and Fire has managed to do that by staying true to the spirit of the music, as envisioned by founder Maurice White, said singer Philip Bailey.
“We’ve evolved by staying relevant,” Bailey said in a recent phone interview.
That’s partly due to “the concept Maurice had for the band, in terms of all of the eclectic ideas that he had and the ingredients that make Earth, Wind and Fire ... The message, the melody, the whole spirit have been something that has stayed alive and kind of re-energized new fans for 43 years now.”
White hasn’t been able to tour with the band for the past 20 years due to health issues, but his legacy is evident whenever Earth, Wind and Fire takes the stage.
“Maurice’s DNA is Earth, Wind and Fire, so the spirit of it still lives on. You can’t play a note of Earth, Wind and Fire without Maurice’s DNA being in there,” Bailey said. “We honor him every night by doing the music that he produced and co-wrote and sang on.”
The band isn’t content to rest on memories of the original music. Instead, the members go back to old recordings to make sure the current sound falls in line with the band’s classic sound, Bailey said.
Keeping fans interested hasn’t always been easy; during the early 2000s, the band had a tough time staying afloat in a hip-hop dominated world.
But ultimately, perseverance paid off. Two years ago, Earth, Wind and Fire released the album, “Now, Then and Forever,” which became its highest-charting record in 30 years, “just by going back to who we were,” Bailey said.
Earth, Wind and Fire continues to blend musical genres, everything from soul and blues to Latin rhythms and jazz. There’s a reason the band is able to produce such a fluid musical mixture, Bailey said.
“We’re the original. We’re not trying to fake a song. We are the funk,” Bailey said with a raucous laugh.
The band’s honors and accolades include Grammy Awards and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Vocal Group Hall of Fame and NAACP Hall of Fame.
But what stands out most for Bailey is “the fact that we’ve been asked on four different occasions to perform for two different (presidential) administrations, on both sides of the aisle. It’s non-political. ... It’s a very high honor. I always wish my mother was alive to see those kinds of things because whose mother wouldn’t be proud to see their son standing with presidents?”
And he never tires of performing Earth, Wind and Fire’s classics, although it’s hard to pick out just one favorite, Bailey said.
“Bands that stay together, and you see musicians play together, and the magic that happens when musicians know each other and have played together and are accomplished, it’s a magical experience,” he said. “It’s something that really kind of feeds the soul. Music is a wonderful medicine.”