Before Earth, Wind And Fire headline Love Supreme, bassist Verdine White tells EDWIN GILSON about his band’s long lifespan and late brother Maurice

VERY few bands have soundtracked more happy moments than Earth, Wind And Fire.

Whether it’s September, Boogie Wonderland, Shining Star or any of their other timeless hits, the group have provided a fitting score to celebratory social gatherings for almost 50 years. As bassist Verdine White says, his group’s songs are woven “into the fabric of many lives”.

“People come up to me and say, ‘thanks for the music,” adds the 66 year-old, who has collaborated with Jennifer Lopez and Kelly Clarkson. “It reminds them where they were at certain points and it’s great that people’s lives are connected to us in that way”.

Earth, Wind And Fire’s universal appeal stretches to Sussex, of course, and there will plenty of festivalgoers at Love Supreme whose fondest memories are intertwined with the band’s music. Indeed, one such fan is festival director Ciro Romano, who has been trying to get Earth, Wind And Fire to play at his event since its foundation in 2013.

Jazz maestro John Coltrane’s 1965 album A Love Supreme inspired by the festival’s name, and Coltrane was a big influence on Verdine and co at the time their band was born.

Earth, Wind And Fire’s headline slot this year makes sense for a few reasons, then, and Verdine is excited. “We haven’t been to the UK for a little while so we’re looking forward to playing the show,” he says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The band’s last visit to England gives another indication of their enduring popularity – they played the main stage at Glastonbury and sold out the 02 Arena a few years back.

As for the setlist for their Love Supreme appearance, it’s going to take some time to collate. Earth, Wind And Fire have 21 albums from which to pluck hits, from their self-titled 1972 debut, which peaked at 172 in the charts (“we didn’t think about charts then,” says Verdine, “We were just happy to make a record).

The bassist is in no mood for faux modesty when he says: “We have such a great catalogue. I don’t know if we’ll go as far back as the first one [album] because it depends on what people know. We can mix all of it in together, though.”

The origins of Earth, Wind And Fire can be traced back to Verdine’s older brother Maurice’s days as a commercial songwriter in Chicago. Maurice and two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, set themselves up as a team composing songs for corporate purposes. Soon after they earned a recording contract, titled themselves The Salty Peppers, and had a minor hit with La La Time.

When Maurice decamped to Los Angeles, he asked his brother Verdine to join him, and, among other recruits, become the bassist for a new band. It wasn’t long before Earth, Wind And Fire were born and then, after Maurice had sent demos to various record labels, signed to Warner Brothers.

The rest is history. After a slow start the group begun to achieve a higher chart position with every new album. To date, they’ve sold over 100 million records. Their legacy can be measured in the amount of high-profile modern musicians who have cited Earth, Wind And Fire as an influence; Jay-Z, Beyonce, Drake, Pharell Williams – the list goes on.

“People like Jay-Z and Beyonce always knew who we were,” says Verdine. “They are big fans who come to our shows and we’ve done a lot of benefit gigs together.”

Many more artists have sampled Earth Wind And Fire’s music, and especially Verdine’s slinky basslines. Is it strange for him to hear one of his parts pop up in a contemporary pop track?

“They like the songs and they use them,” says Verdine. “It’s fun for them and shows a lot of honour and respect for us. It’s cool.”

When asked about his group’s early days, Verdine is quick to point out the role of Maurice, who died two years ago. The band – also consisting of long-standing members Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson – pay tribute to him at every show.

“Of course we have my late brother Maurice to thank for starting the band,” says Verdine. “Without him we wouldn’t even have the opportunity to talk about music like this.”

Verdine heaps more praise on Maurice for the invention of the band’s classic single Shining Star, released in 1975.

“When we heard it we thought it was a great song,” says the younger brother. “You don’t know if it’s going to be a number one hit, but you know it’s a great song. It’s one of our most popular songs. People across all generations love it today.”

It would be easy to bracket Earth, Wind And Fire’s music into the category of disco, but in reality their scope was always wider than that. Maurice was a big fan of The Beatles and Miles Davis when founding the band, among others, and that diverse palate shone through in his wide-ranging music.

“We never thought of ourselves as a disco group,” says Verdine. “We just happened to have some hits during the disco era. But we had hits before and after that era, too.

“Not that being a disco group is a band thing, by the way – we’re just a band who play all kinds of music. Maurice wanted us to have a very unique sound and we were very glad we were able to do that.”

Remarkably, Earth, Wind And Fire were repeatedly overlooked for a spot in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame before finally being admitted in 2000. Call it rock snobbery, shameful neglect, an innocent slip of the mind, whatever – it seems strange that such a successful band took so long to be included.

“That was so long ago,” says Verdine, when asked if the rejection hurt. “Ultimately we get into the hall of fame, which was a big deal, and we were able to get past it [the disappointment]. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Earth, Wind And Fire now find themselves in a peculiar position. Not many bands reach the stage where they must contemplate their future after 50 years together, but this is the predicament facing Verdine’s group. He points to their recent residency at the luxury Venetian hotel in Las Vegas as proof of the everpresent demand for the band’s music.

It is this public appetite that will act as encouragement for Verdine and co to make a new record, the first since 2014’s Holiday. “We’ll get through these shows, give the audiences a good time, and then focus on that,” says the bassist.

Sounds like a plan. Before looking ahead, though, Earth, Wind And Fire will revisit the past in a career-spanning set that is sure to trigger glossy-eyed nostalgia in festivalgoers. For one night only, Glynde Place will be a boogie wonderland.

More highlights at Love Supreme

PP Arnold

The American soul singer has a back story almost as rich as her music. At one point in the 1960s, she was considered one of the hottest young talents on the pop music scene. She’d toured with Ike and Tina Turner, been scouted by Mick Jagger and worked with The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton. However her debut album, The Turning Tide, never saw the light of day for a number of logistical reasons.

She was devastated, but the record was finally released earlier this year, along with a memoir. In an interview with The Argus she said: “I think it’s important to tell the story of how a young black girl from LA came out of the civil rights revolution in America to the rock and roll revolution in Britain.”

Elvis Costello

The much-loved singer-songwriter is a big draw at this year’s festival and will pick a setlist from his considerable back catalogue. He released an album with his backing band, The Imposters, this year having put out his last solo album in 2010. He recently said he had no interest in nostalgia.

“I’m aware of other people’s nostalgia about particular songs but that doesn’t influence the way I perform even those same songs,” he said. “If I performed a song my view would be different to theirs – that’s ok isn’t it? People are inclined to make a big deal about decades aren’t they?”

George Clinton: Parliament Funkadelic

The American singer-songwriter, who was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame three years before Earth, Wind And Fire were, returns to Love Supreme with his Parliament Funkadelic collective. Clinton was responsible for a vibrant form of funk music in the 1970s that took inspiration from science-fiction and psychedelic culture. He would later influence many hip-hop acts.

Mr Jukes

The solo project of Jack Steadman, frontman of indie darlings Bombay Bicycle Club, is an eclectic proposition with the songwriter using a multitude of instruments. Expect the unexpected from this talented young musician.

Love Supreme Jazz Festival. Glynde Place, Glynde, June 29 to July 1, visit for more