When I hear my teenage son listening to “classic rock," enjoying the same songs I listened to as a teenager, or when I hear hits from the 1970s in television commercials, I wonder to myself: Will they be playing any of today’s music 30 years from now? The music business then, and now, has produced plenty of flash in the pan artists and groups, along with forgettable genres. So why do some sounds and groups endure through the years?
This exact question was on my mind when I traveled to Vienna, Virginia last week to meet the members of Earth Wind and Fire. The band was there to play at Wolf Trap National Park. You should know, I consider Earth, Wind and Fire to be the greatest musical group ever. This is not a hyperbole, it’s one man’s opinion, but I really believe that. I played their music when I was 16 years-old, and still play it today. Moreover, I have played my electric bass along to their records more times than I can count.
So imagine my thrill of sitting down and chatting with three of the remaining original members of the group: Phillip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, and their amazing bass player, Verdine White. In addition to interviewing them about their music and lasting success, we also spent a lot of time just hanging out. It was like spending time with old friends. Verdine and I swapped bass stories. I also got to hang on stage during the sound check.
However, the highlight, hands-down, was when Verdine handed me a bass and invited me to play a number. Having seconds to decide which song from among all their hits I wanted to play, I quickly decided to go with “Let’s Groove Tonight.” If you know the song then you’ll know why a bass player would choose it. I think Verdine was a little surprised at how well I knew the bass part. I didn’t explain I’d been rehearsing this moment in my mind for over 30 years. It’s been a week now and I still haven’t managed to wipe the smile off my face; jamming with Earth wind and Fire, it doesn’t much better than that!
Being a TODAY Show anchor opens up incredible doors, and I’ve been lucky to unite my passion for bass playing with my job on several occasions. I’ve played with Jefferson Starship, the Captain and Tenille, and the celebrity group Band from TV, as well as a New York jazz quartet I occasionally hook up with for gigs around town. Each time I like to think I’m representing all the other amateur musicians out there like myself who fantasize about what it would be like to play in a band and go on tour. In this case, it was performing one song in front of empty seats during a sound check. Hey, that's close enough to the concert tour. I’ll keep my day job, but you can be sure I left Verdine and the gang my phone number, just in case.