One of the FLYIST R&B/Soul groups of all time! Not to mention they were ahead of the pack with their visuals. Although the ol’school radio station down here in Atlanta will only play “Reasons”, “September” or “Fantasy” They have had much more hits. The album covers always had me on some, “What the fuck does that mean?” shit and today it let’s me know that some of the things I’m discovering now is old as ancient. Peep the Bio:

 

Early years

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941, bandleader and founder Maurice White moved to Chicago as a teenager and found work as a session drummer for Chess Records. By 1967, he was the new drummer in the Ramsey Lewis Trio, replacing Red Holt. In 1969, Maurice left the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and joined two friends in Chicago, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team which wrote songs and commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol, and called themselves the “Salty Peppers,” and had a marginal hit in the Midwestern area called “La La Time.”

The Salty Peppers’ second single, “Uh Huh Yeah,” didn’t fare as well, and Maurice decided it was time for a change of location – and a change in the band’s name, which turned into Earth, Wind & Fire. This was based on the fact that White’s astrological sign being Sagittarius, had a primary elemental quality of Fire but also had seasonal qualities which are Earth, and Air, hence the omission of water.

White recruited Chicago singer Sherry Scott, along with local percussionist Phillard Williams, and then asked his younger brother Verdine whether he’d like to head out West. Verdine White joined the band in 1970 as their new bassist.

Maurice held auditions in L.A., adding Michael Beale on guitarChester Washington on reedsLeslie Drayton for trumpet and initially the group’s musical arranger, and trombonist Alex Thomas to the lineup. With Flemons playing vibes and electric piano and vocals, and Verdine on bass, percussion and vocals, a ten-member Earth, Wind & Fire was born. Their self-titled debut album, Earth, Wind & Fire, was released in 1970 to great critical acclaim, as was The Need of Love (1971). A single, from this album “I Think About Lovin’ You” provided EWF with their first Top 40 R&B hit. However, some members of EWF were feeling decidedly restless and the band broke up after having been together for less than six months. Maurice White decided to re-form the group and he started holding auditions.

In 1971, the group performed Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (soundtrack) to the Melvin Van Peebles film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

 

 

The switch to Columbia/CBS Records

In 1972, White dissolved the line-up (minus himself and brother Verdine White), and added Jessica Cleaves (vocals), former vocalist of theR&B group The Friends of DistinctionRonnie Laws (flutesaxophone), Roland Bautista on guitarLarry Dunn (keyboard), Ralph Johnson (musician) (percussion) and Philip Bailey (vocals, formerly of Friends & Love).

Warner Bros. did not know how to promote this new combo; the only other funk band on their label was Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. An audition for managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo led to an association that continued uninterrupted until 1983, and Cavallo’s management of John Sebastian led to a series of gigs as opening act for the popular pop/folk singer. A performance at New York’s Rockefeller Center introduced EWF to Clive Davis, then President of Columbia Records. Davis loved what he saw and bought their contract from Warner Brothers.

In the spring of 1972, EWF headed to the studio to record Last Days and Time, their CBS debut. The album featured mostly original material, but Philip Bailey had suggested the Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” and the group threw in a cover of the Bread hit “Make It With You” for good measure. Last Days And Time was also the first album that prominently featured Maurice White playing theKalimba on the instrumental track “Power.”

The album, Head to the Sky, was released in 1973, and with this album some personnel changes took place. By this time, Ronnie Laws and Roland Bautista had left to pursue new musical opportunities. Philip had recommended former Denver classmate Andrew Woolfolk, who had been busy in New York studying sax with sax maestro Joe Henderson and was on the verge of taking up a career in banking when Bailey called; guitarist Al McKay who had been performing with The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band; and guitarist Johnny Graham rounded out the lineup, after playing with R&B favorites New Birth.

The album yielded the group’s first two legitimate hit singles: “Evil,” co-written by Maurice and Philip, and the title track, “Keep Your Head To The Sky,” both top 30 R&B and top 60 pop charts.

In 1974 the album Open Our Eyes was released, which was the group’s first platinum album, a major hit. Jessica Cleaves, a former member of the Friends of Distinction, left after the “Head to the Sky” album.

“Open Your Eyes” was the turning point in providing EWF with its first Top 30 pop hit (“Mighty Mighty”) In May 1974, “Mighty Mighty” became Earth Wind & Fire’s first top 30 hit on the pop charts, peaking at #29. Their second hit single (“Devotion”) was a song with a strong spiritual message.

 

EWF Hits! (1975-1981)

Earth, Wind & Fire’s true breakthrough came in the form of the soundtrack to That’s the Way of the World in 1975. In 1974 Earth Wind & Fire worked with Sig Shore, the creator of the motion picture Super Fly, on a new film about the dark side of the recording industry. That’s The Way Of The World starred Earth Wind & Fire as “The Group,” a new recording act. In the film, Harvey Keitel hears “The Group” performing, and produces their first album. The film’s title is repeated throughout the film as a shrug of the shoulders to the music world. Earth Wind & Fire performed the songs in the film, and Maurice had a small speaking part as leader of “The Group.” [1]

Though the film was not a success, the song “Shining Star” became a huge mainstream hit and helped launched the band’s career. It was the first time that the band could afford a full horn section. This album also included the hit songs “Reasons,” “Happy Feeling,” and “All About Love,” which received constant radio airplay on R&B stations.[1]

Many of the early hits came from long years of touring and soundchecks, and improvisation. Their second song to reach the pop Top 10, “Sing a Song” (Columbia 10251), found its genesis in a soundcheck.

Younger brother Fred White (whose Chicago background had included playing local clubs as a drummer with Donny Hathaway, later playing with Little Feat) joined the group and after returning from their first European dates with Santana, CBS wanted another album. Also at that time Ralph Johnson turned to vocals.[1]

EWF’s June ’75 sessions produced “Sing A Song” and “Can’t Hide Love,” the latter written by Clarence “Skip” Scarborough, who wrote or co-wrote many of EWF’s biggest hits. These songs helped take “Gratitude,” which was a double set LP comprised mostly of live concert material from the “That’s the Way Of The World” tour, to a double-platinum status, an unheralded occurrence for any black group of the day; for the first time, the group’s horn section (Don Myrick and Louis Satterfield, both from Maurice’s Chicago session dates, and Michael Harris), which had become an integral part of the EWF sound, was credited on disc. Aside from his EWF duties, Maurice created and developed Kalimba Productions and had signed two acts – vocalist Deniece Williams, (White produced Top 10 hits like “Free” and “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” for Williams) a former member of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove backup group. Another track Maurice produced for the r&b group The Emotions, who had a run of hits with Volt Records from 1969 to 1974, was the track “Best Of My Love,” which went to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts.

Earth Wind & Fire released Spirit in October 1976; and had hits with singles such as “Getaway”, which actually came from outside the group. Verdine White heard “Getaway” for the first time from someone who was producing Bobbi Humphrey. He thought the song would be a good for EWF, and took it into the studio, recorded it, and it became a hit.[1]

In 1976, after helping co-produce and arrange Earth Wind & Fire’s Spirit album, Deniece Williams’ “This is Niecy” album, and The Emotions debut album “Flowers”, producer and songwriter Charles Stepney died of a heart attack at the age of 45. White took over the production duties of Kalimba Productions for EWF.

Their concerts during this time were loaded with pyrotechnics, magic, laser lights, flying pyramids and levitating guitarists. Magician Doug Henning directed many of their tours throughout the 1970s, and the band included Larry Dunn (keyboards), Al McKay (guitar, sitar), Fred White (drums) and Andrew Woolfolk (sax, flute).[1]

In November 1977, the group released another album, All ‘N All. With its mystical cover and replete with songs with metaphysical themes (“Jupiter”, “Fantasy” and “Be Ever Wonderful”), All’n All became the group’s fifth successive double-platinum album.

Back on the road, EWF were wowing increasingly larger audiences with their spectacular stage show, featuring elaborate production tricks that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid and a disappearing act which saw EWF literally vanishing from sight.

Maurice White in the midst of this started to put on the tour some of the acts that he was also producing at the time, such as The Emotions,Deneice Williams and Ramsey Lewis.

1978 marked the year wherein EWF picked up three Grammy Awards, the third for their version of The Beatles “Got To Get You Into My Life”, featured (as were the group) in the movie, “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. The film itself was a commercial bomb, and although the soundtrack shipped triple platinum, allegedly it was returned triple platinum. It was also the year that Maurice and managers Cavallo and Ruffalo worked out a deal for the launch of ARC (The American Recording Company) to be distributed through CBS and the creation of two recording studios, George Massenburg/ARC in West Los Angeles, and The Complex in Los Angeles. The year ended with another hit single, “September” (sometimes called ‘Dancing in September”), an additional track added to their first of two Greatest Hits albums, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire (Volume 1), released four days prior to Thanksgiving (November 23, 1978), which inevitably reached double-platinum status.

Also Bobby Harris of the Dazz Band at this time requested and got Philip Bailey, the vocalist of Earth, Wind & Fire, to produce the group’s first album, Kinsman Dazz. Bailey would co-produce the second album, Dazz, and had a major input into the group’s vocal arrangements. In 1979, the band performed “September” at the Music for UNICEF Concert, broadcast worldwide from the United Nations General Assembly forNBC. They donated their royalties from the song to UNICEF.

1979 saw the release of I Am, the group’s ninth album (the seventh for Columbia, and the second to be distributed by ARC). Songs from the album included “In the Stone“, “Can’t Let Go”, and the much-anticipated sad ballad “After the Love Has Gone“, which has cracked the number 2 spot on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts.

A good portion of 1979 was spend overseas headlining shows in Europe and Japan. Mid-’79 saw EWF topping the dance music charts with “Boogie Wonderland“, produced by Maurice and Al McKay, and featuring The Emotions. Verdine White claims that “Boogie Wonderland” really was capturing the tail end of the disco era.

Maurice loaned Earth Wind & Fire’s signature Phenix Horns – Don Myrick on saxophone, Louis Satterfield on trombone, Rahmlee Davis and Michael Harris on trumpets – to his other production projects, the Emotions, Ramsey Lewis and Deniece Williams. In the eighties, Phil Collinscame in contact with EWF’s horn section, and worked on Genesis songs like “No Reply At All” and “Paperlate,” and on his solo hits like “I Missed Again” and “Sussudio”.

The double-album Faces, the group’s tenth album (the eighth for Columbia, the third distributed ARC release, and the first double LP since late 1975’s Gratitude) was released in October 1980 and went gold. After the release of this album longtime rhythm guitarist Al McKay left the band to pursue production interests and was replaced by returning electric guitarist Roland Bautista, giving the band a bit of a hard rock feel (compared to McKay).

Raise!, EWF’s eleventh album (the ninth for Columbia and the fourth and final ARC release before ARC close shop in 1982 due to very low record sales), released in the fall of 1981 featured their hit single “Let’s Groove”, and the Grammy Award-winning “I Wanna Be With You”. “Raise!” went double platinum. Powerlight was released in early 1983 and included the hit singles “Fall In Love With Me,” and “Side By Side.” “Powerlight” went gold. Also In 1983, Earth, Wind & Fire contributed the song “Dance, Dance, Dance” to the soundtrack of the animated filmRock & Rule. White disbanded Earth, Wind & Fire in 1983 after the synthesized Electric Universe was released in late 1983 to poor sales and reviews. Maurice White attributes the album’s lack of success to its release so quickly after Powerlight. It was their last release for four years.

During the hiatus, Philip Bailey released his second solo album, Chinese Wall. While it was not his first solo album (Bailey recorded a series of gospel LP’s for the Myrrh and Word labels), it was his most successful. The first single from that album, a duet with Phil Collins called “Easy Lover” went gold, and the music video of Bailey and Collins rehearsing their collaboration hit #1 on MTV’s video playlist. Meanwhile, during the hiatus, Verdine White worked behind the scenes, writing and directing videos. He produced a Level 42 album, and promoted go-go bands like Trouble Funk and E.U.. (More at Wikipedia).

The Band Members list is ridiculous!

 

Band members

The Phoenix Horns (backing group)

The Earth, Wind & Fire Horns (backing group)

Backing Singers and Dancers

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