MAURICE WHITE 1941 -2016: Derf Recklaw pays TRIBUTE to the force behind Earth, Wind & Fire
After reading Richard Williams’ memories of meeting the recently departed Maurice White on his excellent Blue Moment site I thought I’d give a more permanent home to the homage paid on Facebook by an early collaborator and comrade, California based multi-instrumentalist Derf Recklaw. I discovered this tribute to the man behind the seminal Earth Wind & Fire through the Black Rock Coalition co-founder Greg Tate and it gives a rare personal insight into the musical life of a musician coming into his own among a community of radical, conscious musicians in Chicago, who were aligning themselves to both Africa and the Cosmos. Read on.
“Good morning everyone. Peace, Blessings and Love to All. I haven’t spoken too much about the great Maurice White, who made his transition a couple of days ago. He was part of a spiritual connection that began with a band of musicians from Crane Jr. College on the Westside of Chicago . They were called the Kingsmen. They won the Downbeat festival award in Indiana and after that Maurice and other band members Don Myrick,Charles Handy and Lui Lui Satterfield and later Pete Cosey and Master Henry Gibson became studio musicians at Chess records.
Aside from studio work this band came to be known as Chuck Handy and the Pharaohs. People would see a line of Mercedes-Benz going down the street to their gigs. I remember walking down 43rd street and seeing the Mercedes lined up and hearing the music coming out of venue. After Eldee Young and Red Holt left the Ramsey Lewis trio, Cleveland Eaton and Maurice White were the replacements.
Chuck Handy and the Pharaohs joined Kelan Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble. Brother Phil made African thumb pianos (Lukembi, Sansa, Mbira ). Upon seeing Phil play the thumb piano, Phil amplified the instrument and called it a “Frankiephone”, Maurice took up the instrument. Chuck Handy and the Pharaohs became engrossed with the wisdom and knowledge of Egyptolgy and modal approach to music expression. I joined Kelan Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble in March of 1968. Brother Phil left the AAFRO-ARTS Theater in September of 1968 and the majority of the band remained to form what was called The Pharaohs. Brother Charles Handy ask me to be a part of the band.
Maurice embraced the Spiritual concepts that we had as a band. He formed a band called the Salty Peppers and I sang on their first record ‘La La time’. Earth (Don Whiteheard) Wind (Wade Flemons) Fire (Maurice White). Also no water in his astrology chart. We always talked when we saw each other. He would always say, “You got a birthday coming.” He remembered my birthday and I his. We were always cool. I knew most of his family. When my band Ship Of The Desert was in the studio recording, his brother Ron, an engineer at P.S.Studios in Chicago, sent some of my songs to Maurice to hear. He told me, “You know I have to keep up with what your doing. You are a whole show by yourself.”
I’m thankful to still be part of that musical connection. There are only a few of that connection still alive. Earth,Wind and Fire became the number one Black band in the world. A band with Dignity and Class. R.I.P.”