THE ETERNAL DANCE
In 1974, the group was
the only black band at a major rock event, The California Jam, which featured Emerson,
Lake & Palmer, Black Oak Arkansas and Rare Earth. They opened for Sly Stone at Madison
Square Garden: "Verdine wanted to hike himself up through a harness and fly through
the air. I was a little apprehensive because I thought he might fall, but being an
adventurous guy, I said let’s try it. The people went crazy. That was the beginning.
Within a year, Larry was spinning around on top of his piano and Ralph’s drum platform
gyrated. It was an expensive production and all the money we made went back into the
production of the show. But the audiences, man, they went wild…"
Notes Philip, "There were one date I remember at Temple University in Philly. We all saw what the potential was for greatness for the group. Something special was happening; the crowd’s reaction, the magic between us as musicians…." After working with Ramsey Lewis on his 1974 Sun Goddess album and giving the keyboard maestro his biggest record in nine years, the group hit the studio again.
Maurice – "This guy Sig Shore who had done the movie Superfly came to see us about doing a film. We decided to do the soundtrack. We were in the movie, trying to act. The movie flopped after tree days. But the album stood on its own. It was our time: the momentum had been building through the previous albums, through our live shows. We’d been a community band. That’s The Way Of The World put us in the mainstream."
Not only did That’s The Way Of The World provide EWF with their commercial breakthrough (as a double-platinum album featuring their first No.1 pop/r&b hit in "Shining Star" and the now classic "Reasons"), it also resulted in the group’s move to larger stadiums. They packed Madison Square Garden in New York, played medium-sized auditoriums for four and five nights at a time.
Younger brother Fred White (whose Chicago background had included playing local clubs as a drummer with Donny Hathaway, later playing with Little Feat) joined the group and after returning from their first European dates with Santana, CBS wanted another album – and fast!
Maurice – "We didn’t have time to do a whole new album so we stared taping all our shows. I sat down and listened to the tapes from everywhere. We cut four new songs in the studio and we had the double-album Gratitude…"
EWF’s June ’75 sessions produced "Sing A Song" and "Can’t Hide Love" and helped take Gratitude to a double-platinum status, an unheralded occurrence for any black group of the day; and, for the first time, the group’s horn section (Don Myrick and Louis Satterfield, both from Maurice’s Chicago session dates, and Michael Harris) which had become an integral part of the EWF sound was credited on disc.
Gratitude was the last album which Charles Stepney fully participated; he suffered a heart attack in the midst of the sessions for the six-platinum CBS album Spirit. Maurice – "It really hit me hard. I went through a lot of trauma behind Charles’ passing. I had learned so much from him. It was a great loss but I turned the energy into finishing the album and naturally, we dedicated it to him, and the title track "Spirit" (written with Larry Dunn) was written for him."
Aside from his
EWF duties, Maurice had been developing his Kalimba Productions and had signed two
acts – vocalist Deniece Williams, who had been a member of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove, and
r&b group The Emotions, who had a run of hits with Volt Records from 1969 to 1974.
Then came All’n All. Verdine – "That was one of the hardest records I’ve ever worked on. We were all in there sweating ourselves to the ground. Maurice was singing, playing drums and producing. And it was one of the best albums we ever did."
Maurice- "I went to Brazil for a vacation. When I came back, I was fresh and ready to start writing. I was affected by what I’d heard there. I think of that album as a turning point in our maturity musically. that record got everyone’s attention." With its mystical cover and choked full of songs that played strongly on metaphysical themes ("Jupiter", "Fantasy" and "Be Ever Wonderful"), All’n All became the group’s fifth successive double-platinum album.
Back on the road, EWF were wowing audiences with their spectacular stage show which now featured special magic effects courtesy of Doug Henning; elaborate production tricks that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid; and a disappearing act which saw EWF literally vanishing from sight! Verdine – "Everybody was coming to see our show to take notes. The Jacksons, including Michael. People were checking out our wardrobe. We had crossed over and were kicking…."
1978 turned out to be yet another triumphant year as EWF picked up three Grammy awards, the third for their spellbinding version of The Beatles "Got To Get You Into My Life", featured (as were the group) in the movie, Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. It was also the year that Maurice and managers Cavallo and Ruffalo worked out a deal for the launch of ARC (American Recording Corporation) to be distributed through CBS and the creation of a recording studio in Los Angeles, The Complex; EWF’s albums were to appear on the label along with new albums by The Emotions, Deniece Williams, Pockets(a group produced by Verdine for Columbia), and others signings like gospel/r&b star D.J. Rogers.
Maurice – "My life was lifeless…It revolved around music. I was on the road, in the studio, non-stop…and I loved it. But there was a lot of pressure. Too much pressure. Success will affect you. I was trying to do it all and I wasn’t paying attention to ARC the way I should have…." The year ended with another hit single, "September", an additional track added to The Best of EWF, vol.1, which inevitably reached double-platinum status.
Continues in The CBS Years [1980-1990]…