Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 4, 2002



Verdeen White, right, Philip Bailey, center and Ralph Johnson, are original members of Earth Wind and Fire.

Earth Wind & Fire
still burning brightly

One of the hottest acts of the '70s
and '80s returns to Hawaii
after more than 10 years

By John Berger

"What's your favorite?"

After 30 years of interviews as drummer/vocalist with Earth Wind & Fire , Ralph Johnson has long since earned the right to ask questions as well as answer them.

Problem is, when it comes to picking a favorite Earth Wind & Fire song, that's a hard one to answer. The group had seven Top 10 hits back in the 1970s and 1980s, and several of the songs that didn't make it that high were just as good -- "That's the Way of the World" and "Getaway," which both peaked at No. 12, for example. Factor in all the songs off all the group's multiplatinum albums and all the others, and there are too many choices.

After Johnson posed the question, I narrowed it down to "That's the Way of the World," "Sing a Song" and "September," then threw the question back to Johnson. He picked "After the Love Is Gone."

"I like the vocal part. Great song, great melody, great hook, and it's a song I think most people can relate to that have ever approached love or been in love, and it's a fun song to do on stage," he said.

Johnson, vocalist Philip Bailey, and bassist Verdeen White are bringing EWF back to Honolulu for the first time in more than 10 years. They play the Blaisdell Arena tomorrow and Sunday. Johnson says the show will include some of the pyrotechnics the group was known for back in its early days. The emphasis will be on playing as many of their hits as possible in a 90-minute show.

Johnson says he had no idea back when EWF was signed by Columbia and recorded "Last Days and Time" in 1972 that supergroup status would follow.

Earth Wind & Fire

Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday
Tickets: $45 and $55
Call: 526-4400 or 593-8333

"There's no way you can know that. You hope for something like that, but there's no way you can ever really know that going in. You only find out after it has withstood the test of time."

The key to EWF's success? Johnson says it was the commitment to quality.

"We try to maintain the sound. Keep it rhythmic, keep interesting horn lines, interesting chords within the songs. When we're putting together a new record as we are right now, we just look for great songs that work for us."

EWF fans can look forward to the re-release of the group's 1975 live album, "Gratitude," in updated 5.1-SurroundSound, and a new studio album as well.

Johnson says the group tours about nine months a year and, with a new album on the way, certainly is not an "oldies" act.

Still, with 30 years of hits, six Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there will be plenty of memories to share in the arena this weekend.

"It's really has been a long time," says Johnson, "and it's time for us to get back over there and party."

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