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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Be specific: Earth Wind & Fire talk about Janelle Monae, their upcoming album, and what the song “Serpentine Fire” really is about.

By Erin Williams

ewfEarth Wind & Fire are celebrating 40 years together.

Click Track sat down with Phillip Bailey, Verdine White, and Ralph Johnson, the members of the iconic R&B/Funk group Earth Wind & Fire, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a concert at the Kennedy Center. The group will be playing with students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown. Before they began rehearsals, they waxed poetic about getting back to their live roots, the growth of their group over the years, and choosing between the prom and Jimi Hendrix.

How many members total have been in the group?

Phillip Bailey: We never really sat down and counted, but there were three main periods of time -- I guess you would call it – or four…We’ve had several different people but basically we’ve been the mainstay.

Do you still want to make new music?

Verdine White: Well we’re in the middle of it now. It’s going along really great …it’s been a great creative period. We’ve been working pretty hard the last few weeks.

Ralph Johnson
: We’re very excited it because we’re getting the band back in the studio, which is something – that’s how we started this whole thing: taking the band, the raw band – putting them in the studio, cutting the tracks – we’ve gone back to that on this particular CD.

PB: For a long period of time, the creative process changed and it was just more – the songs were more computer-driven, and more written with computers and augmented by the musician. This time we decided to just go back to the way we always knew to do it – to go in the studio, with the band and try to drive the creative process from the band - because we are a band. So we’ve been having a lot of fun doing it.

Hopefully the project’s going to come out late summer. It’s going to be called “Earth Wind & Fire – Yesterday, Today & Forever.” It’s going to have some remixes by some [top] producers of some of the catalog stuff, and some new music as well. And then a couple of songs that were not A-list songs in our catalog that we’ll bring from the “Fire” catalog.

RJ: It’s going to be a real nice project. We’re excited.

What new artists pique your interests?

VW: We’ve been talking about Janelle Monae - love Janelle Monae!

RJ: We were talking about the Grammys, talking about new artists and of course Janelle came up. But then, Esperanza Spalding won a Grammy for Best New Artist.

VW: And of course she’s from the tradition of just great music – of a strong jazz lineage, so we talk about a lot of those new young artists.

PB: She’s actually a schoolmate of my son’s at Berklee – I met her while we were there.

Who is someone that as a young person you would have like to have seen perform live?

PB: I would have loved to have seen John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan.

RJ : I’ll take it in another direction and say Jimi Hendrix. And the interesting story is the night that Jimi played in Los Angeles at the Forum was my prom night. So I had to go to the prom! You get one prom – and I figured Jimi would come back. And Chick Webb.

VW: Duke Ellington, I would have loved to have seen him. I had a chance to see Sammy Davis Jr – that was great. But Duke Ellington, I would have love to have seen him because his work – his chord structure of his songs.

So this is something just have to ask: After listening to the song over the years (and finally understanding the words), what is the meaning of the phrase “Serpentine Fire?”

RJ: Well, what do you think it means?

I don't know! From what I understand there's a guy who is really into this girl and she brings up all these feelings...and he says "Tell the story/Morning Glory", as if they had something going on the night before...

PB: Well, Maurice at that point in time in our career was studying a lot of metaphysics and a lot of Eastern philosophy, and the “Serpentine Fire” – I’m not an expert on that whole thing, because I had to ask him myself (what it meant) – but it’s actually the sex drive – or sexual impulse…that’s really what it is.

RJ: I mean there’s really nothing else to answer!

By Erin Williams  | February 24, 2011; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags:  Earth Wind & Fire  
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Posted by: Lindemann777 | February 24, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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