By Alex Kluft
For nearly fifty years as the bassist of Earth, Wind and Fire, Verdine White has been influencing generations of bass players. Just a week before EWF headlined the second day of the Kaaboo Festival in Del Mar, CA I had the pleasure of interviewing Verdine. In the thirty minutes we spoke we touched on the band performing in the Tournament of Roses parade in the beginning of the year, his recent event with legendary photographer Bruce Talamon at the Grammy Museum, and how to inspire today's generation of bassists.
How did it feel to represent the 50th Anniversary of Forum in the in Tournament of Roses Parade Earlier this year?
It was a big honor. I didn’t realize how big it was originally. Over 70 million people saw it. It was on the cover of LA Times and they wrote a beautiful article about it. It was great to see all those people watching it.
I noticed Serg (Dimitrijevic, Guitar) was missing on the float
It happened last minute, and Serg was in Australia visiting his mother. We didn’t know we were going to do it until a few days before. There were a lot of parents and kids out there and it reminded me of our multicultural audience of multiple generations.
I’ve noticed the diversity of the crowds each time I’ve seen EWF and its incredible.
We just got back after being gone all summer and it’s the same thing seeing nothing but all kinds of people–young people from another generation and people that started with us. It was like the Grammy Museum event I just did, very multicultural.
With Kaaboo coming up this weekend, what gear will you be using for your headlining set?
I’m bringing my Sadowsky bass. I think I’ll bring two of them. I have four Sadowskys. Great basses, wonderful sound. It sounds great and morphs well into different arenas, theatres, stadiums…they just sound good everywhere. Everyone needs one in their arsenal.
When you play festivals do you get to watch other bands?
It’s hard because it’s so crowded and you can’t get to the other stages and we’re generally flying in to do our show and you have to think of how the traffic will be. Napa (Bottle Rock) we had to fly into. At Glastonbury it was so muddy. I wish I could, but you might be lucky one day to do that.
At Chicago Theater EWF has been honored with a proclamation naming September 21st Earth, Wind and Fire day. Did you go there growing up?
I have the poster from it and had it framed. That’s a great theatre. When I was a kid I used to go to that theater, they used to play movies in it.
Who do you think is the new generation of great bassists?
We have a lot of great up and coming bassists. I love Jamareo Artis from Bruno Mars, he’s a good friend of mine and Brandon Gilliard from Janelle Monae, also a good friend. They both check in with me always. A lot of young people are playing Fenders which are great, but I say to get a Sadowsky. Today you can listen to all the greats that came before like Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, Nathan East, Rickey Minor, Larry Graham, James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke. They have all these wonderful players to listen to and resources we didn’t have. There weren’t that many bass guitar players back then. My teacher Louis Satterfield was the one who taught me how to play bass and James Jamerson, that was pretty much it. They have a lot of people to listen to now and the bass is in great hands.
EWF has been honored with being Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a number of gold records. What else would you and the group like to accomplish?
I don’t think about that. You just keep doing what you’re doing. For us it’s the about the audience and doing it for Maurice. You do the work and those things will come.
With the success of the last the Chicago/EWF tour, are there plans for another one?
We haven’t figured it out. Since that tour we’ve been out with Nile Rodgers, did the Classics, and we went to Europe. I don’t know yet, but it was a lot of fun, great guys, all those wonderful songs and hit records behind both bands. It was a great accomplishment for the concert business. Chicago was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame right after that which was great for them and it was well deserved.
What did you enjoy about this past Bass Player Live!?
We honored Flea last year and gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve known Flea for a long time. It’s just great, you know. We always have a great time and it’s a brotherhood. We get a chance to talk, exchange notes, and see what everyone’s doing and it’s hard to do that because everyone’s so busy. Chris Jisi does a great job with it.
Of all the interviews you have done, is there a question you have been waiting to be asked?
Wow, that’s a good one, man. I think one of the things is how can we make the younger bass players better and how can we educate them? I get a lot of people asking what do you think of this or accomplishments, but they don’t always ask us how can we help the younger players get this far? You’re a young man and one day you can do what Bruce [Talamon, photographer] did the other night. You know what I mean? Those are some of the things I’d love to talk about.
It was very special to see Bruce Talamon’s exhibit at the Grammy Museum and it was a great Q&A you both did. This is the first time there’s been a coffee table book by Taschen on African American R&B artists. We’ve never had one before.
We’re doing another one at the Hammer Museum September 19th.
What was it like seeing photos from 40+ years ago for the first time?
Bruce said, “I got a surprise for you,” because the end of the book was Maurice behind the scenes and I had never seen that before. As I said in the interview, Bruce was like one of the guys in the band, he is as hip as a musician. What I loved about Bruce was If you went to a Bob Marley concert Bruce was there, you would go to Herbie Hancock Bruce was there. You would see Bruce at a lot of events. When you see people like Bruce it’s great and it’s a testimony to his awareness and that’s why I love Bruce so much. It was Maurice that brought him on the road with us and he’s responsible for Brucey coming out and being part of the family. He went to Egypt with us, Alaska with us, and was everywhere with us. I just wanted to say in 2018, I would bet money on that no other African American group in the history of music went to Egypt. It was Maurice’s vision for us to go there.