Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire

Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire

4.8 11
by Philip Bailey, Keith Zimmerman, Kent Zimmerman
     
 

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Earth, Wind&Fire has sold some ninety million records and won eight Grammy awards. But while its charismatic founder, Maurice White, and Philip Bailey, one of popular music’s greatest voices, are remarkable musical talents, their relentless work ethic exhausted and emotionally gutted the group. Now, Bailey shares the inside story of his professional and… See more details below

Overview

Earth, Wind&Fire has sold some ninety million records and won eight Grammy awards. But while its charismatic founder, Maurice White, and Philip Bailey, one of popular music’s greatest voices, are remarkable musical talents, their relentless work ethic exhausted and emotionally gutted the group. Now, Bailey shares the inside story of his professional and spiritual journey, from his origins to the band’s meteoric rise to stardom, and from its breakup to its triumphant reinvention. Shining Star will mesmerize the supergroup’s millions of fans and anyone who loves an inspiring story about what happens when real life exceeds your dreams.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
Bailey, lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire, chronicles his quest to transcend his humble origins and become his own “shining star” in this new memoir. Bailey is most successful when he stays true to his deep knowledge of music and enthusiasm for the minutiae of the business, as when he charts the myriad influences that contributed to EWF’s unique sound, from Sly Stone to Sergio Mendes. Detailed accounts of the craft of recording, like one of building EWF’s signature groove in the studio with legendary producer Charles Stepney, are a treat for devoted fans of the band. The cast of characters in and around EWF is also vividly rendered, with special attention paid to Bailey’s sometimes-fraught relationships with bandleader Maurice White and White’s younger brother Verdine. Despite Maurice’s unconventional business arrangements and the band’s unceremonious breakup in 1983, Bailey’s respect for his former mentor keeps any bitterness from coming across. Bailey flounders when disclosing details of his personal life, although an early scene with his father is affecting. Still, fans of Bailey’s music will find him a warm and occasionally very funny guide through the elements of this American band that Rolling Stone declared “changed the sound of black pop.” (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"An energetic memoir about a complex individual and his music."
~Kirkus Reviews
 

"Fans of Bailey’s music will find him a warm and occasionally very funny guide through the elements of this American band that Rolling Stone declared “changed the sound of black pop."

~Publishers Weekly

 
"[Shining Star] is a memoir of a man, a band, and a vision.... What may impress the most is Bailey’s honesty in relating conflicts that eventually tore the band apart, as well as his own shortcomings."

"If you’ve ever been a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire (and who hasn’t?), buy this book!"

~Ebony
 

"Ninety million records sold. Eight Grammy awards. Lot of platinum and gold records. And lead singer Bailey’s leaping multi-octave range. The numbers speak for themselves, but Bailey has more to say in this memoir, which ranges from Earth, Wind, & Fire’s early years to founder Maurice White’s disbanding the group in 1983 to Bailey’s solo career (which gave us “Easy Lover”) to the group’s reuniting and eventual ascension to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

~Library Journal

A fun read overall, especially for the many EWF fans still out there.
~Booklist

all

all
"An energetic memoir about a complex individual and his music."
~Kirkus Reviews
 

"Fans of Bailey’s music will find him a warm and occasionally very funny guide through the elements of this American band that Rolling Stone declared “changed the sound of black pop."
~Publishers Weekly  

"[Shining Star] is a memoir of a man, a band, and a vision.... What may impress the most is Bailey’s honesty in relating conflicts that eventually tore the band apart, as well as his own shortcomings."
 
"If you’ve ever been a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire (and who hasn’t?), buy this book!"
~Ebony
 

"Ninety million records sold. Eight Grammy awards. Lot of platinum and gold records. And lead singer Bailey’s leaping multi-octave range. The numbers speak for themselves, but Bailey has more to say in this memoir, which ranges from Earth, Wind, & Fire’s early years to founder Maurice White’s disbanding the group in 1983 to Bailey’s solo career (which gave us “Easy Lover”) to the group’s reuniting and eventual ascension to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
~Library Journal

A fun read overall, especially for the many EWF fans still out there.
~Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-04
Earth, Wind & Fire lead singer Bailey recounts his groovy life at the center of one of the most influential bands ever to don gold lamé capes and platform boots. The author was just a fresh-faced kid barely out of his teens when an older, wiser musician named Maurice White turned him onto "The Concept," the elder artist's genre-defying vision to transform a somewhat motley version of Earth, Wind & Fire into one of the most powerful musical ensembles in the world. As remarkable as it seems, the amiable young percussionist with the smooth falsetto voice and rough family background was being tapped to play a pivotal role in the maestro's grand design. Covering both the joys of "making it" in the funk-filled 1970s, as well as the costs of achieving that kind of early stratospheric success, Bailey and his co-writers consistently tell a singular musical story with an impressive fluidity that feels brisk even while covering lots of ground. Longtime fans will no doubt appreciate the time devoted to exploring the production of the signature EWF sound, while also getting to know the players behind chart toppers like "September," "Shining Star" and "Boogie Wonderland." But Bailey doesn't stop there, nor does he ignore the seamier side of the EWF story or his own womanizing. "From the first day Janet and I were married, I had no intention of remaining faithful," he writes. "As a child I didn't witness much faithfulness in my parents' generation." Bailey seems just as candid about his complicated relationship with White, a man he continues to respect and revere on many levels, even while confronting the many business-oriented transgressions that led to EWF's initial implosion. Ultimately, the author succeeds in illuminating his life both inside and outside his legendary band. An energetic memoir about a complex individual and his music.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101607930
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/15/2014
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
174,174
File size:
6 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Prelude

The Concept

Looking back and upon reflection, Earth, Wind & Fire’s premier mission has been to raise people to a higher level of consciousness. Maurice White—our founder, visionary, and mentor—called it “the Concept.” He’d sit me down, and we’d talk about it for hours. He stressed the importance of the Concept. He had drawings, charts, and schematics of the band detailing the Concept.

“Always be strong talking about the Concept,” he emphasized.

It was 1972 in Los Angeles, the year Motown Records relocated from Detroit to the West Coast. Maurice White’s brainchild musical ensemble had already released two albums on Warner Brothers Records, the self-titled Earth, Wind & Fire and The Need to Love in 1970 and 1971, respectively. They were ambitious, eclectic re- leases that explored the tenets of soul, jazz, blues, and other facets of American music. Yet when disagreements over direction and leadership clouded the picture, in 1971 Maurice promptly dis- solved the Warner lineup. He started over in early 1972, having left Chicago for Southern California. The second time around, he was advised to enlist a group of young, eager players he could guide and who would inject more vitality and energy into the group.

That’s how I came to join Earth, Wind & Fire. I was a twenty- one-year-old “country” lad, arriving in Los Angeles from Denver with a pregnant wife and a large duffel bag—big enough to hold my conga drums.

Maurice, the tall, slim, and dapper singer, composer, and drummer of EWF, had auditioned and then assembled an ambitious eight-piece group of mostly anxious rookies. I was the third member to join a lineup that included me as a singer-percussionist, Maurice’s lanky brother, Verdine White, on bass, singer Jessica Cleaves from the slick R&B pop group Friends of Distinction, local Los Angeles drummer Ralph Johnson, horn player Ronnie Laws (younger brother of jazz flautist Hubert Laws), guitarist Ro- land Bautista, and keyboardist Lorenzo (Larry) Dunn, who had migrated to LA alongside me from Denver.

Spring 1972 had sprung some impressive R&B superstars and megahits: Sly and the Family Stone were at their creative peak with “Family Affair.” The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” was a sexy across-the-board success, and Al Green tore it up with the silky “Let’s Stay Together.” All three became timeless smash cross- over hits on both the R&B and Top 40 charts.

Earth, Wind & Fire had just been signed to Columbia Records. Things were happening pretty fast. We had just wowed the label staff at their national convention and were in the process of recording our Columbia debut album, Last Days and Time. Yet when it came time to hit the road and solidify our skills as a working road band in order to spread our musical gospel, we had a ways to go. Maurice had hit many a brick wall getting his band to the per- forming stage, so to speak. Whenever we had an important gig lined up, particularly on the East Coast, something would go wrong at the last minute, and the tour or the dates would be canceled. There were times when I was on my way to the airport, only to find out at the airline gate that our gigs had fallen through . . . again. It must have been doubly frustrating for Maurice, our fear- less leader, though he didn’t let on at the time. Later, I was to realize at first hand what a gargantuan and supremely demanding undertaking it took, year in and year out, to keep a band this large out on the road.

Even though we were newly signed to Columbia, these were the shoestring touring days of EWF. We’d load the band and our gear into station wagons and weave our way around the East Coast. We weren’t exactly traveling in style, but we were safe; that is, as long as Verdine wasn’t driving. We loved Verdine’s solid bass lines, but he got the prize for being the worst driver in the band. He would jerk the wheel and head straight into oncoming traffic on busy city streets. Maurice had this big old twelve-passenger green van that we drove around LA. It was the only vehicle we drove besides Maurice’s car. You can’t imagine how that poor van looked after Verdine had driven it for a few consecutive days, all the dents where he didn’t quite make the corners, the paint on its back and sides a mass of scratches and scrapes.

One day we received a call about a performance in Philadelphia. We agreed to do the gig for Georgie Woods, a legendary deejay and promoter who booked concerts at the Uptown Theatre, a 2,000-seater built in 1927 in Philly. The Uptown, at 2240 North Broad Street, was nearly as sacred as Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater in New York City. It was part of the so-called chitlin’ circuit, which African American acts toured on for years. (I would find out later that we had barely enough money to get to the gig in Philly. We would need to book some extra, fill-in college shows to earn enough money to make it back home to California.)

We were sandwiched in with two other acts on the bill at the Uptown, which also included an eleven-piece funk outfit called New Birth and the velvety R&B vocal group The Manhattans. New Birth, led by composer-producer Harvey Fuqua (who would later produce Marvin Gaye’s album Sexual Healing), had a male and female lead-singer combo like us, but they also played James Brown–style licks and imitated the Godfather of Soul’s vocal lines on one of their songs.

Talk that talk! Get on down! Get on the good foot!

The Manhattans were newly signed to Columbia, just like we were, but they were a more traditional doo-wop-styled harmonizing R&B group. Their latest radio song at the time, “One Life to Live,” had a buttery spoken-word groove going, with seductive doo-wop harmonies underneath.

Compared to The Manhattans and New Birth, our music was sure to sound quite revolutionary, and far from what the more traditional black audiences at the Uptown might expect. We often threw in bits of free jazz mixed with African world beats, Afro- Cuban rhythms, and our own brand of layered vocals, which included Jessica’s, Maurice’s tenor, and my falsetto. Nobody was playing anything like that at the time. We included fusion-styled jams left over from the Warner albums, along with a unique arrangement of David Gates of Bread’s “Make It with You.” We would throw in an occasional Sly and the Family Stone cover for spice.

Earth, Wind & Fire had a lot of spirit and energy; we were still raw and bodacious. Maurice reminded us, “They’re either going to like us or hate us. We don’t want anything in between, and we don’t want to be middle of the road, like those doo-wop groups.” As for our look, Maurice encouraged us to be creative with our wardrobe. No way would we don matching suits like The Spinners, nor did we want to go onstage dressed down in jeans and T-shirts like The Allman Brothers. We aimed for a unique flair, only we didn’t have much money for stage clothes. We raided the LA costume stores, the Capezio dance shops, and used-clothing joints in Hollywood, picking up anything that caught our attention as flamboyant and different. We wore long thermal underwear with brightly colored vests and makeshift belts! Our good friend Jean Jones crocheted big floppy knit hats for us—the same kind she knitted for Sly Stone in the early days.

When we arrived for load-in at the Uptown, the other bands on the bill looked at our motley troupe as if we were cuckoo — probably not too differently from how the pioneering hip-hoppers were treated by the older, more established African American mu- sic establishment. We paid no attention to the doo-wop bands. We were too much into our thing. The chitlin’ circuit concept was old hat; to our young aggregation, it was definitely dated. Maurice had a loftier Concept in mind—one that would signify universal love and spiritual enlightenment.

After we finished our brief sound check, we told Georgie the promoter that we were headed back to our hotel. Georgie and his stage manager got very upset with us—we were breaking the Up- town tradition of brotherhood by bolting for the door early. “We don’t do that around here,” he explained to us. “Y’all stay here all day long until you hit that stage.”

Maurice, thin and lean, had a certain swagger about him—a stylish look that he brought with him from Chicago. Both Maurice and Verdine wore sharp, citified short-brimmed hats, smooth silk shirts, and lean bell-bottom pants. With EWF, Maurice wanted to bring the same sense of theater and flash to the stage. EWF was about more than just playing songs and performing. But how would we distinguish ourselves from the other two bands on the bill that night?

Maurice assembled the entire group inside our cramped dressing room. “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said in the huddle. “When the curtain opens, we’re going to be sitting on the stage, looking right back at the audience.”

My response was skeptical. “Are you sure?”

“That’s what we’re gonna do,” Maurice reiterated. “Then slowly we’ll each get up and individually go to our instruments and start to play.”

When we were introduced by the emcee, as the curtain rose, there we were, stoically sitting on the Uptown’s dirty, sticky stage floor, staring back at the audience as if we were the masters of the universe.

We were roundly booed by the crowd. We still didn’t move.

Then came more hostility.

“Get off the stage! You guys stink!”

A typically tough Philly horde.

The audience laughed and heckled the band. But we remained motionless on the floor, in the lotus position as Maurice had coached us, transfixed in meditation mode, staring blissfully at the audience. Maurice reassured us: We should sit and be silent. As the hostile Philly crowd began to throw stuff onto the stage, we stared straight ahead, quiet as church mice. I was frightened but obedient to Maurice’s vision. As things calmed down to an awkward pause, the crowd saw that we weren’t going to budge. Maurice made the first move, playing notes on his kalimba, a small handheld hurdy-gurdy-sounding exotic African instrument that he plucked with his thumbs.

We opened our set with “Power,” an extended instrumental jam the band had recently written in the recording studio. It started out quiet and peaceful with tinkling notes from Maurice’s kalimba. Then Roland Bautista stood up, adding a tight but slightly dissonant wah-wah rhythm guitar. Ronnie Laws popped up next, grabbing his soprano saxophone and weaving in some fluid jazzy countermelodies. Then Larry Dunn added spiky clavichord changes from his keyboards. Our drummer, Ralph Johnson, kicked into a tight 4/4 medium-tempo backbeat. Next, Verdine slid into a hypnotic, rolling power bass line. Finally, I ran over to the congas and joined in. As the band kicked into high gear, the audience was now bobbing and moving to our new brand of rhythmic fusion. The EWF spaceship had just taken off, and the crowd stood up. The room was sonically airborne.

We blew the audience’s minds that night. By the time the song was over, the crowd was wildly applauding. We’d won them over! As “Reese” (one of Verdine’s nicknames for Maurice) was stroking his kalimba and leading the band, the people sensed that they were hearing something fresh and innovative, an intriguing extension of the whole pride and power movement and a brand-new human-potential experience. As proud African American men (and one woman), we knew we were onto something and that we had connected with our inner selves onstage as well as with the crowd. By the end of our set, we kept the audience on its feet. The heckling had turned into hoots and stomps, awarding us an encore.

The 1972 Uptown Theatre gig was ground zero for Earth, Wind
& Fire. That night set a template for what was to be. We were the ones who broke ranks at that gig in Philly, dressed in colorful, flowing shirts, Capezio ballet shoes, draped in all sorts of chains, bells, and costume jewelry.

When we got back to the hotel in downtown Philadelphia, Mau- rice called an impromptu band meeting. We sensed something unique and very special had just happened that we needed to affirm together. We had hit our mark. It was a huge tribal, ceremonial moment for us. We had heard the people in the backstage area whispering behind our backs, “Them Negroes are straight crazy.”

And maybe we were.

But we were also “strong about the Concept.”

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