Earth, Wind and Fire's Verdine White on Marriage, Legacy and Playing for Barack Obama

Earth, Wind and Fire's Verdine White on Marriage, Legacy and Playing for Barack Obama
flickr/Tom Beetz

Earth, Wind and Fire are one of those legendary bands that are beyond genre identification. Throughout the '70's, '80s and '90s, the band's mixture of R&B, soul, jazz, rock, funk, disco and gospel challenged radio programmers and sold more than 90 million albums.

From a tour stop in Los Angeles and in anticipation of Earth, Wind and Fire's show Sunday at the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie, bassist Verdine White was kind enough to (briefly) talk with DC9 about the band's lengthy career and the exciting new album Now, Then and Forever.

How come it took eight years to make the new album?

It really was six. The years, they come and go. Did you like the record?

Yes, I think it was a return to the classic sound of the mid '70s.

Oh great, great, great, fabulous, fabulous. That is so great. I am glad you liked the record.

Have the crowds responded well to the new material?

Yes, we played in Europe and they really like the new stuff a lot.

How does a band stay together for 44 years?

Well, first of all, we love what we do. We are very happy with what we have done. Plus, we have a great audience.

And you have been married for over 30 years.

I think it's been 32. You have to really love each other and understand each other. You have to talk. You have to keep things going in the same direction.

The audience has stuck with the band even through some stylistic changes. Was going back to the sound of the '70s and '80s intentional?

Yes, that's true, but we did it in a way that doesn't sound dated. I think we succeeded. It doesn't sound old or passé.

The band has sold 90 million albums. Is that validation in terms of being musician?

I'm sure it's more now. I am sure it's more now. I am sure it's 99 million now. It makes us happy to know that so many people love the music. That sticks with us, you know?

Of course, your brother Maurice is in the band. Have you had your fair share of arguments?

No, we are good. He is my guy. He is my mentor. I'll always love him.

You were raised in Chicago during that city's classic blues period. Was blues an early influence?

A little bit, but I loved the pop world and the jazz world. That was where I came from. I even listened to classical music.  

You were also influenced by the bass playing of Paul McCartney.

Yes, McCartney and Ron Carter and Richard Davis. They were all interesting bass players.

Earth, Wind and Fire are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you consider EWF a rock band?

No, not really, but we have done some rock. We did a song "Rock That."

VH1 listed EWF as number 60 in the greatest rock bands of all time.

Was it 60? That's all right. Sixty, wow, wow. That is great. That is a great number.

Rolling Stone magazine said that Earth, Wind and Fire changed the sound of black pop music.

We were one of the changes in pop music. We were very fortunate.

You have done some production work with bands like Level 42. Would you like to do more production work?

If I have time. Level 42 was a great project. It was great.

How did you end up playing with Jennifer Lopez?

Her manager called me about playing on the record. It was a fun project, a lot of fun.

You were invited by President Obama to play the White House. How does something like that go down?

They called and said, "The President Wants You." You can't say no to President Obama. You can't say no to him.

What was the set list?

We did "Boogie Wonderland," "Head to the Sky" and a few others.

Was he an appreciative audience member?

He came to the rehearsal. He is a great, great guy.

Earth, Wind and Fire perform Sunday, October 6, at the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie.

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