Maurice White, a talented drummer who worked for the Chicago label Chess Records during the 1960s, played on songs by label stars like Rotary Connection and Etta Jame, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Guy. He was offered the chance to be the drummer of a local jazz group called Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1967. At the end of that decade, He left to form his Salty Peppers group with keyboardist Don Whitehead and singer Wade Flemons. White moved to Los Angeles in order to improve the prospects of his band after releasing two songs with little success. After settling in Los Angeles, White invited his younger sister, Verdine, to join him, along with singer Sherry, guitarist Michael Beal and percussionist Yackov Benjamin Israel. He also asked tenor saxophonist Chester Washington and trombonist Alex Thomas. White, who is a fan of astrology, chose Earth, Wind & Fire to be the name of the group. This highlights three of the classical elements that are related to White’s astrological sign, Sagittarius.
In 1971, the group released their self-titled debut as well as their second recording, Need of Love, on Warner Bros. Records. However, they disbanded soon after. White didn’t give up and began to recruit new members. He welcomed his brothers Verdine and Larry Dunn, along with percussionists Ralph Johnson and Ronnie Laws. They also included guitarists Roland Bautista, Jessica Cleaves, and Philip Bailey in the group. After these changes, the group signed with Columbia Records and released The Last Days in 1972. The album Head to the Sky became their first platinum record.
White and Bailey began a fruitful songwriting partnership around this time. Earth, Wind & Fire was built on the interplay between White’s tenor voice and Bailey’s falsetto, along with stellar arrangements for woodwind, percussion, and strings. In 1974, Earth, Wind & Fire underwent yet another round of changes. New members, including saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk and guitarist Al McKay, were added to the lineup. Also, guitarist Johnny Graham and Fred White, Maurice’s younger brother, joined the group. White asked Charles Stepney to assist him in producing and arranging the group’s records. The ensemble’s recording skills were further demonstrated in 1974 with the release of Open Our Eyes. This album was their second consecutive gold-selling record.
The collective was able to build on these successes and release their next album, This is the Way of the World, which went multi-platinum. The band’s success allowed them to add a signature horn group known as the Phenix Horns to their ensemble. The Phenix Horns, led by Don Myrick, consisted of Louis Satterfield on trombone and Rahmlee and Michael Harris on trumpet. Together with producer and arranger Charles Stepney, the Phenix Horns complemented Earth, Wind & Fire’s current lineup. They became a key component of the overall sound of the band for the rest of the decade.
Stepney died of a heart attack in 1976 while working on spirit. The band’s hot streak continued despite this tragedy. The band released All ‘n All, their fourth consecutive album to sell multi-platinum, the following year. In 1978, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Volume 1, their first greatest hits collection, was released. 1. The relationship between Maurice White, the bandleader, and Tom Perry, the engineer, was formed on the album.
Tom Perry, a veteran engineer who had worked with White and other members, was a valuable asset in setting up the revolutionary equipment that captured the band’s otherworldly sound. The partnership continued over the next few decades. Earth, Wind & Fire would release another multi-platinum masterpiece as the decade closed.
– I Am, released on June 9, 1979. The album peaked at the number three spot on the Billboard charts and produced five singles, including “Boogie Wonderland,” After Love Has Gone, In Stone, Star, and “Can’t Let Go.” We spoke to legendary engineer Tom Perry about the creation of this classic.
When did you first start working with Earth, Wind & Fire?
Tom Perry: Well, I knew George Massenburg. We were friends and admired one another’s work. I didn’t think he was so impressed with my work at the time. I had worked with Boz Scaggs on the Silk Degrees CD. This album was highly acclaimed for many different reasons. The sound was one of the reasons. George must have been impressed. ARC Records was formed at that time. Maurice [White] was the label, and Columbia Records was its partner. With that deal, the brand also bought a building located in West Los Angeles. The building was to be converted into two studios and, I believe, rehearsal rooms. The studio was called The Complex. George Massenburg was responsible for the design not only of the acoustics but also of all the electronic components. He built his console and all of his electronics. It was a huge job. The plan was to create two studios, rehearsal spaces, and a live video stage. This was a new concept at the time, with MTV entering the picture. He had a ton of work.
Earth, Wind & Fire was preparing to record the I Am Album. George [Massenburg] wanted to avoid doing much of it so that he could work in the new studio. Maurice [White] was recommended to me by him. Maurice wasn’t happy that George was trying to avoid doing a lot of work. Maurice gave me a second chance after a lot of talking about my work and what I’d done. They were going to do a single, which would be on their greatest hits, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, vol. 1. This was my first recording session with Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire.
Could You Talk A Little More About Working On “September”
It was so infectious when they started to run down the tracks. I began as a bassist, so I was completely blown away by the fact that I could record Verdine, who I consider to be one of the three best bass players of all time. I think it sounds great. We were in Studio B at Hollywood Sound, where I grew up. Hollywood Sound was where I got my first engineering job. It was there that I learned my trade. Later, as a freelancer, I would return to the same place because I knew it so well. This was my advantage. Engineers will tell you they prefer to work in studios they are familiar with. They know the best places to place the drums, and they have spent a lot of time there. I was able to hit all of the sweet spots.
Maurice began overdubbing guitar and percussion parts. We ended up with an overwhelming number of tracks. We had only 24 ways. I had only four or five ways remaining. Around midnight, I told Maurice, “Hey, man,” at some point. I’ve just got to say that we only have about four or five more tracks to go, and I’m sure we still need to add vocals. You got strings. You got horns. “I’m not sure what we’re doing here.”