It’s impossible to cover Maurice White in a few short paragraphs. You could write a book about his early years as a drummer – he played sessions in the early sixties for Chess records, that is Etta James, Muddy Waters, The Impressions – the list is endless. You could investigate his time with Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis where he made nine albums and introduced the kalimba to his repertoire. You could look at his production work (co-producer Charles Stepney) with Denice Williams or The Emotions or you could look at his return to session work as a drummer on Minnie Ripperton’s debut album or you could look at his songwriting credits that included co-writing Tip Of My Tongue for The Tubes on their album Outside Inside (1983). He sang on other people’s albums too and worked with Cher, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder. You could write a book about what he wore!
Where do you begin with Earth Wind And Fire? After leaving Ramsey Lewis in 1969, White formed The Salty Peppers in Chicago with Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, after signing a record contract with Capitol records they moved to Los Angeles and formed Earth Wind And Fire. They made their first album in 1971 with producer Joe Wissert a relationship that would last for six albums and into the late seventies. (Wissert produced Boz Scaggs’ hits and sixties classic Happy Together for The Turtles amongst other gems – Happy Together was the first full price album I ever bought).
White soon became band producer and with Philip Bailey was one of the band’s main singers. By the mid eighties Earth Wind And Fire had achieved massive success and to date have sold over 90 million albums. Exhuberant doesn’t really cover their stage show but in quieter moments at one point their act apparently included levitation. Tragedy struck in the late eighties when White began to experience the first signs of Parkinson’s disease, the illness that would eventually take his life at the age of 74.
If you like Funk, Disco, smooth R&B, Soul, Latin music, Jazz Rock, African music, harmonies and outrageous sci-fi clothing then Maurice White and his band Earth Wind And Fire are for you. If you don’t know where to start, jump in at the middle and go backwards to funkier tunes or forwards to more extravagant productions. You might only have heard Earth Wind And Fire’s version of The Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life that appeared on their first Best Of album in 1978 and sold a million copies reaching No.9 in the US and No.33 in the UK. Or perhaps Fantasy that reached No.14 in the UK, No.31 in the US from Earth Wind And Fire’s 1977 album All ‘N All. Or maybe you turned the radio on and heard Boogie Wonderland from the 1979 album I Am, a Disco classic that reached No.3 in the US and No.4 in the UK – it makes The Bee Gees sound like Motorhead (not really).
A great talent and a sad loss, dying of this terrible disease that hopefully will one day be curable. RIP Maurice White. Condolences to friends and family.
Note: Build Your Nest is from Earth, Wind And Fire’s Head To The Sky released in 1973.