We lost another great one last week.
Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind and Fire.
What is there to say, but that he created music that will be played 100 years from now.
So, we will spend the week featuring the music of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Where did the group’s name come from?
“My horoscope. (White, who was born Dec. 19, was a Sagittarius, whose principle elements are earth, air and fire”.
Good time: the greatest moments of Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire
The leader of one of pop’s most influential groups died on Wednesday. Here are five moments to remember him by
1. Sweetback’s Theme
In 1971, Maurice White was struggling. He’d moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, broken up his first band (the Salty Peppers) and launched a new one with his brother, Verdine, named after the elemental qualities of his star sign, Sagittarius. Earth, Wind & Fire’s first, self-titled album was released in February of that year to strong reviews but modest sales. A follow-up was on the way, but times were tight. White’s girlfriend was working as a secretary to an anarchic filmmaker, Melvin van Peebles, and suggested the director get her boyfriend’s band to make the soundtrack album to his new movie.
Although signed to Warner Brothers, EW&F jumped at the chance, recording the entire album in a single day. Van Peebles, knowing there’d be no money to promote his film, came up with the idea of releasing the soundtrack album first: the record, credited to Van Peebles (who had written the material) but with EW&F mentioned on the back cover, was released by Stax in November. The micro-budget Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song would go on to become a touchstone moment, its soundtrack album helping usher in the blaxploitation era on record as well as in cinemas.
2. Mighty Mighty
It wasn’t until their fifth album, 1974’s Open Our Eyes, that EW&F started to have hits. White had brought in Charles Stepney, a friend and colleague from Chicago (and also in-house arranger and producer at Chess Records, where White had cut his teeth as a session drummer in the late 60s), to co-produce, and sessions took place in Colorado in 1973. Philip Bailey had joined, and he and Maurice became a potent force with their striking dual vocals – an idea the band patterned in part on Sérgio Mendes’s Brasil 66. The first single from the album, Mighty Mighty, echoes key EW&F influences (Sly & the Family Stone formally; Curtis Mayfield in the title and lyrical tone), but is definably the work of a band in charge of their own sound and style.
3. Shining Star
Unconventional soundtracks became an EW&F signature, albeit more by accident than design. They’d been asked to score and appear in That’s the Way of the World, a 1975 movie by Superfly director Sig Shore, which starred Harvey Keitel as a record producer. The deal was that the group would make the soundtrack album, as well as play a fictionalised version of themselves on screen – but it was clear that the film was going to be a flop, so White took matters into his own hands. The soundtrack was released first, and became a huge hit, spending three weeks at No 1 in the US pop chart with the opening track and first single, the euphoric Shining Star, also winning them a Grammy.
EW&F started out as a gritty funk outfit, but their lush arrangements, polyrhythmic percussion and flair for seamlessly incorporating influences from all across the musical map made them perfectly suited for the disco era’s infectious inclusivity. September’s first album release was on the stratospherically successful The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol. 1, and its status as a hit in its own right was merely a formality – but the record helped propel the group to new heights. It went on to become (along with 1981’s Let’s Groove) the band’s biggest hit in the UK, reaching No 3; the first of three consecutive Top Five singles here (followed by Boogie Wonderland and After the Love Has Gone). They ended the 70s as one of the biggest pop acts in the world.
5. Good Time
White’s eclectic embrace of musical styles continued into the 1980s, with EW&F adding electronic dimensions to their palette: the band leader would later rate their transitional 1980 double LP, Faces, as his favourite. But it wasn’t to be until the middle of that decade, with the band out of action, that members began to realise the impact they’d had. “We were so in our own world of making music that we didn’t really see the forest for the trees,” Bailey told the Guardian in 2010. The group spent much of the decade on hiatus, White becoming an in-demand producer and songwriter, working with everyone from Barbara Streisand to the Tubes. They reformed in 1987, and in 1990 released Heritage, which included this track, a collaboration with key influence Sly Stone. Tellingly, rather than seeking to hark back to 70s funk styles and sounds, Good Time shows the band adopting the muscular electronic funk sound of the day – a sound they had, in part, helped bring about. “It was our third album that got [Prince and Janet Jackson producers] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis together,” Verdine White told the Guardian in 2010. “Jimmy told me that they were in school when it come out, Terry played him the album, and they bonded over that record. That’s deep, isn’t it? You never know the influence you have.”