The cosmic funk Earth, Wind & Fire gave the world in their heyday was special, indeed. They spoke to and for people, as great songsmiths do, with much positive energy and a deep devotion to in-the-pocket playing from the top - their famous horn section - to the bottom, the latter courtesy the great Verdine White.
Born July 25, 1951, Verdine was a decade younger than his brother Maurice, EWF’s de facto leader, but no less an architect of the group’s sound. From their debut album in 1971 to the front of the stages the band still commands today, Verdine White helps bring forth the band’s long-lived messages of love, togetherness and soul to generations of listeners, and helped create the songs that have soundtracked the lives of millions of those people.
Let’s listen to some of those songs, each containing a generous portion of White’s great, bassy gift:
"Let's Groove": The band’s final Top 3 pop hit (from 1981’s Raise!) is built atop Verdine White’s bass melody, established by the opening synth and vocoder lines, followed by the man himself, laying it down and…well, grooving.
“Time is on Your Side”: The leadoff track of 1972’s Last Days and Time contains all the elements one came to expect from EWF, from the brassy intro to the life-affirming lyrics and the insistent bass-driven undercurrent that drives the song.
“Magic Mind”: It would be great if the bass were mixed a little bit higher in this classic (from 1977’s towering All 'N All album), but if you listen closely, you can hear Verdine’s forays up the neck, to the high notes, before re-centering himself in the groove. He’s a master melodist on the bass guitar, and this is but one proof.
“Mighty Mighty”: Commercial funk at its early-’70s finest, this cosmic anthem from fifth album Open Our Eyes was the band’s first Top 5 R&B hit. There are so many things coming at you here - the horns, the low voices, the high voices, the really high voices - everything held together by the core funk and White’s monster bass.
“Happy Feelin’”: EWF’s first chart-topping album on the Billboard 200 (1975’s That’s the Way of the World) not only featured the classic “Shining Star,” but also this elegant thumper. Listen for the kick drum in the first few bars - Verdine’s beautiful bass lines are constructed around and against that metronomic element, and together they form the most delightful low-end counter-melodic component.