Today Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White is turning 73. Out of all the funk bands to emerge out of the early 1970’s? EWF have always managed to maintain and enduring love and popularity. Even today,some of their lesser known albums are undergoing a slow reissuing process. Been thinking about finding an import CD version of the band’s debut album at the old Borders Books & Music 18 years or so ago. And about how I’ve kept going back to it again and again as my understanding of the bands history and significance developed.
It’s been over 44 years now since Maurice and Verdine White bought the original EWF sextet to Warner Brothers to record. And to their first show at Maverick’s Flat-courtesy of NBA great Jim Brown. Story goes their performance was so raggedy? The stagehands at Mavericks had to turn the lights down on them. That history actually had the effect of helping me to really appreciate their pre superstar sound, and because of how different it was. So in tribute to Mr.White? I’m going to talk about the very first song from the very first EWF album entitled “Help Somebody”.
A chunky rhythm guitar groove from Michael Beal introduces the drum and horn salvo. The we’re onto a thick blend of fast paced percussion with both wah wah and JB like rhythm guitar. It’s a phat,funky gumbo in which Maurice trades off vocal leads with two band members in Wade Flemmons and Don Whitehead. The refrain of the song spins off into a slower Brazilian salsa rhythm before cycling back to main theme of the song for two additional choruses. One features the group all chanting “reach out your hand and help somebody”,the other featuring a trombone solo from Alexander Thomas before another horn salvo closes out the song.
It would appear that critical reaction to EWF’s debut has significantly improved with time. That being said? This particular lineup of the band had a very different focus for their funk. Considering their participation in the soundtrack for Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song? This song has a strong blacksploitation flavor-with it’s fast chase scene pace and up front wah wah guitar. Yet Maurice’s Brazilian influence also comes into play on the refrain. And the bands renowned humanistic message of kindness and fellowship oozes out of every lyric. Both vocally and instrumentally? It is a far looser sound than they’d be known for. But there’s no doubt the funk was already percolating right out of the box!