Earth, Wind & Fire is embracing musical family values 

click to enlarge Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Courtesy photo
  • From left, Verdine White, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson

Falsetto-voiced Earth, Wind & Fire frontman Philip Bailey has earned a lot of honors in his four-decade career. He has won seven Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Vocal, Songwriters, and Rock and Roll halls of fame, and performed for two presidents: once for Bill Clinton, and three times for Barack Obama. Now his son Philip Jr. is following in his footsteps as a permanent EWF member alongside mainstays Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Larry Dunn on the band's evocative, "Spirit"-reminiscent new album, "Now, Then & Forever." But by far the coolest kudo was watching Obama throw his hands up in the air during the band's set and shout, "That's my jam!"

What's the weirdest concert you ever played? This gig in Japan at a motor race track. This was like in the 1990s, and it was the craziest thing we ever did. I was like, "Why are we here?" I don't even remember if we were pre-race or post-race -- all I know is that I couldn't wait to race out of there.

You haven't made an album since "Illumination" in 2005. Why record again now? Why not? We didn't have to, because we continue to tour, and we've been touring for nearly 20 years now without Maurice [White, who retired after a Parkinson's disease diagnosis, but still contributed ideas to "Now"]. But we got the opportunity to record with a major label, so we put it into play.

Now you've dragged your son, kicking and screaming, into showbiz. Ha! Exactly! Now he's writing songs and saving the day. His song "Guiding Lights" actually saved the day on this record -- it really made me take a deeper look at all the music that we had recorded thus far and then just scratch it all and go back to the drawing board and make this album that we have now. And I had about nine songs finished, but they didn't have the essence of Earth, Wind & Fire.

How does a son tell his father that he might have lost his mojo? Well, he didn't have to say it like that, exactly. It was more like, "Pay attention to this -- these ingredients are essential in terms of it being Earth, Wind & Fire." He was able to kind of turn the mirror toward me and say, "Look. Look at who you are."

How have you maintained your voice so well? I know what to do, and what not to do. Like singing under air conditioners is a kiss of death. Drinking Coca-Cola, too. Not to say anything bad about Coke. But for me, as a singer, it just takes my voice away.


Earth, Wind & Fire

Where: Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $58 to $103

Contact: (415) 776-7457,

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Tom Lanham

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