How does any group become successful? What degree of chance occurrence, hard work, and chemistry have to come together for a group to become the standard in its field? A group like Earth, Wind, and Fire is an anomaly in the highest order. Such a group had to bloom organically; such a group couldn’t be forced. And yet, every group has a leader, an instigator, a spiritual guide. Such was Maurice White.
Maurice White became successful the old fashion way – he worked for it. In a time when current “musicians” can “compose” on a computer, and “performers” “entertain” us on YouTube, Maurice White was a standout leader whose old-school work ethic will outlast any current flavor of music.
His autobiography is a great read, not only for the behind-the-scenes information regarding E, W & F, but also for the balance of various personal topics. Many music related auto-biographies are salacious and sensationalize or contain minute details of life on the road and gig after gig. This book pulls back the curtain to reveal mature and adult topics such as his home life and family dynamics, experiences in his early music career, assembling and leading a music group, maintaining a work and personal life balance, quests for meaning and spirituality, and contemplating his legacy.
Also disclosed in the book are the names of the team White assembled in the studio. Specifically, studio engineer George Massenburg, and producer/collaborator Charles Stepney. These two were the secret sauce to White’s musical receipts. Imagine having to mix a classic E,W, & F song! Or try to come up with a chord progression or horn lick as funky as Stepney. Learning about Massenburg and Stepney was my “ah-ha” moment while reading this book. It was, to me, like learning the secret to a magic trick.
White (with author Herb Powell) assembled a book that will encourage and uplift. It’s as much about finding yourself and acting on your potential, as it is about assembling and maintain E, W & F. The book is about defining “the Concept” and working toward it. As Maurice wrote, “My concept of Earth, Wind & and Fire was that its music would render itself to humanity by encouraging an investment in the inner life (p. 87).”
Highly recommend this book. Also get Philip Bailey’s auto-biography, “Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire.” Read them back-to-back for cerebral and spiritual stereo effect!