Funky since the ‘70s
Considering where he’d been the day before, Verdine White was up early when I called him recently at 8 a.m. California time. “We just got back from Europe yesterday,” White said from his Los Angeles home. “We did festivals for 50,000, 60,000 people. We’re still one of the most popular groups out there.” The “we” that White refers to is Earth, Wind & Fire, the group founded by White’s older brother Maurice, which Verdine joined in 1970.
By the mid ‘70s, Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the most popular bands in the world, riding a string of hits that ran from 1975’s No. 1 smash “Shining Star” through “Sing a Song,” “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Boogie Wonderland” to 1981’s “Let’s Groove.”
After four decades and with over 90 million albums sold, EW&F is still going strong, playing music that feels fresh and contemporary, in shows that are widely praised around the globe.
“We have to thank my brother Maurice for that,” White said. “He was the originator, the creator of the band. He put something together that ended up being timeless. The music’s been everywhere. It’s part of the soundtrack of the lives of multiple generations. We see it every night.”
That music, a mix of pop, funk, soul, R&B and rock with shades of jazz, Latin and Afro-pop, sparked a revolution in black pop in the ‘70s and continues to reverberate through pop music today. “It’s a fusion of styles,” White said. “In the beginning, we actually did more jazz, then put in R&B, then pop, then rock. That came from Maurice. He was definitely the leader, putting it all together made it really sound universal and unique at the same time.”
While White wouldn’t commit to any specifics, he said it’s likely that Earth, Wind & Fire will be making a new album following this tour. It would be the band’s first since 2014’s “Holiday” and also its first since Maurice White’s death in 2016.
Maurice had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for several years before his passing, and had stopped touring with the band. But, Verdine said, he continued to have input into the music.
When the remaining members of EW&F go into the studio, Verdine explains, Maurice has them ready to go. “He trained us very well, so we’re very confident,” White said. “He was a great teacher and big brother. He was as cool as they come.”
Just keeping it moving
As we talked, I asked Verdine to reflect on Earth, Wind & Fire’s success — and the legacy that has put the group in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and praise from the likes of the late Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Alicia Keys with music that influenced generations of artists including Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. But White rebuffed my efforts to get him to wax nostalgic or evaluate the group’s place in music history. “We don’t do that,” he said. “We just keep it moving. We’re very appreciative of the past, but we’re not looking back.”
So, in the spirit of keeping it moving, Verdine, what do I tell concertgoers to expect from Earth, Wind & Fire’s shows this summer. “Tell ‘em they’re going to feel better after than they did coming in and they might not be able to sleep that night,” he said. “We have to have an exciting show. The audience has to enjoy themselves. And they will, it will be fun.”
Earth, Wind & Fire performs at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater at 7:30pm on Wednesday, July 17. Tickets start at $45.