Earth Wind And Fire - Shining Star(1975)





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Published on Aug 9, 2008

Earth Wind And Fire - Shining Star

From The Album: That's the Way of the World

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941, bandleader and founder Maurice White moved to Chicago as a teenager and found work as a session drummer for Chess Records. By 1967, he was the new drummer in the Ramsey Lewis Trio, replacing Red Holt. In 1969, Maurice left the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and joined two friends in Chicago, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team which wrote songs and commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol, and called themselves the "Salty Peppers," and had a marginal hit in the Midwestern area called "La La Time."

The Salty Peppers' second single, "Uh Huh Yeah," didn't fare as well, and Maurice decided it was time for a change of location - and a change in the band's name, which turned into Earth, Wind & Fire. This was based on the fact that White's astrological sign being Sagittarius, had a primary elemental quality of Fire but also had seasonal qualities which are Earth, and Air, hence the omission of water.

White recruited Chicago singer Sherry Scott, along with local percussionist Phillard Williams, and then asked his younger brother Verdine whether he'd like to head out West. Verdine White joined the band in 1970 as their new bassist.

Maurice held auditions in L.A., adding Michael Beale on guitar, Chester Washington on reeds, Leslie Drayton for trumpet and initially the group's musical arranger, and trombonist Alex Thomas to the lineup. With Flemons playing vibes and electric piano and vocals, and Verdine on bass, percussion and vocals, a ten-member Earth, Wind & Fire was born. Their self-titled debut album, Earth, Wind & Fire, was released in 1970 to great critical acclaim, as was The Need of Love (1971). A single, from this album "I Think About Lovin' You" provided EWF with their first Top 40 R&B hit. However, some members of EWF were feeling decidedly restless and the band broke up after having been together for less than six months. Maurice White decided to re-form the group and he started holding auditions.

In 1971, the group performed Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (soundtrack) to the Melvin Van Peebles film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

In 1972, White dissolved the line-up (minus himself and brother Verdine White), and added Jessica Cleaves (vocals), former vocalist of the R&B group The Friends of Distinction, Ronnie Laws (flute, saxophone), Roland Bautista on guitar, Larry Dunn (keyboard), Ralph Johnson (musician) (percussion) and Philip Bailey (vocals, formerly of Friends & Love).

Warner Bros. did not know how to promote this new combo; the only other funk band on their label was Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. An audition for managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo led to an association that continued uninterrupted until 1983, and Cavallo's management of John Sebastian led to a series of gigs as opening act for the popular pop/folk singer. A performance at New York's Rockefeller Center introduced EWF to Clive Davis, then President of Columbia Records. Davis loved what he saw and bought their contract from Warner Brothers.

In the spring of 1972, EWF headed to the studio to record Last Days And Time, their CBS debut. The album featured mostly original material, but Philip Bailey had suggested the Pete Seeger song, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," and the group threw in a cover of the Bread hit "Make It With You" for good measure. Last Days And Time was also the first album that prominently featured Maurice White playing the Kalimba on the instrumental track "Power."

The album, Head to the Sky, was released in 1973, and with this album some personnel changes took place. By this time, Ronnie Laws and Roland Bautista had left to pursue new musical opportunities. Philip had recommended former Denver classmate Andrew Woolfolk, who had been busy in New York studying sax with sax maestro Joe Henderson and was on the verge of taking up a career in banking when Bailey called; guitarist Al McKay who had been performing with The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band; and guitarist Johnny Graham rounded out the lineup, after playing with R&B favorites New Birth.

The album yielded the group's first two legitimate hit singles: "Evil," co-written by Maurice and Philip, and the title track, "Keep Your Head To The Sky," both top 30 R&B and top 60 pop charts.

In 1974 the album Open Our Eyes was released, which was the group's first platinum album, a major hit. Jessica Cleaves, a former member of the Friends of Distinction, left after the "Head to the Sky" album.

"Open Your Eyes" was the turning point in providing EWF with its first Top 30 pop hit ("Mighty Mighty") In May 1974, "Mighty Mighty" became Earth Wind & Fire's first top 30 hit on the pop charts, peaking at #29. Their second hit single ("Devotion") was a song with a strong spiritual message.


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