Interview: Verdine White

With a catalog that includes hits like “Shining Star”, “September”, “Fantasy”, and “Boogie Wonderland”, Earth, Wind & Fire truly is a force of nature.

Bassist Verdine White has been laying down the groove for Earth, Wind & Fire from the very beginning, now approaching 50 years. Along the way, he has anchored landmark albums like 1975’s That’s the Way of the World and legendary live performances that back in the day included magic, theatrical effects, and pyrotechnics, all in service to the music of Verdine’s brilliant brother Maurice. Maurice retired from touring in 1994 due to health issues, and passed away in 2016, but his music lives on.

This interview with Verdine White was for a preview article for for the Earth, Wind & Fire concert at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on 5/8/18. It was done by phone on 4/26/18.

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming show?

Verdine White: It’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of hit songs, and you’re going to feel better when you left than when you came.

JM: Are you still levitating on stage?

VW: I haven’t done it in a long time. [In a scolding tone:] You haven’t been keeping up with Earth, Wind & Fire?

JM: Wishful thinking…

VW: I’m messing with you. I haven’t done it in quite a while, but the show is still great. A lot of energy and a lot of fun, and five generations of people who come to see it.

JM: You’ve been a part of Earth, Wind & Fire since 1970 when your brother Maurice invited you out to California to join up with him. What were your early impressions of California and Los Angeles?

VW: When I came out it was like a dream. I had never been on a plane, I had never been anywhere, I had never done anything with my life. It was a whole new thing that I experienced.

JM: Maurice had already been in the music business for a while. Did you find it intimidating when you first came out?

VW: Not until I played with him. At first we were hanging out a lot, but then when I really got to playing with him, I said, “Oh, he’s really talented” [laughs]. But I was his quasi-assistant. It was great. I was learning the ropes being his assistant, picking up the mail, getting the dry cleaning, and answering the phones. I was sort of an assistant / gofer.

JM: You guys performed at the California Jam concert in 1974. What are your recollections of that particular gig?

VW: It was hot. It was hot out there [laughs]. 90 degrees, you know what I mean? But it was fun, a great way to do music. It was a great concert for us.

JM: The band had already had some hits, but things really took off with the album That’s the Way of the World.

VW: Yeah, that was the record that let everybody know that we were good and stuff like that. It was a really great record for us, and it really kind of established our sound in the mainstream. So it really was the foundation that established it for us.

JM: Did you approach that record differently from the previous records?

VW: You know, we were just doing it. It wasn’t that heavy, you know what I mean? In retrospect when you look back at it, there wasn’t a lot of analytical stuff. We just knew that we were onto something and we stayed with it.

JM: That album had the hit single “Shining Star”. How did that song and its arrangement come together?

VW: It was more of a jam. We were jamming and it turned into a song the way Maurice had it. It had the chorus and the hook, and that was great. It gave us the opportunity to do both good music as well as commercial songs that people liked.

JM: Did the songs usually come together like that?

VW: No, they were all different, a hodgepodge of different stuff.

JM: One of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs is one that you co-wrote, “Fantasy”.

VW: Yeah, that was from the All ‘n All album. It was a very international song, and of course we still play it today. It sounds better than ever. A lot of younger people are getting aware of those songs, and it has enabled us to have a really broad career with great songs in the catalog.

JM: Did that one come out of a jam also, or was it more put together?

VW: It was more of a song song, with Maurice and Eddie del Barrio. In a nutshell, we were very lucky that we had the songs and the audience that started with us and is still here today.

JM: Your brother is sadly no longer with us. How would you describe him as a musician, a producer, even as a person?

VW: As a producer and a musician he could do any genre, from rock to country to soul to R&B. He could do anything. And as a person, he was cool. He was just a cool guy. He was a hip guy as a person. Very hip, very cool. You know how you meet a guy who’s cool? The guy walks through the door and you say, “That’s a cool guy!” That was him. And we’re still trying to be as cool as Maurice. We’re still aspiring to be like him.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

VW: Just to stay with it. Make it your life. That’s what it is. You make it your life because that’s what it’s for.

JM: What’s in the works?

VW: We’re starting a residency in Las Vegas at The Venetian, so we’re concentrating on that. It’s been a long time coming for us, and I’m excited about that. It’ll be the first two weekends in May, and then we’re headed over to Europe.


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