Earth, Wind & Fire brought its many elements together in 1969, under the stewardship of Maurice White. White had a vision for the band from early on in his life. He grew up playing music, at one time jamming with Booker T. Jones, later of the Memphis soul band Booker T. and the M.G.’s. At age 16, Maurice White entered the Chicago Conservatory of Music, with a view to becoming a music teacher. Following a stint as a session musician at the renowned Chess Records’ studios (where he played with the likes of Jackie Wilson, Fontella Bass, and The Impressions), he joined a group called the Ramsey Lewis Trio. The group toured the Middle East, whereby White became a student of mysticism, which would inform the vision for his own band. He even drew a picture of what they might look like.
Relocating to Los Angeles, White first conceived of a new name for his band - Note: for a few months during 1969 whilst based in Chicago, White, and his assembled backing band at the time, were known as the Salty Peppers, but White wasn‘t happy with that name - I mean who would be? Drawing from his astrological star sign, Sagittarius, he identified the three elements earth, air and fire (but no water). He changed air to wind, and behold - Earth, Wind & Fire was born. There was just one problem, he needed to find some musicians to fill the roster for his new project. White not only looked for like minded musicians, but like minded people. Most of the assembled band were vegetarians, and into mysticism and meditation - something the band did collectively before performances. The original line-up for the newly born Earth, Wind & Fire was Maurice White (vocals, drums, percussion), Verdine White (bass), Wade Flemons (keyboards/vocals), Don Whitehead (piano/vocals), Michael Beal (guitar), Sherry Scott (vocals), Yackov Ben Israel (congas/percussion), Chet Washington (tenor sax), and Alex Thomas (trombone).
1973’s ‘Head To The Sky’ (US#27) served to increase the band’s profile, and featured their first top fifty single, ‘Evil’. By 1974’s album ‘Open Our Eyes’, which yielded the top 30 single ‘Mighty Mighty’ (US#29), Earth, Wind & Fire had adopted a more overtly danceable style of music, layered in rich folds of funk, soul, and R&B, whilst retaining White’s positive, even metaphysical lyrics within. The blueprint had been laid for a sound that would evolve over the next five years, one that was precise yet sensual, with a broad palette of stylistic brush strokes, from Latin-funk, gospel harmonies, unremitting horn sections, all under the production tutelage of Maurice White. The band’s roster also stabilised during this period as White had found the right chemistry for the outfit. It’s worth noting that the band’s live and studio sound was sometimes augmented by the Phoenix Horns, headed by saxophonist Don Myrick, who also appeared regularly on Phil Collins and Genesis albums of the early 80s - another connection between Philip Bailey and Phil Collins beyond their 1985 collaboration on ‘Easy Lover’.
It was during this period that Earth, Wind & Fire graduated to playing arena style venues, with their concerts featuring elaborate stage shows, and spectacular costumes. With a solid schedule of touring under their belt, it was about time Earth, Wind & Fire released a live album, which took the form of ‘Gratitude’ (US#1), which was released in late ‘75 and produced the #5 hit single ‘Sing A Song’ in early ‘76 (one side of the double album set contained new studio tracks). By year’s end, the band had recorded another studio album, ‘Spirit’ (US#2), which harvested the hit ‘Saturday Nite’, the band’s first incursion into British chart territory (#17/US#21). By this stage, Earth, Wind & Fire were a flagship performer on the tidal wave that was disco music. ‘All ‘N All’ (US#3 /UK#13/OZ#21) - the band’s fourth platinum album - opened proceedings for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1978, yielding the hit single ‘Fantasy’ (US#32/ UK#14/OZ#25).