Taken from the book My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire –
I woke up one day in 1990 shaking.
Just like that. I felt fine in every other way besides this uncontrollable tremor in my hand. Looking back, however, I had little telltale signs. Around 1986 I started getting tiny hand tremors. Years earlier, my leg would sometimes shake in bed. I just thought it was stress or something. It stopped, and I forgot about it.
But this morning was clearly different.
When Heritage was released, Verdine, Phil, and I went on the Today show, where Bryant Gumbel interviewed us. Toward the end of the interview, he asked, ”Do you ever wish you hadn’t called a halt to it back when you did?” I responded, “We needed the break.” Riding back in the town car to the hotel, I thought deeply about Bryant’s telling question. It made me wonder, how relevant could EW&F really be? I knew we could still have a one-off hit, and our past hits would always make us a concert draw. But between our age, pop/R&B being drowned out by hip-hop, and the ever-growing market for all things gangsta, was it even possible for us to regain our position as consistent hit makers?
Had I known what lay ahead, I would have taken a break earlier-maybe after the commercially disappointing Faces or the triumph of “Let’s Groove.” The EW&F machine was now a big machine, a small corporate empire with lots of salaries, day-to-day responsibilities, and at this point lots of hot and cold feelings between the band members, management, accountants, staff, and family. The tension was partly what kept me away from ARC, especially in its last two years of operation.
At twenty-eight years old, I knew who I was, and I was feeling confident and competent. I felt in control of myself and ready to lead a new Earth, Wind & Fire. I was on a mission and had become even more clear about what I wanted to communicate to the world. In order to get my message across, I wanted a band that was as serious as I was about the craft. I also didn’t want to teach people to be positive; I wanted to find positive people.
I don’t think Leonard and Phil Chess were bad guys by nature. They just had a dog-eat-dog mentality, highly competitive and, yes, on some level exploitative. I believe they thought that this was the way things were done. There were so many white record label owners, and they were not the worst. But I do believe that we as a people—black folks, that is—were way more gracious with them, meaning whites in the music industry generally, than they were with us at that time. Many white artist/ musicians would come by the studios to talk to the musicians about how to do this and how to do that musically. But many of them would not share with us how to do things, businesswise. They wanted to keep it secret, privileged information. I knew that I would have to learn the business of the music business on my own.
For all the hard work that went into the album, the emphasis of Earth, Wind & Fire’s life was not on recording but on performing. Building our base, we were constantly touring, trying to earn enough to keep things going. We rented Hertz station wagons over and over again. The people at the Hertz counter had to think, Here they come again, the bald guy and the red-haired hipster, for their four station wagons. I always sat in the front passenger seat. Leonard would be in the backseat with a big yellow pad, preparing for the next day’s activities. Aside from the guys driving, every one would be asleep. We had walkie-talkies to communicate between cars. Many times we got lost, but I can count on one hand the number of gigs we missed. We were disciplined, and we worked hard.
My ability or lack of ability to persuade others was critical to my success in realizing Earth, Wind & Fire. I spent a lot of time relating my concept to Perry, the band, and anyone who would listen. My brainchild of hope, looking at life positively and believing in yourself, was one aspect of my soapbox. The other was to communicate in song recognition of our common humanity. I believed music was sacred—a powerful holistic vehicle that could carry us to a higher place, if we chose to use it that way. I believed then and now that humankind’s problems are rooted in our denial that we are not all the same. Separated by race, class, and religion, we make our differences the gospel truth of who we are as human beings. I had deeply internalized the belief that we are not citizens, nor Buddhists, nor Christians, nor Jewish, nor African American people. We are human beings—each one connected to everyone else.
Mama loved Mahalia Jackson. She would play Mahalia’s pop- ular “Move On Up a Little Higher” over and over again, especially on the weekends. Mahalia Jackson’s voice was definitely my introduction to music. I knew when Mahalia was singing about being up in glory, that meant after you die. I was scared of the concept of death. When Mama would sing along with the record, I thought it meant Mama was going to die.
Later, Mama bought Ray Charles’s “It Should Have Been Me.” I could tell by the way she sashayed her hips back and forth and bopped her head that this type of music made her feel something different than Mahalia’s songs. As I heard more and more Ray Charles, I began to distinguish the patterns of the repetitive piano, drum, and saxophone parts. There was other music, but Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles became the sound track of our house.
The book is scheduled for release on September 13th, 2016.
TO PRE-ORDER “MAURICE WHITE: MY LIFE WITH EARTH, WIND & FIRE” – CLICK HERE!