For 38 years, bass dynamo Verdine White has been the powerhouse player in soul, funk and R&B behemoths Earth, Wind & Fire. Gareth Morgan gives a guided tour of the style of a man who knows when to keep it simple and when to let loose
Earth, Wind & Fire have been spreading their eclectically funky gospel for almost 40 years. With founder Maurice White‘s choice of material and the band’s direction ranging from jazz to gospel, R&B, blues and even rock, the man handling the bass duties has to be a bit special. That man is younger brother Verdine White, and take it from us – he’s not just a bit special, he’s one of the all-time greats.
White was born in Chicago, Illinois on 25th July, 1951 into a jazz-loving family. He took up double bass aged 15, although he quickly fell for the electric version. He studied with Chess records session man Louis Satterfield and, like many contemporaries, was influenced by Paul McCartney and by Motown’s James Jamerson. In June 1970, responding to a call from brother Maurice, Verdine relocated to LA to fill the bass chair for in the newly-formed Earth, Wind & Fire.
If you’re unfamiliar with EWF, we’re talking a 10-piece band with horn section, two guitars and percussion. Philip Bailey‘s sweet falsetto or Maurice White’s earthier soul vocals float on top while Verdine White underpins and drives the groove. In the 1970s EWF had a string of platinum albums including That’s The Way Of The World (1975), All ‘N All (1977) and I Am (1979). This success continued into the early ’80s until dwindling sales and exhaustion from a heavy touring schedule led to a four-year break. EWF continue to record, with a new album planned for 2009. They also still perform, and they funked up the White House this year on 22nd February at a formal dinner for new President Obama. White is strictly a fingerstyle player and incorporates the popping element of slap technique, only rarely employing his thumb. You’ll generally find him wielding an old Yamaha TRB4-P or a BB3000. Aside from a world-class, super-relaxed feel and exemplary sense of timing, the key to White’s playing is his perfect phrasing. Remember, he has to take account of a stack of instrumentation, but he always manages to come up with a bassline that combines the groove with a killer hook while still leaving plenty of room for improvisational development and the odd jaw-dropping fill. If you want to check White out, Let’s Groove – The Best Of Earth Wind & Fire on Columbia Records (1996) is a good place to start, and it’s the source for the examples that follow.