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Phone interview recorded August 20, 2013

Remarkably. four decades-plus since Earth, Wind & Fire began recording, three of the core members - Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson - continue touring to sold out auditoriums worldwide, keeping the EW&F legacy very much alive.

In conjunction with the release of the aptly-titled NOW, THEN & FOREVER - their first brand new CD in a few years - and shows in the UK, David Nathan (who began interviewing EW&F back in 1975) catches up with an ever-busy Verdine White..,

David: I don’t really know what to say about speaking to this next gentleman. I think the first time I spoke to him was in 1975, but I wouldn’t absolutely swear on that, but I will say this: my introduction to Earth Wind & Fire was around that time and I remember listening to Earth Wind & Fire before I came to America and I was already hooked. Once I got to America and I saw Earth Wind & Fire at Madison Square Garden – it was the first big show I ever saw, and it is still right there in my memory banks and over decades. I’ve interviewed for Verdine, Maurice [White] and Philip [Bailey], I don’t know how many times. To say that they’re my favourite band would probably prejudice the interview a little bit, but it’s true. I am biased and I don’t have any regret about saying I’m biased before we begin the interview. By the way, I’m doing this interview because Earth Wind & Fire has a brand new album called NOW THEN AND FOREVER and that’s going to be the focus of this particular conversation. So, welcome to, Verdine White. Hello, Verdine.

Verdine: Hey, David. How are you? It’s so good to talk to you again. It’s like I’m talking to my wonderful friend, not an interviewer.

David: That’s very true. After many decades! But let’s get right to it. Tell us about how this album came about. What’s the idea behind it? But, first, how did this all emerge? I know it’s on Legacy, which is part of Sony Music, which of course was the label that through Columbia Records, you were with for many, many, many years. So, tell us a little bit of the back-story of how this all came about.

Verdine: Well, this was a two-year process and the album started at Philip’s home and we started going through songs and we had a good time working at his home and we spent a few days out there just going through material. Then, he went back and he started listening to a lot of the Earth Wind & Fire music from probably the beginning all the way up to [the album] FACES because the challenge that we had to face is that we had to figure out how to make a new Earth Wind & Fire album now in 2012-13-14. So, we ended up going back and looking at people like Neal Pogue from OutKast and things like that. So, it was great. It was great and then it came about, and Philip D. Bailey, Philip’s son. So, it was a good thing. So, it turned out that that’s what this product turned out to be: NOW THEN AND FOREVER.

David: Now, at what point did it become clear what the concept of it was?

Verdine: After Philip listened, because this was the first album that we did without Maurice even in production.

David: Really?

Verdine: Yeah, ever in our career. So, there were a lot of challenges, and a lot of challenges on him. So we brought back Larry Dunn. Larry Dunn came on and helped us quite a bit. A great tie that really glued us together. So it turned out really, really good. So, that’s what this album’s about.

David: Was there a point at which you knew you had a whole album’s worth of material? At what point would that have been? At what song did you say, ‘okay, now we’ve got enough?’

Verdine: Well, we cut a lot of songs and we narrowed it down to like about ten that were going to go on the album. So, then we knew we had it. Then, last year we knew we were going to put it out in November or December, but we weren’t ready yet. Then it started coming together right at the top of the year and we were done by January or February.

David: Okay, and who came up with the idea of the title?

Verdine: Kind of a collective between Damien Smith, our manager, Philip, myself, because it kind of reflected where we are in our band career. We’re here now, we were here yesterday.

David: That’s true.

Verdine: And we’ll be here forever, even when we’re not doing it. Our music’s going to live on forever, and we know that now.

David: Now, was there a point in time when you realized that was true?

Verdine: Well, you know, when you have a long career, you don’t know if it’s true or not. You don’t know, but we figured it out and we realized that we did know. Of course, from touring, of course from performing, of course from the awards we’ve gotten, comments from the fans, how they feel about it. So, the title came about because of our experiences together.

David: Yeah. I’d like to talk to you about some of the specific songs, if we may? Some of the first, I think the single… do people still have singles, Verdine? (LOL)

Verdine: Yes they do. They still do. Actually, singles, we’re in that era of singles, aren’t we?

David: I guess we are. It still feels weird to me to talk about singles, given that that’s what I grew up on, but there you go. So, I understand that that is “My Promise”, am I correct?

Verdine: Yes.

David: So, tell us a little bit about “My Promise”, the song itself and the idea behind it and how the song came about.

Verdine: The song was brought to us by Neal Pogue, who actually produced “Guiding Light”. That was actually one of the first singles that came up last year. When Philip heard it, Philip said that it was a song that sounded like one of the greatest songs Philip had ever heard. So, Neal brought “My Promise”, which was also co-written by Siedah Garrett.

David: Absolutely. Really? Wow.

Verdine: And it’s her voice in there.

David: Okay. And you mentioned “Guiding Light”, which was one of the songs which I wanted to talk to you about. So, can you give us a little bit of background history about that song? When I heard it, it really did take me back to the days gone by. It really does sound as if it could have been on an album like I AM or ALL ‘N ALL. It could have been on one of those albums., which is really astounding when you think that this is 2013. So, I’m really curious about that song and how it got created in such a way that it really sounds like it could fit on one of those albums. Tell me about that.

Verdine: Well, it could fit on those albums because it’s us playing on it, you know? We did those records, of course, myself, and Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson. We are Earth Wind & Fire, and we did all those great records. So, it really wasn’t that stretch once we got into it…

David: Right. And of course, with the song itself, it reminds me or puts me in mind of some of the classics, like “Head to the Sky” and I could go on, “Devotion”, songs that definitely had a message. I’d like to hear a little bit more from you about the song itself, about “Guiding Light”.

Verdine: “Guiding Light”, it was the song that Philip had heard first and that song was also brought by Neal Pogue. That was kind of the precursor…. It kind of was the template to let us know that we could sound like Earth Wind and Fire today.

David: Yeah, which I’m sure must be a challenge, to make sure like you still sound like you did and yet still sound contemporary.

Verdine: Yeah, it’s interesting.

David: Another song that I want to ask you about, which is “Love is Law”…

Verdine: “Love is Law” was written by J.R. Hutchinson and Damien Smith, our manager, brought that song [to us]. When we heard it, we were like, ‘it’s a really great R&B song, really, really great R&B tune. ‘

David: Am I right that he’s related to Leroy Hutson?

Verdine: Yeah. Right. That’s his son.

David: That’s what I thought. I was pretty sure, and I wanted to make sure you told me rather than me guessing.

Verdine: That’s right. Exactly. Yeah, that’s his son.

David: And how did you guys meet?

Verdine: Well, he wrote some stuff for Jill Scott, you know? It sounded good, we were sounding good. Then the production that Neal Pogue put on it, it turned out really great.

David: You mentioned, was it Philip’s son producing some of the other tracks or was it Philip?

Verdine: Yeah, he co-wrote a couple things and co-produced a couple of songs, “Dance Floor” he wrote and he’s done a really good job. So, we’re really happy. The whole project was a very collaborative effort and things like that. It turned out really good.

David: How is it for you working with younger producers, people who are obviously much younger than you, given you’ve been around for a long time. How is it for you to actually be in the studio with young producers and writers – what’s it like?

Verdine: Well, for me, it’s not that big of a deal. If the person has talent, it’s the same process as if you’ve been there. The key, I think, with younger writers and producers is for them to understand who you are and to hopefully they’ve listened to you enough to understand that they make you sound like yourself without being too promiscuous, with making you deviate from who you are.

David: And this is the first studio album you’ve done since, for a few years in fact, the last one was ILLUMINATION?

Verdine: Yes.

David: Wow. So, did you want to record during that time period, or was it just not the right time?

Verdine: Well, we’ve been thinking about it. It just wasn’t the right time. We’ve been touring and doing television shows and doing so much stuff. You know what I mean? We have been doing so much stuff and that’s let us sort of build and grow and don’t forget, a lot of things have been going on in the world. The election of Barack Obama. So, people weren’t really preoccupied really that much with music, with where the state of the world was going. So, now that we’ve kind of settled down again in the world a little bit, a little, and I mean that – by a little – we’re able, people can concentrate on music and sports and some of the things they were doing prior to that time.

David: This album as I mentioned earlier is on Legacy, which is a part of Sony, how did that whole process come about?

Verdine: Well, it was actually Damien Smith who put [the] Sony Legacy [deal] together. We met with Sony Legacy a couple years, maybe three years ago we had a meeting with them, with Adam Block, but we didn’t hear back from them for like about eight months. So, we figured they weren’t interested, and maybe it wasn’t going to work and then they came to the Beacon Theater [in New York] to see us and when they saw us they said, ‘oh we have to do something with these guys,’ and that’s what happened.

Then they saw the audiences and saw the sold out crowds, then we have over a million followers on Facebook. So, and I think we had of course a long legacy. People were still obviously interested in Earth Wind & Fire. So, I think that had a lot to do with them wanting to work with us, and they’ve done a great job. We had the opportunity to have meetings with them and their staff, which we hadn’t done in years, where we kind of had a chance to put in our ideas of what we thought we were and kind of make it a collaborative effort.

David: Well, one of the things that I noticed was that the cover, which is very reminiscent, as I said, of classic Earth Wind & Fire albums like I AM and ALL ‘N ALL. So, you had it designed that way on purpose, I’m assuming, in keeping with the tradition of those kinds of albums. Is that correct?

Verdine: That’s right, exactly.

David: Now, I’ve got to ask you this, I know you mentioned about touring, and I think – have you ever stopped touring?

Verdine: We had a break in the middle ‘80s, but we haven’t stopped, stopped, stopped. We’ve taken little breaks here and there, but what people don’t realize is that the touring concert market is bigger than it’s ever been.

David: Really?

Verdine: It’s bigger than it’s ever been and people your age don’t go out to concerts as much as they used to because you’re older, you’ve got to go to bed early and your feet hurt so you can’t go from the parking lot to the arena! LOL

David: Oh no. You’re talking to the wrong guy, Verdine. You’re talking about some of your other senior citizen friends! LOL

Verdine: No, but check this though, a lot of younger people are going to concerts more than they’ve ever gone to. They’re so curious about the artists they’ve heard about. They’re going to see people like us. They’re going to see Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, the Eagles, the Stones.

David: Charlie Wilson.

Verdine: That’s right, Charlie Wilson. All of the great names. They’re going to see a lot of great, great artists today.

David: I’ve got to ask you this, like I said, you’ve been touring forever almost, with a little break here and there. How do you personally and also you, Philip and Ralph, how do you keep going, touring? I know you don’t have one of these schedules that’s like nonstop, but it’s pretty much nonstop! It’s not like you’ve got big gaps in between.

Verdine: Well, you know we were in London, in your neck of the woods a few weeks ago and we played a big festival. That tour was a pretty intense, grueling tour.

David: But how do you keep going, physically and mentally?

Verdine: First of all, you get yourself together physically. You take it seriously. You wrap your head around it mentally, which you have to do. Your shows are sold out so you know not to ‘phone it in.’ You know to really nail it down.

David: Are you surprised that…is it true to say that Earth Wind & Fire is as popular now as ever?

Verdine: Yeah, I think so, I think in a different way. I think some writers, if you talk to a lot of the older writers that started with us, you know –

David: Like me?

Verdine: Yeah, that’s you…! think a lot of the older writers who started with us would probably say that our heyday was the ‘70s, but the writers, the bloggers of today would say our most accepted period is now because they’re seeing us right now. Because, first of all, they’ve heard about us from their parents, their relatives, so it’s made them curious. Like, we have three sold out nights at the Hollywood Bowl coming up.

David: Really? Are you kidding me? That’s like 90,000 people!

Verdine: That’s right. Then we did 45,000 in Osaka. We did 25,000 in Tokyo the other night. So, what I’m saying is we actually, in a certain kind of way, have been leaving our other generation behind. They’re having to keep up with us now because we’ve walked into this new era of social networking and blogging and television shows and award shows. So, it’s an interesting phenomenon that’s going on with groups like us, like I said before, like the Stones… the Eagles, Charlie Wilson. We’ve been able to walk into this new digital era as well.

David: That’s astounding. I’m trying to wrap my head around it….

Verdine: I know. Everybody your age that comes to the concerts, they are floored. They are floored when they see the crowds. Because on paper at this point in our career we should be playing night clubs!

David: Well, kind of. You certainly wouldn’t be playing the Hollywood Bowl for three nights.

Verdine: No, but it’s happening.

David: Ok, now I’m going to ask you this, Verdine, how do you process that…mentally? It’s not even a rejuvenation because it’s like beyond that. I don’t know what you call when you keep going and it gets bigger. It’s bigger now than it even was before. How do you, you personally, how do you deal with it mentally and emotionally? It’s almost overwhelming, or is it? I don’t know….

Verdine: You just go through it. You don’t think about it that much, you just go do it.

David: And it never becomes boring, obviously.

Verdine: No, no, no. You have too many people. It’s not boring and it better not be boring!

David: Now, are you surprised, are you ever surprised at particular songs that people want to hear?

Verdine: Sometimes.

David: What’s the most surprising request you ever get?

Verdine: Well, a lot of the older fans want to go back to like “Imagination”, which we don’t do. We haven’t done that in a while. They go back to “Need of Love”.

David: They go that far back?

Verdine: They can go far back. A lot of the hipster, the real hipsters like “Serpentine Fire” and stuff like that.

David: Really, yeah. Wow. So, now are you starting to do songs from the new album in the show?

Verdine: Yeah, we are. We are. We can tell that they obviously are good because they’re turning out really good and they work really well in the set list.

David: So, which ones are you currently doing?

Verdine: We’re doing “Dance Floor” at the backend of the show and we have “My Promise”.

David: Good. Are you going to be adding some of the other ones?

Verdine: Yes we are. As the album comes, yes. We rehearsed it and it went really well too. To have it under our belt for another time, we get ready to do them so it doesn’t sound like we just learned them.

David: I’ve got a couple more questions, then we’ll be done. So, what does your date sheet look like for the next year?

Verdine: Oh, the day sheet, I’m start off doing this interview with you, then I’m going to get in the car, the car picks me up and I’m doing radio interviews, then I come back and do phoners.

David: That’s right now! I meant, going forward! LOL

Verdine: Going forward, we have dates going up to November, we’re doing now. We’re coming to London, I think. October 19th.

David: I saw that.

Verdine: At the Royal Albert Hall.

David: Hopefully it will be sold out so you’ll have to add the 20th.

Verdine: No, no, but you should come and be my guest.

David: I know, I’m just saying hopefully it will be sold out so you’ll have to do another show.

Verdine: Yeah, but for the moment right now, we’re doing Royal Albert Hall and that is hard to get. So, we lucked out already to get the night there at the Royal Albert Hall. October 19th.

David: Okay, and then do you have any already scheduled for next year or are you not really looking at that yet?

Verdine: I haven’t looked that far. You can get tired if you go too far, but I’m sure we’re going to be, we’ll probably be at the Grammy’s. I’m sure we’ll be nominated. I think so. This record sounds like it’s a nomination record.

David: Alright. I’m going to ask you, I think as a final question, Verdine, I’ll put it in a particular way, does the ‘R’-word ever come up?

Verdine: The what?

David: The ‘R’-word. Do you know what the ‘R’-word is, when you get to a certain age?

Verdine: Oh you mean like retirement?

David: Yeah! That word!

Verdine: No. If we retired, you wouldn’t have anybody to listen to. You don’t want us to go anywhere. You wouldn’t be able to talk to me anymore.

David: Oh, I could still talk to you.

Verdine: There’s not that many living legends left.

David: So, that’s not even a topic of conversation is it really?

Verdine: Not yet, if you’re selling out tickets at events that’s not something you can just walk away from. It’s not like this is my final show, you’re not going to see me again.

David: I’m going to be honest with you. I’m astonished. As I mentioned at the beginning of our interview, I remember Madison Square Garden in 1975 and I don’t know that I would have expected that you would still be doing this in 2013 any more than I thought that I would still be doing this in 2013.

Verdine: That’s right. Exactly. Who knew?

David: What’s so great is that you’re continuing to do what you do. I’m continuing to do what I do and obviously there’s something that we’re doing that’s working. Clearly.

Verdine: That’s right.

David: So, do you have to say anything in conclusion about what’s next for Earth Wind & Fire? Is there anything you can say?

Verdine: Well, let’s do this first! Let’s see how the record does. Everybody seems to like the record so far. So, we’ll see. You take it one step at a time.

David: Okay, alright. Well, I know you’ve got to go off to do a two-hour radio show…

Verdine: Yeah, I’ve got to do two hours. We’re taking over the lunch spot, twelve to two.

David: Wow. So, you’re going to be playing tracks from the new album?

Verdine: Yeah, we’ll play the new album. We’ll play some different stuff. I’m going to play a couple songs that I really love since George Duke passed, I think I’m going to play a George Duke song and things like that.

David: Well, Verdine, it’s always great to talk to you. I’m really thrilled that you guys have a new album out. I really, really am. And now after listening to it, I’m even more thrilled because I think it really does capture the spirit of Earth Wind & Fire and I think that’s not always the easiest for any artist to do after many decades of recording and performing, but I think you guys really did. “Guiding Light” in particular is the song that speaks to me and “My Promise” also actually. There’s certain things that I have a preference for and you kind of did it with those for me. So, brilliant. Alright, Verdine, well listen, please give my regards on behalf of to Philip, to Ralph and of course your brother Maurice. Send our best to everybody.

Verdine: Thank you, David.

David: Keep on keeping on. Keep bringing the music to the world.

Verdine: Alright man. It’s a pleasure. Thank you, David. Thanks for hanging with us all these years. Thank you.

David: You’re welcome. Take care now.

About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create Records as a leading reissue label.
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