Verdine White: Shining Star
Notes From The Coast is honored to feature Verdine White in our first feature story.
Arguably the most recognizable bassist in the world, this music icon is one of the original members and co-founders of soul/R&B mega-group Earth, Wind & Fire. White has earned six Grammy Awards, has over fifty gold and platinum records on his walls, and has sold more than 90 million albums worldwide, in a career that is still thriving after four decades in the entertainment industry.
All About Jazz: Before we get started, I want to congratulate you and Earth, Wind & Fire on your 40 anniversary, which you celebrated in 2011. That is an amazing accomplishment and something to be very proud of. Actually, that might be a good place to start. Did the Anniversary Tour shows feel different from previous tours?
Verdine White: Last year the audiences were very enthusiastic. They brought old programs, books, albums, ticket stubs, and photos for us to autograph. They spoke of their first EWF concert experience, where they were and what was going on at that time in their lives.
We heard wonderful stories of people conceiving, dancing, studying, traveling, and partying to our music. We heard about patients in hospitals getting better and recovering when our songs were being played.
One friend called from a private yacht in Italy. when a large cruise ship was passing by. She held the phone up and we could hear that they were rockin' to our song, "September." That was so funny and amazing. The music was everywhere.
It's unreal because, in a way, the celebration continues. People are responding in such an energetic excited way to this tour. We are truly blessed and it is a heartwarming experience.
AAJ: These days, most marriages don't make it past 10 years. How did you and the band manage to stay together for 40 years? What was the band's recipe for success? What was your secret for success?
VW: We all took the music very seriously in the beginning. All the music was way ahead of its time. It joined us all at the core level with love, respect, friendship, and our talents. It was written in stone back then but, just like a marriage, we had to constantly work on ourselves as individuals and as a unit, especially as we got older and wiser. Subconsciously I guess everyone was on the same page with the four C's: consideration, communication, consistency, and commitment.
AAJ: We are now half way into 2012. How has this year been for you?
VW: The first part of 2012 was exciting and wonderful. We toured in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, and New Zealand. Now we are finishing up the States with a full orchestra (with conductor Charles Floyd). We are doing over 25 concerts and the idea started at the Hollywood Bowl concert two years ago. Now, other acts have "borrowed" our idea, from Smokey Robinson to Sting, and they are all performing select dates with an orchestra as well. We will finish up the tour when the year is out. Dates are listed at the EWF.com website.
AAJ: Are you working on any personal projects or projects outside of EWF?
VW: We are currently finishing tracks on the new LP, a double album titled, Now, Then, and Forever. It will be out late September and should be [officially] released October 2.
The Earth, Wind, and Fire "Gratitude Headphones" are now in the stores. This is a project that we did with Monster Cable.
I have a continuation book being released soon. It is called, How To Play The Bass Part II. It will be available for purchase next month.
I also continue to work with the youth through my foundation [The Verdine White Performing Arts Center].
AAJ: How did you get started on the bass?
VW: I started playing upright bass in orchestra class in Chicago. I was drawn to the instrument because it was tall (like me) and appeared so majestic standing alone in the corner of the class.
I took classical lessons with great teachers such as the late Radi Velah. I played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and played bass guitar at night in clubs. BTW, I was still underage at the time.
Eventually I continued my bass guitar studies with the late great Louis Satterfied, a member of the EWF Phoenix Horn Section.
AAJ: When did you realize that you had the talent and ability to play the bass professionally?
VW: When I was 16, I started playing professionally and began reading music at 15. So, the realization of my talent and ability came early. Louis Satterfield enhanced my studies, music theory, sigh- reading, and flawless execution with recording.
AAJ: Do you remember how many hours a day you would practice when you were first learning to play?
VW: When I was 14 and 15 I practiced 8 to 10 hours a day, sometimes falling asleep in bed with the bass still in my hand hours later [laughs].
After that, my practice came in playing in various ways, but especially playing with performing local bands. We would play for wedding, parties, clubs, and do Top 10 radio hits of the day.
Already working professionally in high school as a teen, my first recording date was in 1965 with Kittie Haywood. We did a song called, "Mama's Baby Ain't A Baby No More." It was then that I bought my first [Fender] Telecaster bass guitar, along with a B15 Ampeg. Very cool gear at the time.
I did a lot of listening, practiced scales, and finger techniques over and over.