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Earth, Wind and Fire

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Earth, Wind and Fire

Earth, Wind and Fire
Legends of Funk, R&B, Soul and Jazz

The origins of this colourful, imaginative group date back to the 60s and Chicago's black music session circle. Drummer Maurice White (b. 19 December 1942, Memphis, Tennessee, USA) appeared on sessions for Etta James, Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart and more, before joining the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1965. He left four years later to form the Salty Peppers, which prepared the way for an early version of Earth, Wind and Fire. The new band - Verdine White (b. 25 July 1951, Illinois, USA; bass), Michael Beale (guitar), Wade Flemmons (vocals), Sherry Scott (vocals), Alex Thomas (trombone), Chet Washington (tenor saxophone), Don Whitehead (keyboards) and Yackov Ben Israel (percussion) - embarked on a diffuse direction, embracing jazz, R&B and funk, as well as elements of Latin and ballad styles. The extended jam "Energy", from their second album for Warner Brothers Records, was artistically brave, but showed a lack of cohesion within the band.

White then abandoned the line-up, save his brother, and pieced together a second group around Ronnie Laws (b. 3 October 1950, Houston, Texas, USA; saxophone, guitar), Philip Bailey (b. 8 May 1951, Denver, Colorado, USA; vocals), Ralph Johnson (b. Los Angeles, California, USA; drums, percussion), Larry Dunn (b. Lawrence Dunhill, 19 June 1953, Colorado, USA; keyboards), Roland Battista (guitar) and Jessica Cleaves (vocals). He retained the mystic air of the original band but tightened the sound immeasurably, blending the disparate elements into an intoxicating "fire". Two 1974 releases, Head To The Sky and Open Our Eyes, established Earth, Wind and Fire as an album act, while the following year "Shining Star" was a number 1 hit in both the US R&B and pop charts. Their eclectic mixture of soul and jazz was now fused to an irresistible rhythmic pulse, while the songs themselves grew ever more memorable. By the end of the decade they had regular successes with such infectious melodious singles as "Fantasy", "September", "After The Love Has Gone" and "Boogie Wonderland", the latter an energetic collaboration with the Emotions. A further recording, "Got To Get You Into My Life", transformed the song into the soul classic composer Paul McCartney had originally envisaged.

The line-up of Earth, Wind and Fire remained unstable. Philip Bailey and Ronnie Laws both embarked on solo careers as new saxophonists, guitarists and percussionists were added. White's interest in Egyptology and mysticism provided a visual platform for the expanded group, particularly in their striking live performances. However, following 11 gold albums, 1983's Electric Universe was an unexpected commercial flop, and prompted a four-year break. A slimline core quintet, comprising the White brothers, Andrew Woolfolk (b. 11 October 1950), Sheldon Reynolds and Philip Bailey, recorded Touch The World in 1987 but they failed to reclaim their erstwhile standing. Heritage (1990) featured cameos from rapper M.C. Hammer and Sly Stone, in an attempt to shift White's vision into the new decade. Since 1987 White has no longer toured with the band, but seemed to regain his enthusiasm with 1997's In The Name Of Love, a back-to-basics album recorded for new label Eagle. In March 2000, the band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

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