A child of the ‘60s and ‘70s such as myself undoubtedly has diverse musical taste. When I was growing up, a little too young for Woodstock, but definitely aware of its peace and love message, I listened to everything. Could have been folk, rock, soul, R&B, edgy, mellow – didn’t matter as long as it spoke to me. If it sounded good, if it appealed to whatever it was I was looking for at the time, I listened to it on the radio, then went out and bought the LP. My collection – still sitting in my hall closet – ranges from James Taylor to Led Zeppelin to Earth, Wind & Fire.
So I was pretty excited about reading Philip Bailey’s autobiography, Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire. He’s a hell of a singer and performer and I was interested in finding out more about the origins of one of my favorite bands from back in the day.
Maurice White, who founded the band, is a progressive thinker who drew on the sounds of jazz, R&B, soul, and a smattering of rock to come up with a unique sound and vision for EWF. White, according to good friend Bailey, is a free-thinking man who has studied a multitude of religions and incorporated their messages into his music. Definitely a hippie kind of philosophy.
Bailey is not an original member of the band, but writes of its beginnings. Discovered by football legend Jim Brown, EWF’s second album was the soundtrack for a now obscure movie called "Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song." Though the band found some success, White, whose brother Verdine is also a member of EWF, reformed the lineup in 1972 to take it in a new direction. Enter Bailey, already in his own band and an accomplished percussionist, and the start of the rise of EWF to fame.
White wanted his new band to bring something to the musical table that built on the hippie message; he envisioned a fan who was taken to a “higher plane of consciousness. . . Reese’s (Reese is short for Maurice) musical idea was grounded in love, personal power, spirituality, and lifting the consciousness of humanity.” Before long, the musicians caught the attention of Clive Davis, and the climb to the top grew a little bit shorter.
As Bailey writes, recording That’s The Way of the World was the pinnacle of EWF’s happiness. His falsetto against White’s tenor, the amazing horn section, the elaborate stage shows, and the message of the music were appealing to audiences all over the world. The album features the hit "Shining Star" and led to a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. EWF was at the top.
Bailey’s autobiography is an interesting read - it’s a good balance of personal and professional history. This reviewer does not want to give any more details – you’ll have to get a copy to find out more, especially if you’re an Easy Lover fan and want to find out about his collaboration with Phil Collins.
The one thing the books lacks is photographs. While there is a collection of photos, the collection is not large enough. I was hoping for an extensive section of photographs documenting the history of the band, particularly from their performances. But I’m sure there’s a reason for that. (And if you’re an EWF fan, you got the bad pun.)
While White no longer tours with EWF (yes, they still tour), the band and Bailey are still spreading its beautiful post-hippie message. Still got to get EWF into my life. And always will.