Keep your head to the sky

And yet another of the greats ascends to the next level:

Maurice White, the founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire, has died at home in Los Angeles, said his brother Verdine White. He was 74.

A former session drummer, White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in the late 1960s. The group went on to sell more than 90 million albums worldwide, displaying a flashy and eclectic musical style that incorporated his influences from growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and working at the influential Chicago music labels Chess and Okeh.

EWF was practically everywhere in the 1970s: you couldn’t avoid them if you wanted to, and why in the world would you have wanted to? I got tuned in circa 1973, with the Head to the Sky album, which still delights me today.

But White went back farther than that. From his days as a studio musician, we have here the supersized version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as trilled by the late Billy Stewart, and on the kit off to the right, Maurice White playing like the greatest drummer ever to work out of Chicago.

Head to the Sky led off with a lovely little number called “Evil,” which was in fact a reworking of “Bad Tune,” off EWF’s very first (and eponymous!) album in 1971, the sort of thing that might make you think that this was where Sly might have gone if he could have kept his head together.

Said Verdine of his brother:

“While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”

Amen to that.





2 comments

  1. Roger Green »

    5 February 2016 · 10:48 am

    I did not know Maurice played on this song, about which I once wrote: I also loved the Billy Stewart version . I realize it’s the trilling of the tongue bit that I found so entrancing (and one of my former co-workers found so irritating; she wouldn’t allow me to play it if she were around). His “Summertime” was a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts in 1966. He died in a car crash in 1969 at the age of 32.
    http://www.rogerogreen.com/2011/09/04/summer-songs-summertime/

  2. CGHill »

    6 February 2016 · 6:14 pm

    If I remember correctly, White also was the drummer on the Fontella Bass session that yielded up “Rescue Me.”

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