Bailey gets steady diet of solo work and EWF
YOUNGSTOWN — Earth, Wind & Fire is the reason Philip Bailey is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and it’s the group with which he’s recorded many of his biggest hits, but it’s seldom been his only gig.
Bailey has released 12 solo albums since 1983 (EWF, by comparison, has only 10 studio releases in that period), and the debut of the latest, “Love Will Find a Way,” coincides with a summer tour with the band he’s been a part of since 1972, including a concert Friday at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
“I can’t see one without the other,” Bailey said last week during a telephone interview. “I’ve always done solo projects. That really feeds me from a different diet and allows me to have something to bring back fresh to the band. I’ve always had a lot of different aspirations and interests in terms of music. Earth, Wind & Fire is a situation, though it’s a glorious situation, it’s so clearly defined that you can’t step outside that box without fans going nuts — ‘What are they doing? That doesn’t sound like Earth, Wind & Fire.’
“I think about my love for Pat Metheny or Christian McBride or Chick Corea, people I’ve always admired and listened to and desired to make music with … It doesn’t serve the same fan base, but artists have to have that freedom. It’s almost like if someone said to you, ‘Just stay in the same state. You can’t travel. You can’t go any place.’ It would be very constricting. Earth, Wind & Fire, it’s a blessing it’s a home, but it’s not everything. It’s just part of the whole, part of my musical life.”
“Love Will Find a Way” has Bailey collaborating with jazz artists like McBride and Corea as well as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and singer-songwriter Bilal.
“I’m drawn to the people I work with by the music they do, my affection for their artistry and the body of work that they have performed and produced or written and arranged. For me it’s very selfish, an appetite to fulfill a musical desire, and I think they’ve felt the same about the work we’ve done. It’s been a mutual admiration society.”
The album was inspired by by the parallels between the turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s and what Bailey is seeing in the world today. Some of the songs he picked came out of that era, and Bailey’s falsetto is a perfect fit with Curtis Mayfield’s “Billy Jack.”
Others are more surprising, like a moody, slowed-down cover of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” with a vocal that treats the verses like a spoken-word poem.
Bailey credited his creative team, which includes a couple of his adult children for that selection.
“They were thinking about things that went with the theme that we were taking but at the same time, would be more unexpected,” Bailey said.
It’s a sharp contrast from an EWF show, which is about delivering the expected, those pop and soul hits that were the soundtrack to so many lives — “Sing a Song,” “Shining Star,” “Serpentine Fire,” “September,” “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland” and more.
Bailey will be singing them alongside core members Verdine White, bass and backing vocals, and Ralph Johnson, percussion and backing vocals, joined by Myron McKinley, keyboards; Philip Bailey Jr, backing vocals; B. David Whitworth, vocals and percussion; Morris O’Connor, guitar; Serg Dimitrijevic, guitar; and John Paris, drums and vocals.
On the current tour, a portion of the ticket sales will go toward Music Is Unity (www.musicisunity.com), a foundation the band started to help those aging out of the foster care system.
“It’s helping those young folks transitioning in life. Being a father and grandfather, it’s unthinkable to think there are so many out there trying to deal with life with no village or support. We have become that bridge, a village for a bunch of people who find themselves in a difficult situation through no fault of their own.”