Live Concert Photography: Philip Bailey at City Winery 6/21/19
Initially founded by Maurice White, a former Chess Records sessions drummer in Chicago in 1969, the 19-time Grammy Award nominated, seven-time Grammy Award winning, 12-time American Music Award nominated, four-time American Music Award winning funk, soul and disco act Earth, Wind, and Fire managed to help define the sound of pop music throughout the course of the 70s — and are arguably one of the most commercially successful, crossover pop acts ever, as they’ve sold over 90 million records. The band has been inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame and Hollywood’s Rockwalk — and they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They also have received an ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Heritage Award, a BET Lifetime Achievement Award, a Soul Train Legend Award, a NARAS Signature Governor’s Award and the 2012 Congressional Horizon Award.
Interestingly, Earth Wind and Fire can trace their origins to a previous band that White founded, the Salty Peppers, which recorded a minor regional hit before splitting up. Once Salty Peppers split up, White relocated to Los Angeles,where he recruited Sherry Scott (vocals), Yackov Ben Israel (percussion), whom White knew from Chicago. White then asked his younger brother Verdine if he’d join the new band in Los Angeles. Maurice White began sending out early demo tapes of the band, featuring Donny Hathaway (vocals) around to different labels, and they eventually caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records, who then signed the band. Maurice held further auditions in which Michael Beal (guitar). Chester Washington (reeds), Leslie Drayton (vocals, trumpet, arrangements) and Alex Thomas (trombone) joined to complete the band’s initial ten member lineup.
1971 saw the release of the band’s self-titled debut, an effort that was in released in February and landed at #24 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums charts. Building upon a growing profile, the band performed the Melvin Van Peebles composed soundtrack for his acclaimed 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadassss Song, which was released that April and landed at #13 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart. Completing a busy year, the band released their ambitious sophomore album, The Need of Love, which landed at #35 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart. Album single “I Think About Lovin’ You” landed at #44 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart — and although had gained traction on college campus, some of band members became restless. Essentially, the band broke up after being together less than six months. Maurice, along with his brother Verdine decided to re-form the band with a completely different lineup.
In 1972 the White Brothers recruited Helena Davis (vocals), Ronnie Laws (flute, saxophone), Roland Bautista (rhythm guitar), Larry Dunn (keys) Denver-born Philip Bailey (vocals, percussion) and Ralph Johnson (percussion) to join the group. Davis was soon replaced by Jessica Cleaves, a former member of R&B act The Friends of Distinction. The rest as we know is history . . .
Of course since the 70s, Bailey is best known as the one of the co-lead vocalists of Earth, Wind and Fire, sharing vocal duties with White on smash hits like “Shining Star,” “Getaway,” “September, “Sing A Song,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Saturday Nite” and on the classic disco collaboration with The Emotions “Boogie Wonderland.” Bailey was the featured lead vocalist on songs like “Devotion,” “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” the classic, oft-covered ballad “Reasons,” “Fantasy,” “I’ll Write A Song For You,” “Imagination,” “I’ve Had Enough” and “Guiding Lights.”
With Maurice White’s retirement and death, Bailey eventually became the on-stage leader fo the band, along with Verdine White, Ralph Johnson (percussion, vocals) and B. David Whitworth (vocals, percussion). Of course, Bailey has had a lengthy solo career that can be traced back to 1983 and the release of his full-length debut, Continuation, an album that landed at #19 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart — and featured “I Know,” which landed at #10 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.
1984 saw the release of Bailey’s Phil Collins-produced sophomore album Chinese Wall. Continuing a run of commercial success, the album landed at #22 on the Billboard 200 and #10 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Charts. Chinese Wall is best known for his smash-hit duet with Phil Collins “Easy Lover,” “which landed at #1 on the UK Singles Chart and #2 on Billboard Hot 100 charts, marking his only Top 40 solo hit.
Since then, Bailey has released handful of solo albums, including the recently released Will.I.Am-produced Love Will Find A Way, a jazz-influenced album that finds the imitable vocalist collaborating with an All-Star cast of acclaimed artists including Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, Bilal, Chick Corea and Steve Gadd.
Last week, the soul, pop and R&B legend played a headlining, career spanning set at City Winery that featured material off the new album, with a smattering of his work with Earth Wind and Fire, along with “Easy Lover.” Check out photos from the set below.