When Earth, Wind & Fire singing great Philip Bailey talks about the power of faith in his life, it doesn’t sound like a cliche.
“My faith in God has been the rudder that has allowed me to soar above the fray and to stay grounded and to learn from my mistakes,” says the musician. “It’s given me the strength to get through everything _ the thing with Maurice, with my exes… “ By Maurice, he means Maurice White, founder of the groundbreaking band that hit it big in the 1970s and is still going strong today.
Bailey’s deep, loving friendship with White is among many personal points (he doesn’t gloss over infidelity) he covers in his candid memoir, “Shining Star: Bearing the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire,” which he’ll discuss in The City this week.
“We had a multi-tiered type of relationship. He was kind of like a big brother, or a father figure, with more life experience. But we also were confidantes. I was the one person that Maurice could actually talk to; I wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to hear,” he says.
Their breakup occurred in the 1980s, when White (who has been living with Parkinson’s disease for decades) abruptly fired the band at a point when its popularity waned.
“I had to get over the shock and awe and pain,” says Bailey, 62, who eventually reconciled with White, and ultimately took his place as leader in later incarnations of the group. He adds, “Having had the reins of EWF for 20 years, I now have so much more empathy and understanding for him than I ever have.”
Bailey says White was way ahead of his time with his vision, called “The Concept,” for EWF, which focused on universality, spirituality and ambitious, high-quality musicianship in a package that defied race and cultural categorizations.
Bailey’s own story began in Denver. He was poor, living in a little-supervised, single-parent household (15 places between kindergarten and 12th grade), but always bolstered by a love for music. When he was around 9, he lost his voice on a tryout for a talent show with a song called “Let the Little Girl Dance.” But the next year, in fourth grade, he and friends won the talent competition.
In high school, he began his professional career in cover bands, singing everything: rock, jazz, R&B, doo wop, oldies, Top 40 — songs from Carole King to Three Dog Night to James Brown. Recently, his solo career has included touring with Ramsey Lewis, and an upcoming date at New York’s Blue Note — “a lifetime dream.”
These days, his feelings sometimes “boomerang” at him, when he sings EWF’s first No. 1 hit, “Shining Star,” a tune he co-wrote “about struggling to find significance.”
Noting that a lot of musicians from his era are “either crazy or dead,” he’s happy to fall back, he says, on “those notes and rhythms and harmonies and words and rhymes and poems.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $25 to $35
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org/arts
Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire
Written by Philip Bailey with Keith Zimmerman and Kent Zimmerman
Published by Viking