The CBS Years 1980-1990

A good portion of 1979 was spend overseas headlining shows in Europe and Japan, the group could do no wrong. Philip – "When we sold out five nights at Wembley in London, that’s when I knew we had transcended our U.S. success…."

Mid-’79 saw EWF topping the dance music charts; produced by Maurice and Al McKay, "Boogie Wonderland" (featuring The Emotions) was "our contribution to disco!" recalls Maurice. In a total musical contrast, EWF scored a No.2 pop and r&b smash with the now classic ballad, Grammy-winning "After The Love Has Gone", co-written by David Foster who co-wrote four other tracks for the double-platinum, I Am. Verdine – "I Am was like our Abbey Road. It really scored pop." Maurice – "I think of it as a milestone album. People stole stuff from that album, whole careers came out of it. It was like: listen to I Am and see what you can steel. All the pieces came together…."

1979 ended with a triumphant appearance at The United Nations for a UNICEF worldwide benefit but Verdine notes, "Hollywood had a hold of EWF. We were getting a little too commercial…." The pressures were mounting, still trying to oversee ARC, producing other acts, and leading EWF was proving strenuous for Maurice. He took the band on a vacation to Egypt, a country he’d visited twice before as a result of his strong interest in Egyptology (reflected in the cover art of I Am and its predecessor All’n All) "Half the band loved it. half of them hated it. Everybody didn’t share the same beliefs. I was into metaphysics and everyone else wasn’t so that caused somewhat of a separation within the core of the group…."

The group headed to the Caribbean island of Montserrat, to begin sessions for a double album, Faces. Released in the autumn of 1980, the album proved to be a relative commercial disappointment, reaching only gold status. Maurice – "The industry was going through a major recession. Still, I felt that it was a strong album and a double album going gold around that time was hardly a failure…."

Revitalized from some time off and undaunted, EWF headed back to the studios to records the double-platinum Raise, but not before Al McKay had split to pursue production interests, replaced by guitarist Roland Bautista who had left the group some seven years earlier. Verdine – "We should have stopped after we did the Raise album…." Philip – "Those years, 1980 to 1983, were the most difficult. We were battling the giant. We were trying viciously to outdo ourselves. The pressure was on more and more. We were expected to sell the volume and still be innovative. It got crazy and the band began to grow apart…."
While Powerlight, released in early 1983, reached the gold status with strong songs like "Fall In Love With Me" and "Side By Side," it failed to ignite the same kind of reaction to which the band had become accustomed. Group members were considering solo projects; Maurice helped Philip get a solo deal with Columbia.

Maurice – "CBS wanted another "Let’s Groove." Frankly, we did the album Electric Universe too quickly. And then everything hit the fan. The album was a total bomb – didn’t even make it to gold. Personally, I’d had it. I’d been making albums for 12 years, non-stop, with almost no breaks from touring. I called a meeting and told everyone where I was at." Verdine – "The break gave me a chance to find out who I was as a person, to get with my family. I really needed it. I resigned myself to the fact that we might not get back together again…."

From late 1983 to early 1987, there were no EWF records. Maurice produced tracks for a diverse range of artists from Jennifer Holliday to Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. In 1985, he finished his first self-titled solo album which gave him a top 10 r&b hit with an update of the Ben E. King classic, "Stand By Me." Philip meanwhile had enjoyed a No. 1 pop hit with "Easy Lover," a duet with Phil Collins, taken from his second LP, Chinese Wall. He’s also begun recording as a gospel artist winning a Grammy award for 1986’s Praise!. "Larkin Arnold at Columbia had kept bugging me about doing another Earth, Wind & Fire record," recalls Philip. "I talked with Maurice about it but he wasn’t very receptive initially. But we talked some more…."

Maurice – "Touch The World sold two million copies, and when we came back together, we found we’d really missed each other." EWF found themselves back on top of the r&b charts in 1987 when "System Of Survival," the first single, was released. A nine- month world tour reflected a new energy and excitement as Maurice, Verdine, Philip, Ralph and Andrew were joined by guitarist Sheldon Reynolds who had spent several years playing behind The Commodores and drummer Sonny Emory who had working with The Crusaders to recreate the magic of EWF.

In 1989, after giving international audiences an opportunity to hear their string of hits once more, EWF headed back to the studio for their last Columbia album, Heritage. Maurice – "That was the first time I’d ever had someone else A&R one of our records. Overall, I think it was a letdown although it was a good album…."

Continues in A New Beginning
THE CBS YEARS [1972-1973]
THE CBS YEARS [1974-1979]
THE CBS YEARS [1980-1990]

Gunnar Homdrum 1996 © 2005