Gratitude


The first album I ever bought with my own money was Earth, Wind, and Fire's double-live masterpiece "Gratitude".

I used money I earned working at Burger Chef cooking hamburgers and fries for $1.47 an hour.

The record store in Oberlin was called the Down Under because it was down a flight of stairs under one of the main stores downtown. They sold waterbeds and music.

The Down Under is where I learned that radio DJ's never looked like they sound. Progressive rock WNCR's Bill King came to the store for an appearance and I remember looking at him and thinking, "that can't possibly be him." I'm sure plenty of people looked at me the same way when I worked on air.

Anyway. Gratitude.

So many great songs.

I can't count the number of times I've listened to Philip Bailey's vocals on Reasons. Go listen to it. I'll wait.

Listen all the way through. Listen for Bailey to finish with a dialog with a saxophone.

Classic Earth, Wind, and Fire - meaningful dialog without words.

Whirr.

We're in the Milwaukee airport. Our flight is delayed. Elena is five and has borrowed my iPod. She's nodding her head and grooving to EWF's September - one of her favorite songs.

She looks over to make sure Kim and are watching and tilts her head back and sings "Bah dee yah" along with Bailey.

Maybe she'll have a chance to sing it to band founder Maurice White.

He died yesterday after many years with Parkinson's.

Ailee Willis co-wrote "September" with Maurice White and EWF guitarist Al McKay. Willis fought White on the lyrics. She wanted the lyrics to mean something. She didn't get the nonsense lyrics that White would sometimes insist on.

Every writer - fiction, non-fiction, music, poet - should have this somewhere nearby.

She writes I used to be hung up that the “September” lyric was a little sing-songy, not the most intelligent I’d written. But seeing the effect it has on people I’m happy I took Maurice’s advice: Never let a lyric get in the way of the groove. If a lyric isn’t grammatically correct or even if it’s nonsensical - like the key words in the “September” chorus, “Ba-de-ya” - don’t replace it with something that is. If you marry the lyric to the music just right, the meaning will come across in the feel. I have no doubt that the love expressed in the chorus of “September” comes across even better with this nonsensical phrase than it would have had we merely filled those syllables with “I love you”.

"Tell the story, morning glory, all about the serpentine fire."

Never let a lyric get in the the way of the groove.

Whirr.

The TV show WKRP features a small fictional radio station in Cincinatti. I've worked with characters like each of those portrayed in the show. Heck, I've been one or two.

Tim Reid played the night DJ Venus Flytrap. He had a gong and other bits of percussion over the opening to a classic song like "That's the Way of the World". He'd talk over the intro, saying something like "Yes, my children, it's Venus and this is Earth, Wind and Fire". He'd hit the post and reach over and turn the music down a bit and talk to whomever was with him in the studio.

Don't bother looking for this on the WKRP DVD or on other distributions. The show doesn't have rights to all that great music and they've replaced it with placeholders.

Kim and I saw Earth, Wind and Fire twice: once with Maurice White and once without. He had stopped touring because of the Parkinsons. We didn't know why he wasn't there - Kim hoped he was ok. Although he didn't tour, he continued to steer his band and others.

An EWF concert is hit after hit. It's overwhelming how much great music they produced over so many years. It's amazing how much they influenced and changed music by bringing so many elements together.

Their concerts are energy - positive energy. It's so corny but you come out happy and hopeful. Maurice's brother Verdine doesn't stay still for a moment and his bass line supports everyone on stage around him, Bailey fires up the audience, and then there are the horns.

The Phenix horns with their punchy stacatto style giving way to melodic sax lines.

When "Gratitude" is over you can play it again or put on "All in All". If Gratitude carried me through my early days in high school, I played "All 'n All" to death during my sophomore year of college.

It has "Serpentine Fire", "Fantasy", "I'll write a song for you", and "Love's Holiday" but I love the interstitial music. The "Brazilian Rhyme" is minute and a half of pure fun. If I could have a theme song, the Brazilian Rhyme might be it.

Earth, Wind, and Fire has been one of those bands that has provided some of my life's soundtrack for the last forty years.

I've got "All 'n All" on now. Cranked up loud. Swaying to the music. Wonder where Elena learned that?

There's Maurice singing the lead on "Love's Holiday".

Thank you Maurice. We'll miss you.