With over 40 years of making music under their belt, Earth, Wind & Fire has sold over 90 million albums worldwide and inspired the likes of Prince, Alicia Keys, and Jay Z. Now, the soul-funk-fusion act has come full circle with the release of a new album, Now, Then & Forever (in stores now). We spoke with original EWF member Philip Bailey about collaborating with other EWF original members Verdine White and Ralph Johnson to create their latest project, and got his take on the state of music today, how EWF continues to make music that is adored my millions around the world, and his love for Maroon 5, John Mayer, and Janelle Monae.
VH1: You’re featured on this new album with your other EWF original members, Verdine and Ralph. Which one of you would you characterize as earth, which one would be wind, and which one would be fire?
PHILIP BAILEY: Interestingly enough, I’m an earth sign, and my personality is pretty much in keeping with that, and Verdine is definitely a fire sign. And even though Ralph is a water sign, he would definitely be the wind side of the equation.
After all of these years, over 40 years of making music together, how have the dynamics shifted?
I pretty much take the leadership role, and I think that one of the real testaments to our longevity has been the fact that myself, RJ (that’s Ralph) and Dino (that’s Verdine) have a long history of being together and our personalities actually dance well. So, that’s been a real blessing for us, because doing anything for 41 years is quite a feat, much less people living and breathing and existing together in any kind of business, musical fashion. It’s very rare these days. We did break up for five years in the early ’80s, but in that time period I went on to do several solo projects, one being Chinese Wall with Phil Collins with “Easy Lover,” and then I did some gospel stuff, but I think in that time period we were able to really evaluate our importance in the musical landscape and what our music meant to so many people, and we were able to put it back together. And we weathered plenty storms, not internally, but just in terms of the music business.