Officially beginning in 1969 in the Chicago area, by producer Maurice White, this group was unique from the very start. Like most bands, a little tweaking was necessary-switching band members, finding their voice and hitting their stride. After regrouping and plenty of time gigging, the distinct voices, blaring horns and harmonious sound that only Earth Wind & Fire could produce, ascended across the airwaves and into the hearts of millions worldwide.
Setting into motion an era of bands, trying to copy, but never able to duplicate the sound, Earth Wind & Fire continued their soul, funk, R&B, jazz firestorm for the next decade. Today, members of the original group have assembled, along with members who joined later, paying tribute to the group they love, along with the creator, Maurice White, in A Tribute to Earth Wind & Fire.
Please join me in this interview with Sheldon Reynolds, lead guitarist and oh, so sexy vocalist of the group Devoted Spirits.
JazzReview: Let’s bring your current album into focus, for those who just skim articles. At least we’ll have pointed out the album you just created.
Sheldon Reynolds: The project is called Devoted Spirits-- A Tribute To Earth Wind & Fire. Myself, Morris Pleasure and Larry Dunn got together to do a loving tribute to Earth Wind & Fire. I hope we get that across to everyone. We’re not trying to re-create the band, we’re doing a loving tribute to them. They’re one of the greatest pop groups, jazz groups, whatever you want to call them, you know. We thought it would be nice to touch on those loving moments we all cherish.
JazzReview: Yes. You managed to put together 22 songs with several medlies.
Sheldon Reynolds: About 7 or 8 are interludes or medlies. The rest are regular songs.
JazzReview: How did you decide which members to pull into your current album, Devoted Spirits-A Tribute To Earth, Wind & Fire?
Sheldon Reynolds: Morris and I, at the time, were still touring with the band. We just started yakking about it--what we should do. And my wife, Jimi Hendrix’s sister, finally said, 'Stop all that yakking and get to doing.' With the help of her company and with the Hendrix family, we were able to get underway and do it. The Hendrix family helped us and backed us.
About half way through the project, Morris (Mo Pleasure) and I kept thinking we should call this group Devoted Spirits but, we couldn’t call it that without Larry Dunn because he’s the one who made this all come together.
Larry is the leader of the people we feel were most dedicated to that sound--that made Earth Wind & Fire original and unique. He worked above and beyond the call of duty. He worked with Maurice and Al McKay and was the original creator of the sound.
He worked the midnight hours for this project. So did Morris. And so did I. But, we definitely couldn’t do it without Larry. God blessed him on the whole project cause when he came in, he brought that whole sound that was the original Earth Wind & Fire. We weren’t trying to recreate it or reinvent it. We wanted to be sure we touched it in the right way. And he was the one who did that.
JazzReview: I did notice the original band-Earth Wind & Fire, came on strong with blazing trumpets. This group, Devoted Spirits, still has wonderful horns, but they are a little more subdued.
Sheldon Reynolds: Yeah, that was the whole idea. Did we want to copy the band or did we want to pay tribute?
JazzReview: You brought in Gerald Albright. He did a tribute to Grover last year and worked with Anita Baker. He’s the gentle guru of sax, but I would not think of him with Earth Wind & Fire.
Sheldon Reynolds: He’s on a lot of Earth Wind & Fire records, you know.
JazzReview: No, I did not know that.
Sheldon Reynolds: He’s done a lot of work with Maurice. Maurice has produced a lot of other artists and Gerald Albright has performed on several of their albums. He’s like family.
JazzReview: He’s kind of everywhere that good music is! Also, you have Teri Lynn Carrington.
Sheldon Reynolds: Teri is very well-known. She’s the drummer on the Arsenio Hall Show. She’s everywhere, not as well known as she should be, but she’s everywhere.
JazzReview: Let’s talk Norman Brown.
Sheldon Reynolds: Oh yeah! Norman is one of the greats.
JazzReview: Some bands call on the Great American Songbook for their material, but you called on Earth Wind & Fire's Classic Songbook. These tunes were often penned by Maurice White, correct? And he’s back for this album.
Sheldon Reynolds: In a lot of cases, he wrote the songs. Actually, he and I had some interludes in a studio one time while we were doing a Hendrix tribute about a year and a half ago, and we found those little sections that we hadn’t used. We put it in this album. He was our teacher, so it was like the teacher passing the baton.
JazzReview: Ronnie Laws?
Sheldon Reynolds: It was very cool to have him involved because he was one of the originals. He sort of set the standard for the saxophone sound they came out with later.
He’s very good friends with Larry, who was able to come in and play using very special technology. I wasn’t able to be there in LA. They were at Larry’s house. Larry sent me the file through the Internet and I was able to put it in the track. All I did was talk to Ronnie on the phone and say, 'Thank you, thank you sir.' The amazement of technology! I’m in Seattle and Larry’s in LA--and we still got it.
JazzReview: I notice you do vocals. Is that your voice I hear on on this album?
Sheldon Reynolds: Yeah, that’s me. That’s sort of my role in the band for all those years. When I first met Maurice, I was still working for the Commodores at the time. I’m actually still working with them, now.
I had submitted a tape to Maurice to get his attention and to show him where my talents were and he called me. We were similar in how we approached the vocal structures. So that’s how I became background for fourteen years (Reynolds joined the group in 1987).
JazzReview: You’re just awesome. There’s a noticeable absence of Philip Bailey on this album. I know he went on to do a great jazz recording of his own, but for this project?
Sheldon Reynolds: Well, as I say, this is not an Earth Wind & Fire album. This is a tribute to their great work.
JazzReview: Earth Wind & Fire was also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Sheldon Reynolds: Yes, a couple years ago.
JazzReview: And now, as tremendous as you are, you had the audacity to throw in some "Jimi Hendrix Experience" for this album.
Sheldon Reynolds: He’s my hero. And, I’m married to his sister now, so it was a requirement. It’s an easy requirement because it’s what I grew up loving, anyway. I’m honored to be her husband and I am honored to be helping out with this project. I’m indebted to be working with the family in honor of him.
I also thought it would be a nice twist, adding him, because what a lot of people don’t know is: Jimi often talked about adding what he called, the Electric Church Band. The way he described that was-a vision of the future; which he didn’t get to live to see, is what Earth Wind & Fire became. So we thought this is what Jimi would be thinking if he was around A Jimi Hendrix’ version of Earth Wind & Fire. That’s really what Earth Wind & Fire was.
A lot of influences are from the church, then there’s some jazz and rock, then the R&B. But the foundation comes from the electric, meaning all the keyboards, the vibes and the horn, with a church feeling underneath everything.
JazzReview: They didn’t really have the technology and synthesizers back then, did they?
Sheldon Reynolds: They had synthesizers, but they were brand new. Jimi actually had a few he was trying to experiment with. We figure what he was heading for was a sound like the group of Earth Wind & Fire.
JazzReview: People remember where they were when they first heard certain songs on Earth Wind & Fire albums.
Sheldon Reynolds: The chemistry of Earth Wind & Fire and why it worked so well isn’t something you can put your finger on. It was a combination of things.
In many cases, whether a sport’s team, a family gathering or a music group; when the chemistry is right among all the people, a magic happens. You can’t always explain it. That’s just in life. And that original sound was not just the great songs, but the great chemistry that was going on at the time among the guys in the band.
They all believed in what they were doing and they were all as excited about what they were playing as we were about what we were singing. And that’s what we were trying to do when we did the tribute. We tried to recapture the innocence. We’re not here trying to make money. We’re just making music and let’s have some fun with it. Get back to that feeling.
JazzReview: I think you did a great job with it. And, I think you captured the essence.
Sheldon Reynolds: With Larry and Morris it was real easy because between the three of us, we had that same energy.
The group is called Devoted Spirits. This first project is called a Tribute to Earth Wind & Fire. The next record will probably be some original material (of the group Devoted Spirits). That record will include some Earth Wind & Fire.
This is the beginning for Devoted Spirits. We’re not coming out trying to compete with Earth Wind & Fire. We just want to pay tribute to them, while recognizing our roots with the group.
JazzReview: And, do you plan to put more Hendrix Experience into your next album?
Sheldon Reynolds: I assume there will be some. We are also into the middle of doing Hendrix projects. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a project we did called, "The Power of Soul"...Earth Wind & Fire, Eric Clapton, Santana, Prince, [and] a whole gang load of groups that were involved last year. There is a DVD in the works already that includes Hendrix Experience material on it, plus a documentary; a massive tribute to Jimi, done live here in Seattle. It has Portland, Oregon on it, as well.
A version of a song Who Knows by Devoted Spirits will be on that compilation. We’re putting it all together. I’m not sure when it will be released.
JazzReview: I know that no band ever duplicated your sound, though many bands tried. You set in motion an entire era of music.
Sheldon Reynolds: I give an enormous amount of credit for that to Maurice White. I would give enormous credit to his vision, his intensity, his expectations from the guys he hired. Along with him, I give a lot of credit to Al McKay and Larry Dunn. It took everybody to put this sound together. But those I mentioned were an intricate part of who invented this sound and who guided everyone else’s role in the sound.
I had a chance to sit with him (Maurice) for many years as a writer, director, and learning how to get a record together. Maurice allowed me to sit in and learn the craft. He didn’t have to do that. I really tip my hat to him and the other talents who created this group.
JazzReview: Do you ever look back at the dynamic growth and the tremendous impact you had on music and feel amazement at your life?
Sheldon Reynolds: Well, I look at it as: I’m a beneficiary of what Maurice and God created before I got there. I feel I helped cultivate and continue what they already began.
I never think of myself in terms of dynamic and all that kind of stuff. I’m just happy to be a part of something that’s great. I thank God I got the call at the time to continue their legacy. I think of it as those guys were the pioneers; the ones who dared to be different.
I feel proud of the work I did in producing Devoted Spirits because some of that work I did by myself. So there is some pride there. But the original group, I wasn’t apart of. I was back in school, learning.
Sheldon Reynolds is part of a legacy-a greatness that still lives on today. Earth Wind & Fire changed the sound of music for generations to come. Doors have been opened.
Devoted Spirits intersperse their great sound with Initial Experience Hendrix, giving love back to those who made both experiences bigger than life's realities.
Initial Experience Hendrix/Thump Records