Take 5 with Philip Bailey
LENOX — With summer just beginning, few in the Berkshires may want to look ahead to September just yet. But there's almost never a bad time to hear Earth, Wind & Fire's "September," the iconic band's euphoric hit. On Friday night, the audience at Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed can revel in that tune and many others by the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers. Band leader Maurice White died in 2016, but some of the group's most vital elements remain, including Philip Bailey's falsetto. Before the Grammy Award-winning vocalist embarked on a solo tour to promote his first album in nearly two decades, "Love Will Find a Way," as well as some EWF dates this summer, The Eagle asked him a handful of questions about EWF's longevity, his new record and his favorite pastime.
1.Why do you think the band's music has been so enduring and appealing, even to people who weren't alive when the band formed?
I think that it's primarily because Maurice's concept in making Earth, Wind & Fire was, and these are his words, "to render a service to humanity." And I know that in today's day and time, that sounds very cliche or whatever, it sounds like BS, because that's not the thought of the day. But [those were] his words, so the lyrics that were written — it wasn't like that was a constant thought in his mind or in our minds as we wrote lyrics, me and him and several other lyricists, but he just had a parameter in which he wanted to speak to people, and he stayed in that zone. So now, 40 years later, almost 50 years later, "Shining Star" and "Sing a Song" and "That's the Way of the World" and "Fantasy," all these optimistic types of songs with this eclectic mix of genres and a clip of rhythm that's catchy and dance-able is still making people feel good. So now, it's no longer a cliche. It's no longer an idea. Now, it's become a reality for almost 50 years that his concept or dream of what he wanted to do has come true and has continued to do so.
2. Do you see any current acts out there that exemplify some of the qualities that you just mentioned, that are as unifying as Earth, Wind & Fire?
I mean, no, because I can't say that — I'm not going to take the credit or give the credit to EWF and just say, 'Yeah we were just such geniuses or whatever,' but I think it's a matter of the times that we were living in. We came out of the turbulent '60s. People felt that it was their responsibility to say something, to make a difference in some kind of way. You go from artists from James Brown to The Temptations ... the pop artists, just name 'em. The music was very reflective of the social conditions that we were living in, and there was something said, from the Eagles to whoever, there was something said that reflected our feelings, thoughts and desires for what was going on at the time, and those messages became central in the identity of the artists that people came to know and love and respect.
3. Will the band be releasing a new album in the coming years?
We are in the process of conceptualizing a duet project with various artists, but it's still on the drawing [room] floor, so it's too vague to really talk about.
4. Let's talk about something that's not so vague, then, your new solo album. This is your first one in 17 years. Is that right?
Yeah, it is. I'm not counting, but I've had 10 solo projects, won a Grammy for one. That was for my gospel record ["Triumph"], of course the huge success of "Chinese Wall" that Phil Collins produced with "Easy Lover" on it, and there's "Soul on Jazz." This is my 10th or 11th project. This was self-funded. It was a project that initially started with Chick Corea and Christian McBride and Robert Glasper, a project that was inspired and conceptualized by, actually, my son, my daughter and a young man who works with us in social networking and artistic directing. As it went along, the sum became bigger than its parts ... It was actually sparked by the social and political conditions that we find ourselves in, similar to the '60s, and looking for songs that resonated with those struggles. We chose songs from Abbey Lincoln to Marvin Gaye to Curtis Mayfield. Robert Glasper being the face of new jazz, the sound of new jazz, was able to take those songs and co-produced them with me and, as we say, flip them in a certain way. I'm a jazz-lover. I've always been, starting from a kid, so that's the inspiration."
5. When you're on tour, or when you're not, what are some things you like to do in your down time that aren't music?
I love to play golf, and I came up with a phrase a couple of weeks ago that's funny. I say, 'I take it very serious, but it doesn't take me serious.' [laughs] So, if you ever use that, you've got to give me credit.
I'll trademark it for you.
Trademark that for me because that was funny. It just came into my head, like man, I take this game so serious, but it don't take me that serious.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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