WASHINGTON WATCH: EWF’s Verdine White And Ralph Johnson Discuss Longevity In The Music Industry (VIDEO)

There are only a few groups whose music has survived for as many generations at Earth, Wind and Fire. Two of its co-founders, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson talk with Roland Martin during the Hollywood Edition of Washington Watch.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back.

There are only a few groups whose music has survived for as many generations at Earth, Wind and Fire.  And joining me now are two of its members – two of its co-founders, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson.

Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

MR. VERDINE WHITE:  Hey, good to see you, man.

MR. MARTIN:  Man, good seein’ you, baby.

MR. RALPH JOHNSON:  Roland, good seeing you, sir.

MR. MARTIN:  Good seeing you.

MR. WHITE:  Thanks for having us back.

MR. JOHNSON:  Yes, sir.

MR. MARTIN:  As pioneers in this thing, do you find yourself just sitting at home going, “Do these young cats even understand some of the hell we had to go through?  And do they understand that, look, the game has changed?”  You’d better be shooting for longevity, as opposed to that real quick hit.

MR. JOHNSON:  Yeah, and, you know, that longevity issue is a very important issue.  You know, when we first got into this thing, we were expecting maybe a five-year run; and, hopefully, we could have gotten that.  But as it turns out, it’s 42 years in, and I don’t know if some of the younger artists coming in understand that longevity – man, you have to work at that.  You have to earn that.  That’s not something that’s just going to be given to you because you have a couple of records out.  Right, yeah.

MR. WHITE:  And also, too, with longevity, as Ralph said, you have to work at it; and you have periods where it’s not happening.


MR. WHITE:  You know, we’ve had a 42-year career, but all the 42 years haven’t been, like, at the top.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. WHITE:  You have periods where you peak, and then you go down to a valley period where you really have to regroup, where you have to find out what you’re going to be again, reinvent yourself – as you would in life.


MR. MARTIN:  But the beauty you guys have, though, is that even when you’re going through those peaks and valleys –

MR. WHITE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — you still have locked in a fan base –

MR. WHITE:  Yes.

MR. MARTIN:  — who still says, “Man, I wanna jam with Earth, Wind and Fire.”

MR. WHITE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  And I just think – when I think about Frankie Beverly and Maze, when I think about the Ojays, I think that is still a valuable commodity, as opposed to say, “Man, there ain’t nobody out in that stadium!”

MR. JOHNSON:  Well, you know –

MR. WHITE:  — oh, that’s true.

MR. JOHNSON:  We- — [chuckles] –

MR. WHITE:  That’s true.

MR. JOHNSON:  Yeah, and we’ve seen some of those.


MR. WHITE:  Yeah, yeah.  We have, yeah.

You know what?  Maurice had mentioned when we first started – we always concentrated on having a great show, ’cause he said –

MR. JOHNSON:  Exactly.

MR. WHITE:  — if we always had a great show, if we never had a hit record, people would always come to see us.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s right.

MR. JOHNSON:  And so now, Roland, our reputation precedes us.  If you know that Earth, Wind and Fire’s coming to your town, you’re going to buy a ticket ’cause you know it’s going to be a solid show.

MR. MARTIN:  And I want you to expound on that because when you talk about – again – that reputation –


MR. MARTIN:  — I look at what’s happening with Katt Williams in terms of concerts being cancelled and –


MR. MARTIN:  — arrests and things along those lines.  And you could talk about other artists as well.  You hear all these different stories.

OFF CAMERA:  Yeah, yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.  From a fan standpoint, they are personally invested.  When they drop that money for a ticket – you’re right – they want to see a show.  They don’t want to see drama.  They don’t want to see fights.  They don’t want to see your personal issues onstage.

MR. JOHNSON:  And they don’t want to see you comin’ on late!


MR. WHITE:  [Laughs.]

OFF CAMERA:  Yeah, they don’t –

MR. MARTIN:  Some of y’all artists hear that?

MR. JOHNSON:  I could go back in history and talk about artists who used to come on late.

MR. WHITE:  Well – and also, too, see – as Ralph said, we’ve always started our concerts on time, because we understand what the average public goes through.  They’re working nine to five – if they have a job at all.  We always call Monday nights, Tuesday nights in our business as “school nights.”  So, the best concerts are Thursday, really, through Saturday.

MR. JOHNSON:  There you go.

MR. WHITE:  So, you have to understand really where they’re coming from.  You[’ve] got to get outta there by 11, ’cause they gotta go to work.

MR. MARTIN:  They might have babysitters.

MR. WHITE:  Exactly!

OFF CAMERA:  Dig it!

MR. JOHNSON:  Right, right.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. WHITE:  Exactly.  So, you know, when you’re in tune [with] the audience, you understand that.  So, I think our audience really know[s] that we love them from that standpoint, and we don’t keep them up late, you know.  And we try to give them the best show.

And don’t forget, now.  Ticket prices are much more expensive now –


MR. WHITE:  — than it was when we first started.  I got a ticket stub from the ’70s that somebody sent me.

MR. JOHNSON:  $7.50?

MR. WHITE:  $7.95.




MR. WHITE:  Now, what’s it?

MR. JOHNSON:  I’ve got – yeah.

MR. WHITE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  $7.95 for a concert ticket.

MR. JOHNSON:  $7.95 – right.

MR. WHITE:  And now they average – a ticket price is, like, $125 –

MR. MARTIN:  That’s the tax!

MR. WHITE:  — $150.  Right!

MR. JOHNSON:  Thank you!

MR. WHITE:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. JOHNSON:  Right.

MR. WHITE:  So, you have to really be, you know, aware and sensitive and have compassion for your audience, you know.  And as I said earlier in our interview, we were about love.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. WHITE:  Those lyrics, when you listen to those lyrics “Head to the Sky,” all those wonderful lyrics, “Open Our Eyes” –

MR. JOHNSON:  “Devotion.”

MR. WHITE:  — “Devotion,” “That’s the Way of the World” – those really were about love.

MR. JOHNSON:  I wanted to say –

MR. MARTIN:  Final comment, Ralph.

MR. JOHNSON:  — yeah.  I just wanted to say that, you know, when Maurice first put this thing together, Roland, he wanted to make sure that this group, when it appeared live, just was unstoppable and very, very memorable.  And so today, here we are in 2013, getting ready to do another summer tour.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I can tell you right now in the world of social media, that is so valuable because what happens, man – and, look, I’m one of those folks.  If I’m seeing a bad concert, I’m lightin’ it up in front of my 300,000 followers.  But today, man, when you put it on, folks are sayin’, “Man, you’ve got to see them when they come to town!”


MR. MARTIN:  And it reverberates all around the world.

MR. WHITE:  Yes.

MR. JOHNSON:  Yes, sir.

MR. MARTIN:  Always good to have you on “Washington Watch.”

MR. JOHNSON:  Thank you, Roland.

MR. WHITE:  Thank you so much.

MR. JOHNSON:  Thank you so much.

MR. MARTIN:  Thanks a bunch.  Verdine, Ralph, thanks a bunch.

MR. WHITE:  Good to see you again.

MR. MARTIN:  Do it again.

MR. WHITE:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  And next time, we gon’ have them in ascots.  I’m tryin’ to tell y’all.

MR. WHITE:  [Laughs.]