Published March 2017
As a teenager in high school during the seventies, one of the most endearing and danceable bands to grace our school dances and car/home stereos was none other than Earth, Wind & Fire.
Their first huge hit was “Shining Star” took our school – and the whole world – by a dancing storm. Even today, the opening notes of that song immediately take me back to the sun-drenched campus of Moon Valley High School in Phoenix. Bell-bottom jeans, platform shoes, and some of the funkiest shirts ever made draped our youthful bodies.
Fast-forward to today: The band has repeatedly toured the world and has reportedly sold 100 million records. With a couple of their songs hitting the 2016 movies, Dr. Strange and Trolls, EWF is reaching all new audiences and creating another generation of life-long fans.
Sadly, the founder and genius behind EWF, Maurice White, passed away a year ago last month. His musical legacy is still being felt today and the band honors his memory by carrying on its mission of blessing the masses with their iconic hits.
Leading that mission is Maurice’s kid brother, Verdine White, who has been with the band as bass player since its inception. To say that Verdine is not only exceptionally talented but also high energy would be a severe understatement. The man doesn’t stop from the moment the hits the stage until the final bow. He makes the Energizer Bunny appear catatonic.
With Earth, Wind & Fire preparing to hit the road for another tour, I called Verdine at his California home to chat about his late brother, Trolls, and what fans might expect during this tour.
With the band having been in existence for almost fifty years, I started by asking Verdine if he thought that the band would last that long or that the songs would still stand so well.
“No, not at all. When you first start, you hope to get a couple of hits and things like that. You just hope for the best and then I thought I’d go back to teach and go back to school. But every year obviously got better and better and better. We have to thank my late brother, Maurice, for that. You know he passed away last year in February. He was the one with the vision. We’re just basically following the blueprint that he laid out.”
I mentioned to White that I had seen EWF with Chicago and that it was one of the best shows I’d ever seen.
“We just got done with Chicago in the fall. It was really fantastic and a great thing. They’re a great, great, great band! They were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. We’re really happy for them!”
Speaking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, EWF was inducted in 2000 so Chicago is in excellent company.
During our chat, I laughingly commented Mr. White’s hyper energy on stage and joked by asking what kind of cereal he eats.
“I try to eat as good as I can and it’s the music, man. The music really does it! It’s what keeps it together and that’s always so inspiring.”
Discussing the current tour, Verdine shared what fans can expect at the shows.
“Well, it’s going to be a great show. A lot of great energy. A lot of great songs. We’re on our fifth generation. Our music’s everywhere.
“One of the things we did is we have three songs in two of the biggest movies that came out before Christmas. Dr. Strange with Shining Star and we also did the Trolls soundtrack with Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. We have three songs in the number one and number two movie in the whole world – back-to-back; same weekend.
“What happened the other day, my wife and I were at dinner and a woman brought her three-year-old daughter to take pictures because she had just seen the Trolls movie and she was doing backflips in the theater. A three-and-a-half-year-old! And the parents brought them! They had just left the Trolls movie and said, ‘Can we take a picture? Can we take a picture?’ That’s amazing, isn’t it? That’s really a blessing and shows you the power of songs.”
As Mr. White mentioned, his brother, Maurice, passed away a year ago. I asked what thoughts he would share about his late brother.
“That he was a great person, first of all. He was a wonderful brother. He was just a great person. All those things first. And, of course, he was just a marvelously talented person! He was the best big brother that anybody could ever have. If it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”
With almost fifty years in the music business, I asked Verdine what has been the biggest and smallest changes in the music business that he’s witnessed.
“Well, of course, in my career I’ve seen a lot of changes in the music business. It’s evolved, you know what I mean, to the point that now everybody can get your music in one second. All your work can be over the whole world. I’m encouraged by the new developments because now we’re having some really wonderful, new artists and they all sound different. It has the ability to get to the audience. I’m really encouraged. Those are the biggest changes I’ve seen.
“The change that I haven’t seen is that you still have to put the work in. That doesn’t change! You still got to put the work in! You still got to put the effort in. That part hasn’t changed!”
I hypothetically asked White what he would do to fix the music business if he were appointed “Music Czar” by the president.
“I think all the businesses – we’ve all had to adjust to the new world – the digital world. That’s not just only our businesses. Magazines, newspapers, a lot of our print media has suffered, you know what I mean? I’m sure you know because you’re in that world, as well.
“But what I would do to fix it is put think tanks together to adjust at every change. The changes are happening faster and faster and faster. That’s what I would do. Put a think tank together for how to reach the audiences, listening to the audiences. Remember, we used to have suggestion boxes when we were at work, right? I think you could do those kinds of things and find out what the audience wants; how to price it for them, and serve the public. I think that’s all our job. That’s what I would do.
As for what’s on the band’s radar for the next year or two, White said, “We haven’t really thought about it yet. It’s a long way. The most things that we’re doing right now is getting for the tour and then we’ll take it from there.”
And what would he like to do musically that he hasn’t done yet?
“God, there’s so many things! I would still love to play with the London Symphony Orchestra! That’s what I would love to do!”
As we wrapped up our chat, I asked the renowned bass player what I often ask artists at the end of an interview: When you step off the tour bus of life at the Great Gig in The Sky (to paraphrase Pink Floyd), how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“When you’re at this point in our career, that’s the question you get. If you were a young act you wouldn’t give them that question. I think it’s still in process, you know? It’s still in process, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s my answer. It’s an obvious question to people like us, when you’ve been around for quite some time. I think it still begs to be written. People ask me about Maurice’s legacy I say that it’s still being written.”
Then, almost as if he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to give meaningful advice to the current generation of artist, Verdine adds:
“One of the things that I tell young artists who come up to me is that I tell them to take care of themselves. Take care of themselves! Start now! That’s the one thing that I do say. I always say, ‘Stay strong! Stay healthy!’ That’s what I tell the younger artists when they come up to me.”
After our chat, I talked to Verdine about his charity, The Verdine White Performing Arts Center. It’s an organization he put together to help kids who have musical talent by way of providing instruments, lessons, or scholarships. Boomerocity is proud to help this worthy cause by making our readers aware of it. Please consider making a contribution.
Also, be sure to enjoy the music of the movie, Trolls, as well as catch Earth, Wind and Fire at one of their tour stops near you.
You can keep up with Verdine and the rest of Earth, Wind and Fire at WWW.EarthWindandFire.com.