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EWF "Holiday" CD Release Date: 10/21/14
BUY CD HERE
Record Label: Legacy Recordings
Interview by: Zoila Robledo
Smooth Jazz Magazine writer, Zoila Robledo, recently had the opportunity to sit down with the iconic band, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Ralph Johnson, to talk about the band’s brand new album release, “Holiday."
SJM: Congratulations on the release of Earth, Wind & Fire’s latest album, “Holiday.”
Ralph: Well, thank you!
SJM: I believe this is your band’s second release on the Sony Legacy Music label. Is that correct?
Ralph: Yes, the first one being released last September (2013), which was “Now, Then & Forever.”
SJM: How is the band enjoying the relationship with Sony Legacy?
Ralph: It’s a very comfortable relationship, because we have a long time history with Columbia, which is Sony, so it’s all the same thing. So, it’s a very comfortable relationship that works well and everybody’s trying to make it even better.
SJM: I have to ask the burning question, that everyone around the world wants to know.
Ralph: Uh oh! What’s the burning question?
SJM: After four long decades of producing world class music as a band, what finally inspired Earth, Wind & Fire to produce their first ever Christmas themed album?
Ralph: Well, first off, when Maurice White was at the helm, he wasn’t really interested in doing a Christmas record, because everyone else was doing them, and it was just another record to put out there. So while Maurice was leading the group, it was never really a thought. It wasn’t until earlier this year (2014), when myself, Verdine and Damian, our manager, were at the Sony after party for the Grammy’s, standing there talking to Adam Block, the President of Sony Legacy, and he said, “Man you guys should do a Christmas record.” And we were like, “Hmmm, a Christmas record?” So that started the whole process.
SJM: Out of all of the Christmas song classics that are out there to choose from, what was the selection process for choosing the titles for the “Holiday” album?
Ralph: Well, I have to tell you, the Holiday album is basically Philip’s project, in terms of the production, so I don’t know what his criteria, or what his process was for selecting the songs. He just knew that he wanted to do songs that had been established; what we call public domain songs. So it just kind of started there, as there’s so much Christmas stuff out there, so you really do have a lot to choose from. I don’t know exactly what his process was, but it came together nicely!
SJM: How did the concepts for “December” and “Happy Seasons” come to life?
Ralph: Well, how do I answer that? I guess “December” is a good fit for “September,” and then you know, “Happy Seasons” came out of “Happy Feelings,” so it was a smart move! In music publishing, that’s what we a call “A new Copyright”! Hahaha! So now that’s a new copyright, and that’s good!
SJM: Do you have any shows planned for the “Holiday” album?
Ralph: There are some events and appearances planned around “Holiday,” so we’ll see how that plays out.
SJM: How many cities is EW&F touring annually?
Ralph: That’s a very good question. We do about a hundred dates a year, maybe. If it’s spread out over the year, and if you add up the foreign dates, with the domestic dates, it could be up to a hundred. Well, you know, we have been very blessed. We don’t need an opening act. We can still put people in the seats, by ourselves. That’s kind of a blessing these days, because we’re still one of the biggest selling acts around, so we appreciate that. We love it, and we don’t take it for granted. We just continue to try to do the best that we can.
SJM: Out of all of your many achievements, such as being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, performing for President Obama’s first social event, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, what stands out as your favorite accomplishment?
Ralph: Well, I think the ‘first’ of anything is special. So my first Gold record stands out; my first Grammy. And do you know what else really stands out, that was a first for me? Because I’m very much about the education of our young music students, I have honorary PhD’s from Columbia College (of Chicago). Those kinds of things are very special. They mean a lot. That means somebody’s paying attention.
SJM: What have you learned from Maurice White, when it comes to producing music?
Ralph: Pay attention to detail. Have a strong song. There’s no need for you to try to bring a mule to the horse race. You just give it your very best. Go all in. I mean, I love production. I absolutely love it. And so, for a lot of years, I sat up under Maurice, and I’d ask questions, to not only him, but also to our engineer, George Massenburg.
SJM: When thinking about Earth, Wind & Fire lyrics, one tends to think about love and celebrating life. What are your views on today’s music lyrics?
Ralph: Well, you know, music is always a reflection of what’s going on socially, and what people are experiencing. It’s not for me to say, what I think about lyrics. There are some lyrics that I hear, and I think, “Wow, really?” It’s not what I would call edifying, necessarily, and not necessarily great lyrics. But, you know, we’re all in this, and everybody’s trying to make their mark. All I can do is give you my very best, when I give you something. That’s what I always set out to do.
SJM: How did you get turned on to Jazz?
Ralph: It started when I was fourteen, when my older brother came home from the Air Force with an incredible album collection. I just started listening to it, and just became intrigued. I was like “Wow, what is this?” I just kept going with it, and just started listening to it. And the very first Jazz rhythm that I ever learned was, Cannonball Adderley’s “Jive Samba,” with that Bossa Nova beat. That’s how my journey started into the world of Jazz. In terms of “who” some of my favorite artists are, I’d have to say, Miles, Coltrane, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Max Roach, Jazz drummer Philly Joe Jones, Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Oliver Nelson. It goes on and on, and on. Those are some of my favorites and people I was listening to on the way up, and that’s what started me down the road.
SJM: Here are a few questions, on a more lighter side, personally. When you’re not performing, what do you do to get away from the music, and just relax? Do you have hobbies?
Ralph: I get on the tennis court! I absolutely love it! I was gone for two hours this morning, working on all my strokes. Everything’s coming together. I’m working on my short game, back-hand slice and drop-shot!
SJM: What is your “Go to” comfort meal?
Ralph: Bacon and eggs! Bacon and eggs, with the eggs over-easy, then give me some toast, and I’m cool. That’s a meal where we can come in late at night, into a hotel, after traveling all day, and have bacon and eggs, and then I can go to sleep! It’s been that way, since I was a kid.
SJM: What’s your top fashion weakness? Is that something you can admit to, and share with Smooth Jazz Magazine?
Ralph: I have two fashion weaknesses. One weakness is Paul Smith socks! The next time you find yourself in New York, go over to Neiman Marcus, and go into the men’s department, where they have their socks, and ask them for “Paul Smith” socks. They’re very graphic, with all kinds of designs and crazy colors. I will get in my car and drive right over here to Neiman Marcus, valet my car, walk in straight to the men’s department, and see what the latest Paul Smith socks are, then I’ll grab them, pay and leave! My other fashion weakness is for black, soft jeans. Not the regular hard denim, rather, black soft jeans. They are so comfortable, as they fall nice, and they look nice. So now you have it. You have some good inside stuff on me, now. So if you want to make me happy, and be my friend, bring me Paul Smith socks!
SJM: What are the top three things on your “Bucket List”?
Ralph: Well, I’ll tell you. I currently have three things, and that could change. Number one was, as a publisher/writer, to write a great Christmas song. Number two is to go for a ride with the Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds. Number three is to go scuba diving with the manta rays in the Sea of Cortez, down in Mexico. I have to say, that I have completed the first item, and it’s checked off the list!
SJM: Are you currently working on any other projects right now?
Ralph: Well, I have to tell you, as an artist, I have released a Christmas song, featuring the great Siedah Garrett, that we co-wrote, and I produced. It’s called, “Have a Very Merry Christmas.” We’re releasing it into the Smooth Jazz world, and as a matter of fact, we’re doing a mail out tomorrow. I am very happy with the way that’s turned out. Actually, there’s a back story to the song, as the track was actually wrote for Earth, Wind & Fire, and because we were only doing public domain material, I had to kind of re-think the direction, and how I was going to complete the song. Something just said to me, “Call Siedah Garrett.” She heard the track and loved it, and she began to write on it, and so here we are with, “Have a Very Merry Christmas.”
SJM: Is there a release date for “Have a Very Merry Christmas?”
Ralph: The rest of the world can look forward to hearing it on your local Smooth Jazz stations, and it will be available on iTunes for download, along with a Ringtone, that’s available. We’re excited about it! I’m very happy with what Siedah and I put together, and with everybody else enjoying it. It’s gonna be a fun thing!
Release Date: 11/01/14
BUY SINGLE HERE
SJM: Is this your first time working with Siedah?
Ralph: Yes, She’s so much fun, and very gregarious! She’s very animated! She’s something, she really is, and just a great spirit! We’re both from Los Angeles. It’s a real cool connection, and we’ve done something that I’m really, really, really proud of. So there you have it!
SJM: Thank you, Ralph, for sharing these exciting things with Smooth Jazz Magazine, and we wish Earth, Wind & Fire the greatest success to come!
I’m sure that all Smooth Jazz Magazine readers, alike, can agree, when we say that taking this opportunity to interview Earth, Wind and Fire about their milestone “Holiday” album, has certainly proven to be groundbreaking, enlightening, and inspiring. Regardless of time, the longevity of Earth, Wind & Fire’s relevance and survival in the music industry, only emphasizes that their music has stood the test of time, and continues to grow, among the multitudes, reaching the core of generations, both young and old. Earth, Wind & Fire, has provided a new classic for you to enjoy for many seasons to come. Enjoy a very happy, “Holiday!”
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