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“My Life with Earth Wind & Fire” by Maurice White with Herb Powell

Terri Schlichenmeyer | OW contributor | 1/30/2017, 5:02 p.m.
Your needs are very simple. Food, shelter, water. Those are the essentials, but then there are the things you need ...

Your needs are very simple.

Food, shelter, water. Those are the essentials, but then there are the things you need for yourself: family, good friends, a warm bed, a good book, and a place of welcome. You wouldn’t die without them, but those things spice your life. And if you were Maurice White, author of “My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire” (with Herb Powell), you’d add one more: music.

Born in Memphis at a time when Jim Crow ruled the south, Maurice White was four years old when his mother told him that she needed to go to Chicago to find a job. She left him with a friend who became White’s “Mama,” and who raised him with strength and wisdom.

He was a quiet boy, a born introvert, but Mama taught him by example to love God, Mahalia, and Ray Charles, though he was in junior high when he fell “deep under the spell of music.” White and his best friend pulled together a band then, and one of the members encouraged White to find his spiritual core and think in different ways.

At eighteen, not long before his Mama died of cancer, White headed for Chicago to live with his “Mother Dear,” his birth mother, who’d remarried and was raising six children. She offered him a place to stay, but he wanted to be his own man; he also wanted to emulate his stepfather and attend medical school, but music had such an allure that he told “Dad” that he’d been called to a different vocation. White became “a sponge” to soak up all he could learn about the music business.

By early 1970, he knew what kind of music he wanted to play. He’d been a bandleader before, and he was eager to do it again. An astrologer had even handed him a “piece to my puzzle,” an astrological chart was filled with “‘only fire, air, and earth signs’.”

Which brings us to page 77, almost the quarter-point of this memoir. That means “My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire” is one very wordy book.

That’s not to say it’s bad – at least not the first half of it, anyhow. The late author Maurice White (with Herb Powell) tells of Jim Crow from the point of view of a child, of the Civil Rights movement, and what it was like in the early days of Motown, Chess Records, and a new kind of rock & roll. Because White and Powell are so casual in their storytelling, those memories feel like a conversation with readers.

At roughly the part where White switches gears musically, so does the book. There’s where we get a lot of detail about the band, players, gigs, and such – valuable info if you can follow along. Musical mud, if you can’t.

Therefore, the audience for this book, I think, is with a professional musician or a die-hard EW&F fan. Pass on it, if you’re not – but if you are, “My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire” could be elemental.