book reviews, music

Repost: My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire by Maurice White

And here’s another as/is repost of a book review I wrote in 2017…

Earth, Wind & Fire happens to be one of my all time favorite bands.  I never get tired of listening to their unique style.  The late Maurice White, who died in February last year after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s Disease, was the genius behind Earth, Wind & Fire.  His life story, published in September 2016 and entitled My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire, was masterfully ghost written by Herb Powell, who manages to make White’s story sound as if it’s coming straight from the maestro’s mouth.

I just finished My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire yesterday, having worked on it for some time.  I don’t read books as quickly as I used to, although this one certainly held my attention.  The book starts at the humble beginnings of Maurice White’s life in Memphis.  He was born to his young mother, a woman he referred to as “Mother, Dear”; she left when he was a toddler and he was raised by a friend of the family, a woman he called “Mama”.  Meanwhile, Maurice’s mother was in Chicago and had married a podiatrist.  She had several more children, including the electrifying bass playing and whirling dervish dancer Verdine White, who was at that time going by his original surname, Adams. 

Maurice White was an awesome performer!

When Maurice was 18, he moved up to Chicago and reconciled with his mother, half siblings, and his stepfather, whom he called “Dad”.  White explains why Verdine changed his surname; particularly since White’s biological father was not really in the picture.  Another sibling, Fred Adams, was also a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.   

Although Maurice White was, like so many others of his generation, threatened by being drafted into military service, both he and his younger brother, Verdine, were able to convince Army officials that they had no business in the service.  Maurice would go on to form Earth, Wind & Fire and the band would evolve into one of the most dynamic and successful bands of the 1970s. 

One thing I really like about My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire is that the writing is intimate and candid.  I really got the sense I was listening to Maurice White talk about his life.  He dishes on everything to what it was like to lead a struggling band in the early 70s to his work with David Foster.  He writes a bit about the women in his life, although he never did place women above his music.  

One of EW&F’s biggest hits, courtesy of David Foster.

I got the sense that White was a born musician and his whole life was about making music.  I was also surprised by how clean White’s habits were.  More than once, he writes about how he avoided drugs, alcohol, and fatty foods.  Sadly, his good habits did not protect him from Parkinson’s Disease, although they probably helped him stay healthy longer than he otherwise might have.  He lived to be 74 years old, having endured Parkinson’s Disease for about 24 years.

I enjoyed reading about how White decided to name Earth, Wind & Fire.  The name is a reflection of White’s deep spiritual beliefs.  I also enjoyed the fact that this book outlines White’s entire life, from his earliest days in Memphis until his last days last year.  Ghost writer Herb Powell includes an illuminating afterword.  It wasn’t until I read it that I realized this book wasn’t written by White himself.  Powell did a really good job ghost writing this book and giving it White’s voice.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who loves Earth, Wind & Fire.  It’s very well-written and comprehensive.  I think it also presents White in a very positive light.  I was pretty inspired by White’s story.  Maybe when I’m over this cold, I’ll dabble a little more in music myself.

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book reviews, music

Repost: Shining Star, Philip Bailey’s life story!

Here’s another as/is book review, originally posted in 2015. This review was written before Maurice White’s death.

Having been a child of the 1970s and 80s, I am well acquainted with the fusion genius of the band Earth, Wind & Fire. I had a sister who played their music all the time and, of course, I heard it on the radio non-stop. When I got older, I started to buy the band’s better known albums. I have always admired the great talents of the people who comprise the elements of Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF), especially the band’s founder, Maurice White, and falsetto frontman and conga player Philip Bailey. When I saw that Bailey had written a book about his life and experiences in EWF, I knew I had to read it. I just finished the book the other day and feel like I came away with new respect and knowledge for a very long running and talented band.

EW&F in 1973.

Bailey co-wrote his book, Shining Star, with ghostwriters Kent and Keith Zimmerman, but I always got the sense that the words in this book were coming straight from Bailey himself. He starts at the beginning, explaining how his parents moved to Denver, Colorado, where he was born. Since Bailey’s father was a military man who had a rocky relationship with his mother, Bailey didn’t really know his dad until he was well into adulthood. He and his sister were primarily raised by his mother and his stepfather.

Philip Bailey expressly thanks the public education system of Denver, Colorado for giving him strong instruction in music. That education led him to his chosen career as one of the lead singers for one of the most influential, most talented, and best loved bands in music history. He also writes about Maurice White, who grew up in Memphis and eventually moved to Chicago, where his mother and stepfather, Verdine Adams, Sr., gave him two half brothers. Brothers Verdine White, the frenetic bass player for EWF, and drummer brother Freddie, changed their surnames to White’s out of a sense of solidarity with their older brother. 

Bailey offers a colorful account of the band’s earliest days, when they traveled to gigs in station wagons. I got a kick out of his commentary about how the band got around in the early days. Apparently, Verdine White is a fantastic bass player, but can’t drive worth a damn. He also writes about how the earliest stage shows were conceived, where they got their costumes, and even offers some fun trivia about EWF in its heyday. For instance, I had no idea that the band hired Doug Henning and David Copperfield to make their live shows more exciting and… magical.

Philip Bailey also writes about some of the less pleasant aspects of being in the band. During EWF’s heyday, Bailey was pretty much an employee in the group and was paid accordingly. Maurice White called all the shots and was paid the most, which naturally led to some friction, especially when the band temporarily broke up in the 1980s. Bailey and the rest of his bandmates were enjoying a steady and generous paycheck, which abruptly stopped when Maurice White determined it was time.

One aspect of this book that I found especially interesting was EWF’s association with David Foster. In 1978, Foster was a young, up and coming composer. He approached EWF with a ballad he’d written called “After The Love Is Gone”. It, of course, became a monster hit for EWF and launched a successful partnership between Foster and EWF. David Foster has gone on to have a great career composing music for other bands and movie soundtracks. Indeed, he’s work a lot with another brass heavy band called Chicago, which has been known to share concert billing with Earth, Wind & Fire. Aside from working with David Foster, Bailey also famously sang a duet with Phil Collins. If you were around in 1984, you might remember “Easy Lover”, which Bailey recorded with Collins right after EWF temporarily folded.

Philip Bailey discusses his memoir, Shining Star.

Bailey also reveals information about his personal life. Bailey married his first wife, Janet, when they were both very young. Life on the road presented a lot of temptations, though, and Bailey admits that he was not faithful to his wife. One affair produced an out of wedlock daughter. He also dabbled a bit in drugs. Nevertheless, they went on to have four children. After their divorced, Bailey got remarried to a woman named Krystal with whom he had two more kids. They divorced in 2010.

Unfortunately, Maurice White no longer performs with EWF. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which makes making music at his prior level impossible (edited to add: Maurice White died in 2016). White still maintains an executive role in the band, which is now wholly fronted by Philip Bailey, Verdine White, and Ralph Johnson. I still love listening to this band even without Maurice White at the front. Just watching Verdine White dance while he plays bass is enough to get me going. 

Shining Star is required reading for any EWF fan. Bailey does a great job balancing his personal story with that of the band’s, offering plenty of interesting stories without getting bogged down in minutiae. He includes photos and lots of juicy tidbits about what it’s like to work with some of the finest musicians popular music has ever heard, but he never gets long-winded. Naturally, I recommend his book! It made the music nerd in me sing!

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book reviews

Repost: Linda Thompson dishes on loving Elvis Presley, being Bruce Jenner’s wife, and being David Foster’s wife…

Elvis Presley, the so-called “King of Rock and Roll”, died when I was five years old and living in England.  I grew up knowing who he was, hearing his songs, watching movies about him, and not really having an appreciation for why he was considered so great.

Bruce Jenner, now out as a transgender and living his life as Caitlyn, won the gold medal in the Olympic Decathlon in 1976.  I was four years old and living in England, so I didn’t see his big win.  I did hear about it, though, and I remember watching him act on shows like CHiPs.  I also remember seeing him on a Wheaties box or two.

David Foster is famous for writing intricate melodies and dazzling orchestral arrangements.  I remember hearing his work on Earth, Wind, & Fire’s beautiful ballad, “After the Love is Gone” and Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, as well as on countless other projects.

These three people all have the distinction of dating and/or marrying Memphis raised Linda Thompson, a former beauty queen, actress, and lyricist, and the mother of Bruce Jenner’s two sons, Brandon and Brody.  Last year, Thompson published a book about her experiences called A Little Thing Called Life: On Loving Elvis Presley, Bruce Jenner, and Songs in Between.  I think I downloaded the book some time ago, but I only just got around to finishing it.  It was a surprisingly interesting read.

Although I had heard of Linda Thompson before I bought her book, I think I was mostly familiar with her because I knew some of the songs for which she’d written lyrics.  Thompson explains that she’s always enjoyed writing poetry and, while she was dating Elvis Presley, a fellow musician noticed how well the words flowed.  He set her words to music and sang for her, and that was when she realized she was a songwriter.  But before that happened, she was a beauty queen, whose brother worked as one of Elvis’s bodyguards.  

Elvis Presley was apparently quite taken with Linda, and she became his live in girlfriend and caretaker for almost five years.  She was in her 20s, and he was in his 40s.  He used a lot of drugs, and wasn’t entirely faithful.  She lost her virginity to him, and several years of her youth taking care of him after he took too many sleeping pills.  She learned how to make his famous peanut butter and banana sandwiches and shares the recipe in her book.  She also took care of Elvis’s daughter with Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie.

Elvis and Linda broke up less than a year before he died.  He’d already found another caretaker, though, a woman named Ginger, who also has a book.

I was probably more interested in reading about Linda Thompson’s relationship with Bruce Jenner.  When they met, he was still married to his first wife, Chrystie, and had a son and a daughter from that marriage.  In the wake of his divorce, Bruce and Linda started dating and married.  She bore him two sons and he secretly borrowed her favorite silk blouse, which he smeared with makeup and stretched out.  One time, Linda was cleaning up around their house and she found an unlabeled video tape.  Thinking it was a film of her sons, she put it in the VCR to watch and was stunned to see Bruce parading around in women’s clothing and looking very much like a woman.

To her credit, Thompson did see a therapist about the situation with Bruce.  The therapist wisely told her that Bruce is transgendered and thinks he’s a woman.  It was a condition that would not change.  Feeling uncomfortable with the prospect of being married to a woman, Linda decided that she and Bruce should divorce.  She did not ask for child support or alimony… and sadly, Bruce Jenner was evidently an “absentee father”.  Thompson repeatedly writes that she did encourage a relationship between her sons and their dad.  She also writes that she feels there is “no excuse” for a parent missing their child’s upbringing.  Frankly, I agree.  However, there are plenty of parents out there who don’t want the other parent involved and do their best to break that bond.  I’m glad to read that Thompson didn’t do that.  Or, at least that’s what she claims.

My husband’s mother was married to a transgendered female for a couple of years.  He was a good looking man, very artistic, and had a son from a prior relationship.  Pretty soon, it became clear that he hoped my mother-in-law would teach him “how to be a woman”.  Naturally, the relationship failed within four years.  While I have a lot of empathy for transgendered people, I also have empathy for people who end up in relationships with them not knowing that they are transgendered.  I also have empathy for Bill, who was abused by his ex stepfather.

After she divorced Jenner, who went on to marry Kris Kardashian and have two daughters with her, Linda Thompson met David Foster.  He was married at the time they met and had children from prior relationships.  He divorced, and he and Thompson started dating.  Thompson writes that Foster is incredibly talented to the point of being a genius.  However, he’s also very tyrannical about some things and seems quite narcissistic.  Their marriage lasted nineteen years.  It ended after Thompson forgave Foster for having an affair and then caught him in another lie.  The shitty part of it was that she caught him due to a friend’s lack of discretion and it happened to be their wedding anniversary.

I have always admired David Foster as a musician, but as I read about Thompson getting involved with yet another self-absorbed overachiever, I started wondering what it was that attracted her to these types of people.  If you think about it, Thompson’s major relationships have involved people who are bonafide superstars in their fields.  According to Thompson, they each repeatedly treated her with disrespect.  She has reaped some benefits from her relationships with these guys.  Thompson is famous in her own right, knows a lot of elite people, and lives very comfortably.  But she has not been lucky in love.

I suppose the main thing I got from her book is that you should be careful what you wish for when you look for a mate.  Would it be exciting to be in a relationship with a famous person?  Maybe.  There’s a lot that famous people can offer that ordinary people can’t.  For instance, Elvis Presley gifted Linda with a house and took her on trips in his private airplane.  

But there is a price to pay for the trappings of that kind of success.  I think to be a really famous superstar, one has to be somewhat narcissistic.  I don’t think every superstar is a narcissist, but I do think a whole lot of them are.  And most narcissists are assholes.

Is it better to live in the lap of luxury yet constantly be disrespected by your mate?  Or is it better to have less material wealth but a mate who loves, respects, and encourages you to live your best life together?  I think all three of Linda’s loves did encourage her to some extent– they weren’t total assholes by her account.  There were good times and she has been able to be friendly with them in the wake of their failed relationships.  But she had to go through a lot of pain to get to that point.

Once again, I look at my Bill and thank God I found a guy who’s just plain good.  No, he’s not rich, famous, or possessing of an extremely rare talent (unless you count profound empathy and kindness), but he always treats me with love and respect.  I love being with him.  I know where he is at night and who he wants to be with.  And that’s worth more to me than a mansion.

Anyway, I found Linda Thompson’s love life interesting.  There are a lot of tidbits in there for those who like to read about celebrities, too.  She even includes some anecdotes about Kenny Rogers and Michael Jackson.  It’s well worth the read if you have the inclination to pick it up.

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