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MATURE EARTH, WIND AND FIRE BRING TOUR TO UTAH SATURDAY

When Earth, Wind and Fire blew on the music scene almost 25 years ago, they had something to prove.

They were a new sound - an amalgam of rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, jazz, Latin and African rhythm, whatever had influenced them - and that covered a lot of ground. And they intended to carve a niche for themselves in music history.They did.

They were about "good, positive feeling and a fusion of different musical genres," said Verdine White, bassist, during a telephone interview. "We were influenced by everybody." He ticked off a list that includes Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. "We mix it up. Our new songs sound like the old song - they have our signature sound to them.

"When you start out, you just want to prove that you have the goods.

"Now we're more mature, more seasoned. As well as the show still being exciting, I think you feel the level of compassion. We're not ego based now. . . . We're really one with our audience. We have a lot more depth and feeling."

Salt Lake audiences will get a chance to see the riper Earth, Wind and Fire Saturday, Aug. 19, at Abravanel Hall at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at Albertson's ArtTix outlets.

The 11-piece band, minus founder Maurice White, who is taking time off to write more songs, is winding down a 47-city tour that includes venues like Caesar's Palace, the Superbowl and the Walnut Creek Amphitheater.

The music industry is littered with stories of disappointment, White said. But Earth, Wind and Fire has enjoyed a long and joyful ride.

"As people we've grown. I know how important music really is, and I'm happy about the contribution I've had to make to the group," he said. "It's all been good. In the entertainment business, most are sad stories. Mine aren't sad."

When they appeared with songs like "Shining Star," "That's the Way of the World," "September" and "System of Survival," they were slotted as a rhythm and blues act. "That's the only category they put black entertainers in," White said. "If you go through our albums, there's a variety of stuff in there. We collaborate a lot."

They racked up impressive credits: six Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards and more than 50 gold and platinum albums. The NAACP honored them with a Hall of Fame Image Award for their body of work. And they've sold out concerts around the world, particularly Japan and Europe in the past few years.

With all the hits, White is just as proud of the "B sides" that didn't become popular. "Unfortunately, radio doesn't turn a record over any more," he said. "But we had some great songs that weren't hit, too."

After their incredible success in the 1970s, Earth, Wind and Fire took four years off to recharge. Maurice White produced various artists and wrote songs for motion picture sound tracks. Phil Bailey (who does the lead singing on the tour) earned some success as a solo artist. Ralph Johnson, the other founding member, stayed active in music.

"And I kind of sat it out," White said. "Most people base their whole lives on luck and get one chance. For us, it didn't happen that way. People all of a sudden were saying, when are you guys going to play again? Our music was out on the radio."

They reteamed in 1987, added new members, put together a show and a schedule and have been going strong ever since.