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  Earth, Wind & Fire





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The greatest soul band of all time, Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) defined an era in black popular music where positivity and musical virtuosity could peacefully co-exist with massive commercial success.  The band's unique mixture of spirituality, diversity and accessibility arose from the singular vision of Maurice White, EWF's leader and founder. Born on December 19, 1942, White was a session drummer at Chicago's Chess Records, where he played on sides by  Fontella Bass and Muddy Waters before joining Ramsey Lewis' band in 1967.

He founded the original EWF (a name drawn from White's astrological sign, and a definite improvement over White's original choice, The Salty Peppers) in 1969 as an outfit heavily influenced by jazz and avant-funk.  Signed to Warner Brothers, this edition of the band recorded two genre-melding albums that intrigued critics but failed to register commercially.  They also recorded the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song.

The inability of the group to establish itself in the market led to a re-organization of the band in 1972.  From this point forward, the core of the band would consist of Verdine White (bass), Ralph Johnson (percussion), Larry Dunn (keyboards), Johnny Graham (guitar), and Fred White (drums, percussion) accompanying Maurice White on drums and kalimba, which became the band's trademark.  Another key addition was a singer from Denver named Philip Bailey. With another qualified lead vocalist on board, White set about transforming EWF's sound into something less challenging to listeners.  Moving to the Columbia label, the albums Last Days and Time and Head to the Sky found the band experimenting with female vocalists, pop covers, spiritually-inclined soul tunes and jazz-funk workouts. 

EWF began to hit paydirt on 1974's Open Our Eyes. Boasting several radio-friendly songs in "Devotion," "Kalimba Story" and "Mighty Mighty," it was their first gold LP. A major component of EWF's new sound was Charles Stephney, an arranger White knew from his days at Chess.  Stephney was to play a critical role in all EWF releases until his untimely death in 1976.

Even with their rising profile, the band retained an essentially cult audience.  That would all change when they were asked to appear in and record the soundtrack to That's the Way of the World. A film about the record industry directed by Sig Shore (best known for Superfly), the movie flopped miserably, but EWF had turned in the most focused album of their career, and it was not to be denied.   Fusing vocal harmonies straight from church with the rhythmic fire of the best James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone sides and espousing a philosophy emphasizing unity, love, and faith, White and EWF had synthesized the spectrum of black music into one cohesive record.   The response to the first single "Shining Star" was tremendous, and when the dust had settled, EWF found itself with its first double platinum album and recognition as the best band in America.

The band was quick to capitalize on their newfound status by embarking on the first of several legendary tours.  Always known as a strong live act, the band now had the financial resources for elaborate concepts, and they took full advantage, employing the best designers and technical staff to produce shows that included levitation, magic, and awe-inspiring set design, clearly influencing George Clinton of chief competitors Parliament-Funkadelic. EWF concerts soon acquired mythic status, and they soon began to set records at arenas around the world.

Gratitude was released as a document of their concert prowess, and included a side of new studio songs.  Spirit, All N All, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Volume 1, and I Am were all certified double platinum, making them the best-selling band in Columbia's history. With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great songs, it seemed like the band could do no wrong. 

Like many classic soul bands, Earth, Wind & Fire had a difficult time in the 80s.  The 1980 double album Faces failed to meet the lofty goals they had set for themselves.  They responded with Raise!, a more successful return to form. Yet within three years, the group embarked on an extended hiatus, during which Maurice White began a career as a solo artist and freelance producer and Philip Bailey alternated between gospel and secular music, hitting big with "Easy Lover" in 1985.

A reformed EWF launched a comeback with Touch The World in 1987.  For Millennium, the band returned to where it all started, Warner Brothers.  In the mid 90s, they formed the Pyramid label, which has issued several recordings. They continue to tour regularly and are in the process of recording a new album.

Visit EWF's site at

Earth, Wind & Fire's Deepest Grooves

Earth, Wind & Fire (Warner Brothers, 1971)
Running the gamut of Maurice White's influences - from Ramsey Lewis to the Pharoahs, this release continues to astound people only familiar with the latter-day EWF. Classic jams include "Bad Tune" and "Fan the Fire." 

The Need of Love (Warner Brothers, 1971)

Last Days and Time (Columbia, 1972)
Key transitional LP that saw the jazz elements beginning to be downplayed for more mainstream funk. Also includes the weird cover of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone."

Head To The Sky (Columbia, 1973)
Breakthrough album boasts the beautiful title track and "Evil," plus the fusion classic "Zanzibar."

Open Our Eyes (Columbia, 1974)
First gold record adheres to the strong opening sequence formula established by previous albums. "Mighty Mighty" and "Devotion" open the set and it's followed by "Kalimba Story," their second top 10 single.

That's The Way Of The World (Columbia, 1975)
The record that brought it all together: hard-hitting funk ("Shining Star," Africano") master balladry ("Reasons") and message-laden pop material (the title cut).  Rightly considered their strongest album, and still their best-selling. 

Gratitude (Columbia, 1975)
One of the all-time great live albums, Gratitude offers convincing proof that EWF were one of the era's most dynamic attractions. The performances of "Reasons," "Sun Goddess," and "Devotion" are classic, and the joyous "Sing A Song" shows their skill at crafting uplifting singles.  "Can't Hide Love" is one of White's most enduring love songs. 

Spirit (Columbia, 1976)
Viewed as a disappointment by some critics, this has to be considered a worthy follow-up to That's The Way Of The World.  Deviating very little from the format that made World successful, the band offers hard funk ("Getaway") and mystical ballads ("Imagination"), with tracks like the midtempo "On Your Face" achieving a middle ground.

All N All (Columbia, 1977)
The final album to achieve undisputed classic status. The Brazilian influences come to the forefront in "Fantasy" and "Brazilian Rhyme," while the band's funk chops are shown to be in top form on "Serpentine Fire" and "Jupiter."  The Egyptian iconography really begins to dominate here.   

Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire, Volume 1 (Columbia, 1978)
Highlights of the 1975-77 era, with "September" added as a bonus.

I Am (Columbia, 1979)
Definitely gunning for the pop hits, as evidenced by "Boogie Wonderland" and "After The Love Has Gone."  Redeemed by "In The Stone" and "Star." 

Faces (Columbia, 1980)

Raise! (Columbia, 1981)
Rebound LP with the party classic "Let's Groove" and "Lady Sun."

Powerlight (Columbia, 1983)
Maintains EWF's energy amidst a rapidly changing musical scene. "If You Fall In Love With Me" is one of the band's best 80s jams. 

Electric Universe (Columbia, 1983)
Maurice White was having trouble keeping up with the technological changes affecting black music, resulting in this poor effort.  The failure of this album led to the group's hiatus.

Continuation - Philip Bailey (Columbia, 1983)

The Wonders of His Love - Philip Bailey (Word, 1985)

Chinese Wall - Philip Bailey (Columbia, 1985)

Triumph - Philip Bailey (Word, 1986)

Maurice White - Maurice White (Columbia, 1986)

Touch the World (Columbia, 1987)
Surprising release brought the band to the public's eye once again with the massive "Thinking Of You" and "System Of Survival," their first chart-topping single in six years. 

Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire Volume 2 (Columbia, 1988)
Runs through the 80s hits ("Let's Groove," "System Of Survival") while looking back at the underrecognized "I'll Write A Song For You" and "Mighty Mighty."

Family Affair - Philip Bailey (Word, 1989)

Inside Out - Philip Bailey (Columbia, 1990)

Heritage (Columbia, 1990)
Wastes the momentum generated by Touch The World. Who would have thought EWF would ever share the spotlight with MC Hammer and The Boys?  Could be their worst album.

Eternal Dance (Columbia, 1992)
Three disc survey of their entire career.  Extensive liner notes, unreleased material  and beautiful photos makes this the essential Earth, Wind & Fire collection for those who don't want to shell out for all the albums.

Millennium (Warner Brothers, 1993)
EWF rejoins Warner Brothers for a contemporary-sounding set that was unjustly ignored. Prince contributes "Superhero."

Philip Bailey - Philip Bailey (Zoo, 1994)

Elements of Love: The Ballads (Columbia, 1996)
Love songs and ballads were a crucial element in the crossover success of Earth, Wind & Fire, allowing them to avoid being typecast as a funk or jazz-fusion band. This disc collects the best of the lot, among them "Reasons," "Imagination," "Keep Your Head To The Sky" and "Spirit."

Greatest Hits Live - Tokyo, Japan (Pyramid, 1996)

In the Name Of Love (Pyramid, 1997)
Bailey dominates this record, most notable for "Cruising" and "Revolution."

That's the Way of the World: Alive in '75 (Columbia, 2002)
Newly issued concert from their artistic peak of 1975.  Shouldn't make anyone forget Gratitude, but this does have the advantage of featuring older cuts like "Evil."

Copyright 2002  All rights reserved.

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