Earth, Wind & Fire has never toured with Nile Rodgers and Chic, but they’re hardly strangers.
“We’ve known Nile for years,” Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White said, before touching on some shared history during an early June phone interview. “Nile had produced one of Philip’s albums and I introduced Philip to Nile. And absolutely our paths had crossed, and we’ve done a couple of little records together. So we all know each other very well.”
Philip is, of course, Philip Bailey, lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire. And Rodgers produced “Inside Out,” Bailey’s follow-up to his highly successful 1984 solo release, “Chinese Wall.” And there clearly has been a mutual admiration society existing between the two acts for many years, said White, who noted there was never any sense of competition between Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic, even though they were two of the most popular groups during the late 1970s heyday of R&B and disco.
“We always loved their music. We always loved their grooves, the songs,” White said of Rodgers and Chic. “And not only what he did with Chic, but he did all of those things with Diana Ross, David Bowie, all the way up to Daft Punk. Without question, he’s one of the greatest (producers) that has ever done that thing that he does.”
One reason the two groups had never toured together might well be that for many years, it simply wasn’t an option. After reeling off a string of hit singles – including “Everybody Dance,” Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love” and “Good Times” over the course of its first three albums, Rodgers and his fellow founding member of Chic, Bernard Edwards, in 1983 dissolved the group and focused instead on producing albums for other artists.
Rodgers and Edwards gave Chic another try in 1989, releasing the album “Chic-Ism,” but the reunion didn’t last, and Edwards passed away in 1996. And it wasn’t until 2014, after Rodgers had recovered from a bout with prostate cancer, that he brought back Chic, billing the act as Chic featuring Nile Rodgers.
As for Earth, Wind & Fire, that group’s history predates Chic by several years. Formed in 1969 by singer and main songwriter Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire released five albums and went through several lineup changes before – with core members Verdine White, Bailey (vocals), Larry Dunn (keyboards) and Ralph Johnson (percussion) – the group made its breakthrough in 1975 with the album “That’s The Way Of The World,” which featured the hit “Shining Star.”
Over the next eight years, Earth, Wind & Fire reeled off a steady string of platinum albums (such as “Gratitude,” “Spirit” and “Raise”) and a basket full of hit singles (“Sing A Song,” “September” and “After The Love Has Gone,” to name a few) before deciding to take a hiatus that lasted from 1983 until 1987. By that time, the group had enough hits to ensure that it would remain a viable concert draw for as long as it decided to continue its career.
Earth, Wind & Fire hasn’t rested on it laurels, though, maintaining a regular touring schedule, while releasing another six studio albums, including 2005’s “Illumination,” which was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B album.
For many years, Earth, Wind & Fire has persevered despite the absence of founder Maurice White. Stricken by Parkinson’s disease, he had to retire from touring in 1994 and was unable to participate in the making of the group’s most recent studio album, 2013’s “Now, Then & Forever.” Maurice White succumbed to his illness in February 2016.
Verdine White expressed plenty of admiration for how his older brother faced his battle with Parkinson’s.
“He dealt with it with a lot of courage, a lot of strength,” White said. “He looked it dead in the eye, and in spite of it, he had a great life.”
“Now, Then & Forever” gave Earth, Wind & Fire a clutch of new songs to play, but the show on the tour with Rodgers and Chic figures to be heavily weighted toward the classic hits.
“You want to give them songs they recognize and things that they can feel good (hearing),” White said. “Between both bands we’re going to have hits after hits after hits.”
And Verdine White and his bandmates plan to keep Earth, Wind & Fire going strong well after this summer’s tour wraps up, keeping the legacy of their visionary founding member alive in the process.
“He gave us a lot of years,” White said of his brother. “And we’ve all carried on, and every night we dedicate a portion of the show to him. And that’s what he would want us to do is to keep going.”