Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Reasons Behind the Greatness of Maurice White

We told you last year that we were going to start seeing more deaths of great musicians and artists of the Rock Era, and we regret to inform you that Maurice White, the great leader, co-founder, songwriter, drummer, arranger, producer and singer with Earth, Wind & Fire, died this morning in his sleep.  White was 74.  (Note:  original reports from the group indicated White died Wednesday night.  Later Twitter reports, confirmed by both 'CNN' and 'USA Today', among others, altered his time of death to Thursday morning.)

The group was one of the top acts of the 70's, and White was nominated for 21 Grammys, winning seven, and he won four American Music Awards.  EWF was inducted int both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and White was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well.  In addition to his accomplishments in Earth, Wind & Fire, White worked with numerous artists including Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, the Emotions and Deniece Williams.

White was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in the late 1980s, which forced him to eventually stop touring with the group in 1994.

White was born in Memphis, Tennessee on December 19, 1941 and was a childhood friend of Booker T. Jones.  As a teenager, Maurice moved to Chicago, Illinois and found work as a session drummer at Chess Records.  White played behind the kit for artists such as Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Muddy Waters, the Impressions, Buddy Guy and many others.  White played drums on "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass.

In 1966, White joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio and played on nine of their albums.  Three years later, White formed a group with friends Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead called the Salty Peppers.  Maurice then moved to Los Angeles, and changed the name of the group to Earth, Wind & Fire.  He held auditions there to complete the group.

Earth, Wind & Fire released their self-titled debut album in 1971, and a follow-up later that year.  But the group didn't catch on and broke up after only being together for six months.  

But White didn't give up--he reformed the band the following year.  The first album under this lineup was Head to the Sky.  In 1974, the album Open Our Eyes yielded the group's first Top 30 hit, "Mighty, Mighty".

In 1975, Earth, Wind & Fire starred in and recorded the soundtrack to the movie That's The Way of the World.  The title song is a very underrated gem:

The album soared to #1 on the Album chart for three weeks.  The follow-up single, "Shining Star", flew up to #1.

The movie went nowhere, but another great song on the album is this Top Track*.

Due to the success of the album, the group hired a brass section known as the Phenix Horns.  That move gave Earth, Wind & Fire its trademark sound, and the Phenix Horns became much in demand by other artists.

The group released the live album Gratitude, which gave them another top 5--"Sing A Song".

The 1976 release Spirit went Double Platinum, and generated two hits.  "Getaway" went to #12 overall and #1 on the R&B chart.

In 1977, the group released the album All'n All, which gave them another #1 R&B hit--"Serpentine Fire".

The follow-up was this magnificent song, one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.  Hard to believe it now, but this song peaked at #32.

Later that year, the group remade the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life" for the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and it became the group's third Top 10 hit.

"Jupiter" from the album is a Top Track*.

The group then released their first compilation, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1.  For the occasion, the group recorded a new song, "September", which hit #8 and went Gold.

The album has not sold over five million copies, a good indication of the group's huge and universal appeal.

In 1979, the group combined with the Emotions for the #6 hit "Boogie Wonderland".  All of a sudden, Earth, Wind & Fire had six Gold singles.

The album I Am also gave the band one of their biggest career hits, "After The Love Has Gone", which reached #2 and also went Gold.

EWF's last big hit came from the album Raise--"Let's Groove".

White led Earth, Wind & Fire to 33 career hits, with seven of those going Top 10 and one #1.  But many more of the supergroup's songs are either Top Tracks* or among some of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

White was a genius who finally found the right combination, and Earth, Wind & Fire generated tremendous excitement at live shows and among its huge legion of fans with each album release.  Another of the greats of the Rock Era has passed--we will greatly miss Maurice White, but we have his fantastic music that will live on.

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