Earth, Wind & Fire is in the envious position only a small number of music acts ever reach. As a group that put together an extended string of albums and hit singles in the 1970s and ’80s, Earth, Wind & Fire could tour as long as its members want without ever worrying about making new music.
The group’s enduring songs and sound have earned a loyal fan base that continues to come out to concerts, as well as newer fans who continue to discover Earth, Wind & Fire through radio play of the group’s hits or via the internet and other music sources.
But while the group no longer cranks out an album every year or so — as it did through the mid-1980s — Earth, Wind & Fire continues to create new music. The latest batch of songs arrived in fall 2013 on the album, “Now, Then & Forever.”
Bassist Verdine White knows that Earth, Wind & Fire doesn’t have to make new albums — especially in this age when downloading has sharply cut into album sales and become a major disincentive for long-running groups to bother with writing and recording new music. But White says Earth, Wind & Fire isn’t ready to live off of its catalog. “We didn’t really need to make a new record, but we really wanted to,” he says. “And I think that was really our goal. We wanted to and we knew we could make a good record. And we knew we could be creative.”
Today’s edition of Earth, Wind & Fire tackled the new album even though it marked the first time Verdine White’s brother, Maurice White, was not significantly involved in an album by the group. Maurice White was forced to retire from touring in 1994 because of Parkinson’s disease.
White didn’t offer many details about his brother’s current health or why he didn’t participate in “Now, Then & Forever.”
“It’s an interesting thing, but Maurice is cool,” White says. “He’s very at peace with everything. And he’s done a great job in his life. He heard the album, and he really loves what we did and (how) we just kept going on,” he says of his brother.
To say Maurice’s absence is notable would be an understatement. After all, he was always the group’s leader, chief songwriter and main architect of Earth, Wind & Fire’s familiar horn-accented, melodic brand of R&B/pop.
Beginning with its 1975 breakthrough album, “That’s The Way Of The World,” Earth, Wind & Fire reeled off a string of platinum albums and hit singles (“Shining Star, “Sing A Song,” “September” and “After The Love Has Gone,” to name a few) that extended into the mid-1980s.
The hit-making days may have pretty much ended there, but the group has continued to make albums and tour ever since. And Earth, Wind & Fire’s enduring sound, influence and chart successes earned the band induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
If for “Now, Then & Forever,” Earth, Wind & Fire had to do without Maurice White, the group did welcome back to the fold Larry Dunn, who since 1998 had been pursuing a successful career as a producer and songwriter and solo artist (he released a pair of jazz-based albums).
Dunn had been a significant contributor to Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic music, and he took a major role in the new album, writing, producing and playing keyboards.
“It was great that he was into it,” Verdine White says of Dunn’s renewed involvement in the group. “Larry did a great, great, great job.”
The main songwriter on “Now, Then & Forever,” though, was longtime singer Philip Bailey, who had a hand in seven of the 10 songs on the album, setting the tone for an album that White says came together nicely.
“We were very ready to do an album, and the album started at Philip’s house, Philip Bailey’s home, where we started listening and going through songs and the process,” White says. “Then we started really getting down to recording and the process was really, really smooth.”
The music the group created on “Now, Then & Forever” is very much in the mold of the band’s classic 1970s/’80s albums — which was the idea.
“We definitely had to switch the approach [without Maurice], but
really stay true to the Earth, Wind & Fire sound,” White says.
Although the latest songs fit comfortably alongside the hits, White said Earth Wind & Fire won’t overload its live show with new material.
“We are going to play a couple of tunes from the new album, which we are very happy about,” White says.“Obviously it’s hard to get all of the songs we have out in a set. You can’t do it all.”