Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire


Earth, Wind & Fire has always been one of my favorite 70s groups. They had a distinct R&B sound that blended with a 60s quality of "love, peace and understanding". Incorporating all kinds of rhythms, visual effects, and high quality musicianship, EWF also managed to maintain an universal audience that went beyond ethnic groups and black and white. In some ways, they were a family friendly mix of Sly and The Family Stone and James Brown. If sometimes I felt they were a little too commercial for my taste, Maurice White and Phillip Bailey always won me over, not to mention that kick-ass horn section.

Philip Bailey is most distinctive for his great falsetto voice and he probably contributed more to EWF than he admits. One thing you discover in reading this memoir of life with EWF is that Bailey is a gentle, thoughtful and humble man. It's a refreshing tone after reading so many pop music autobiographies by egomaniacs. But he is probably right when he says that EWF was primarily Maurice White's show. Maurice White developed what was known as "The Concept" and rarely deviated from it. For Maurice, EWF was more than a music group. It was an experience, a statement, a spectacular and foremost a concept. The idea of universal harmony is never too far away in any EWF song. White's insistence on control is one of the main reason EWF worked so well and, as inevitable with most music endeavors, the main reason it fell apart.

Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire is written by Philip Bailey with assistance from Keith & Kent Zimmerman. It is sometimes a bit pedestrian yet sincere account of his life with emphasis on his time with EWF. I can't help but like the Philip Bailey that comes through on paper. Growing up in Denver, he seems to have avoided a lot of the pitfalls of West or East Coast urban life. He never got into drugs and, despite some forays into adultery, he never went to the party-til-you-die excesses we expect with music stars. He credits much of that to his religious background and he eventually converted to born-again Christianity. This is also a refreshing turn since most rock star conversions stories are hit-bottom types with all the horror stories. Bailey write about it as a part of growing up and a natural progression in his life. What Bailey lacks in backstage horror stories is well compensated by his description of living the musician' life and how EWF went from a vague concept to a fully developed phenomenon. He makes it clear that this was hard work for White, himself, and all the members of the band. It is that insight in the creation of a band that is the strength of this book and why I would recommend it.

Bailey continues his memoirs after the break-up into his own solo career culminating with the Phil Collins collaboration of "Easy Lover" and then to the reunion of EWF. In many ways Shining Star is a typical music biography but in other ways it is quite irresistible in its casualness. Bailey comes across as real. He tries to tell the truth the best he can but is never mean. He may criticize some aspects of Maurice White's style and decisions but he also clearly admires who "Reese" is and what he accomplished. And most important, Bailey doesn't just write about music, he writes about the cost of making his own decisions, accepting responsibility and the importance of his family. Bailey stays real which is more than I can say for most over-hyped rock autobiographies.