Friday, December 26, 2014

Earth, Wind & Fire, The #14 Artist of the Seventies*

In 1969, Maurice White, session drummer for Chess Records, joined Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead to write songs in the Chicago, Illinois area.  The three eventually earned a recording contract with Capitol Records, calling themselves the Salty Peppers.  The group received some regional airplay, but White soon moved to Los Angeles.

White, singer Sherry Scott, percussionist Yackov Ben Israel, and bassist Verdine White (Maurice's younger brother) formed a new group, and a demo tape led to a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records.  The name Earth, Wind & Fire was chosen using the primary elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air in Maurice's astrological sign, Sagittarius. 

White held additional auditions, and the group hired guitarist Michael Beale, Chester Washington on reeds, Leslie Drayton on trumpet, Alex Thomas on trombone, and electric pianist Wade Flemons.

In 1971, Earth, Wind & Fire released their self-titled debut album. 

Later in the year, the group followed with another album, The Need of Love.  The title song, sung by Sherry Scott, became the group's first Top 40 R&B hit.  Earth, Wind & Fire became popular among the college crowd, but despite this, the group broke up after just six months. 

The only holdovers were Maurice and Verdine White.  In 1972, White rebuilt the group with Jessica Cleaves, formerly with the Friends of Distinction, on vocals, Ronnie Laws (flute and saxophone), Roland Bautista on rhythm guitar, keyboardist Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson on percussion, and vocalist Philip Bailey.

The new lineup hired managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo, and Earth, Wind, & Fire opened for John Sebastian, another client of Cavallo's.  Clive Davis, president of Columbia Records, saw the group perform at the Rockefeller Center in New York City, and wisely bought their contract from Warner Brothers.  Earth, Wind & Fire released the album Last Days and Time in 1972.

The following year, the band released the album Head to the Sky.  They enjoyed minor hits with the songs "Evil" and "Keep Your Head to the Sky".  "Evil", especially, is representative of some of their best work.

Afterwards, Cleaves, Bautista, and Laws left the group, and saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk, rhythm guitarists Al McKay and Johnny Graham came aboard. 

Fred White, another brother of Maurice, joined the group on drums so that Maurice could share lead vocals with Bailey.  Earth, Wind & Fire recorded the album Open Our Eyes at Caribou Ranch Studio in Colorado, an LP they released in 1974.  The single "Mighty Mighty" reached the Top 30 and the album eventually went Platinum.  "Devotion" is a solid track on the album.

The group played at the California Jam in April in front of 200,000, then collaborated with Ramsey Lewis on his album Sun Goddess.  The following year, producer Sig Shore invited Earth, Wind & Fire to record music for the soundtrack of a new film he was working on that portrayed the dark side of the recording industry.  The members of the group also starred in the film as "The Group".

The members of Earth, Wind & Fire didn't believe in the movie, so they released the Soundtrack to "That's the Way of the World" prior to the release of the movie.  It was the group's breakthrough release, going to #1 for three weeks on the Album chart.  The single "Shining Star" also topped both the R&B & the Popular chart.

"Shining Star" won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  The amazing title song, which stopped at #12 at the time, is not only one of The Most Important Songs of the Rock Era*, but among the all-time best of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs*.

Earth, Wind & Fire won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group, and they were also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo or Group and Favorite Soul/R&B Album.  The soundtrack has now sold over three million copies in the U.S. alone.  Phillip Bailey shines on the Top Track* "Reasons".

"Happy Feelin'" is another "reason" the album did so well.

"See The Light" is another tasty song.

The success of the album enabled Earth, Wind & Fire to hire a horn section, known as the Phenix Horns:  Don Myrick on saxophone, Louis Satterfield on trombone, and trumpeters Rahmlee Davis and Michael Harris.  Columbia wanted another album, so EWF recorded new material in the studio, that was mixed with mostly live material from the group's tours in 1974 and 1975, for the double album Gratitude

Gratitude rose to #1 on the Album chart for three weeks and has now gone over the three-million mark in sales.  The single "Sing A Song" landed at #1 on the R&B chart and #5 overall.

The title song from the album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and the single "Can't Hide Love" was also nominated for Best Arrangement with Voices.

Earth, Wind & Fire then headed out on tour, opening for Santana.  Also, Maurice formed the company Kalimba Productions, and signed artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Deniece Williams, and the Emotions.  White scheduled the Phenix Horns and other members of Earth, Wind & Fire for sessions with these artists, and included his clients on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire. 

In 1976, Maurice stepped in as producer of the band's album Spirit.  The lead single, "Getaway", gave the group another #1 on the R&B chart and a #12 Popular song.  

Earth, Wind & Fire once again won the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group, and were nominated for three additional awards:  Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo or Group, and Favorite Soul/R&B Album for both Spirit and That's The Way of the World, which was nominated for a second year in a row.  Spirit went to #2 on the Album chart and was certified Double Platinum by the RIAA.  "Saturday Nite" was another Top 5 R&B smash.

The title song is another great track.

Live shows by Earth, Wind & Fire took on a new dimension, with the help of magician Doug Henning and his young assistant, David Copperfield.  Concerts included pyrotechnics, laser lights, flying pyramids, levitating guitarists, and a finale in which the entire group ascended a pyramid, the disappeared from sight.  Earth, Wind & Fire had definitely elevated their game.

The group captured a third consecutive American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group.  In 1977, the group released the album All 'N All.  Earth, Wind & Fire's fourth #1 R&B song, "Serpentine Fire", charted at #13 overall.   

The album sold over three million copies in the U.S. alone, and earned EWF the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  The great song "Fantasy" rose to #7 in the Netherlands, and a very underrated #32 in the U.S.

EWF made it four years in a row as the Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group at the American Music Awards; they were also nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B Album.  The track "Runnin" captured the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Performance.  The group cranked up the funk on "Jupiter".

"Love's Holiday" is another fan favorite.

In 1978, Earth, Wind & Fire contributed a remake of the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life" for the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.  It was included on the band's Greatest Hits package, and reached #1 R&B and #9 overall.  "Got To Get You Into My Life" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and EWF once again was nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group at the American Music Awards.

Earth, Wind & Fire launched their own record label, The American Recording Company, and built their own recording studio in Los Angeles.  The Greatest Hits album peaked at #6 on the Album chart and has now sold over five million copies.  "September" was another new release on the album, running to #1 on the R&B chart and #8 overall in the United States, and #3 in the U.K.

In 1979, Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the Music For UNICEF Concert, then toured Europe and Japan.  EWF then released the album I Am, which went to #3 on the Album chart and sold over two million copies.  The single "Boogie Wonderland" (with the Emotions) jumped to #2 on the R&B chart and #6 overall in the United States, and achieved #4 in the U.K. and the Netherlands, #6 in Australia, and #7 in New Zealand.  "Boogie Wonderland" won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Disco Performance.

The ballad "After The Love Has Gone" peaked at #2 on both the R&B and Popular charts and was #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the U.S., and hit #4 in the U.K.  EWF won the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for their outstanding job.

Earth, Wind & Fire won another American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group, their fifth win in six years.  The group also earned the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and they were nominated for Record of the Year (both for "After The Love Has Gone").  "Star" is another great song on the album.

In 1995, the band earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  EWF were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Also that year, Earth, Wind & Fire were invited to a White House state dinner hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton in honor of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, and Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem.  The King was so impressed that he invited EWF to perform in Morocco for his 37th birthday later in the year.

In 2002, this incredible group received the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, and in 2003, Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.  The following year, the group received the Signature Governor's Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.  In 2004, the great song "That's The Way Of The World" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  Three years later, "Shining Star" was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 2008, Maurice and Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, and Ralph Johnson received honorary degrees from the Arts and Media College at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois, and Maurice White and Philip Bailey received honorary doctorate degrees from the famous Berklee College of Music.  Later in the year, Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the opening ceremony of the 2008 U.S. Tennis Open.  In 2009, the group performed at the Governors' Dinner at the White House at the request of U.S. President Barack Obama.

In 2010, Maurice and Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, Larry Dunn, and Al McKay were inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.  The following year, Earth, Wind & Fire received the Legend Award at the Soul Train Awards.  The group released the album Now, Then & Forever, their first album in eight years, in 2013.

EWF sold over 21 million albums in the Seventies, and scored 21 hits in the decade, with six Top 10 songs, one great #1, and countless memories.       

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