Chart topper Travis Scott found out that he and singer Philip Bailey shared management ties, so the Astroworld rapper immediately summoned the veteran singer, songwriter and percussionist to contribute to his ethereal track “Stop Trying to Be God.” The champion falsetto and lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire wasn’t too familiar with the “Sicko Mode” artist, but still knew that he was onto something musically because of a tip from one of his relatives.
One of Bailey’s seven grandchildren “went nuts” about the collaboration that also featured Stevie Wonder, James Blake and Kid Cudi. “He was like ‘Can I come to the studio?’” Bailey remembers. “I’m like ‘You never ask me to come to the studio.’ He was all up in the mix like ‘Oh my goodness! What is this?’ [chuckles].”
Younger talent rejuvenates Bailey’s spirit, inspiring him enough to go back into the studio after an extended recording hiatus that followed the release of his last solo effort, 2002’s Soul On Jazz. The seven-time GRAMMY winner’s twelfth solo album, Love Will Find A Way, is a 10-track collection of covers that Bailey says will provide hope to various communities in Trump-era America. “We chose songs that help people through those turbulent times,” he says. “We were just inspired to give our tool or weapon, which is music, to speak.”
Love Will Find A Way features a range of both musical inspirations and musical directions. The album’s lead single, a take on Curtis Mayfield’s 1975 funky reggae-flavored “Billy Jack,” is treated with a clinking Afrobeat groove and lush arrangement co-produced by Robert Glasper, who also plays keys on the track. Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am bangs out tribal rhythms as trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s spare blares paint “Stairway To The Stars” onto a blank canvas that morphs into an ambient psychedelic instrumental. Another Mayfield cover, “We’re A Winner,” brings one of Bailey’s vocal benefactors, Bilal, along for background accompaniment.
Kamasi Washington’s spirited tenor sax unites in matrimony with operatic harmonies on the jam band-treated “Sacred Sounds.” Marvin Gaye’s “Just To Keep You Satisfied” gets a classical touch. Bailey repackages Talking Heads’ spiraling “Once In A Lifetime” into a swinging, coffeehouse-meets-slam poetry cadence coupled with a gospeldelic chorus. Pianist Chick Corea glides across the ivories while Bailey breathes a Lou Rawls-like essence on Return To Forever’s breezy “You’re Everything.” Bassist Christian McBride and Bailey conjure up some Cajun-spiced funk on Max Roach’s “Long As You’re Loving.”
Spending two years recording the entire project, Bailey came up with the approach for Love Will Find A Way after catching many of those acts live in small venues and jazz festivals. The opportunity to collaborate with all that talent the “Easy Lover” singer influenced is something the relaxed Denver native finds invigorating. “I’ve always tried to do things in my career that sparked my flame of love for the art,” he confides. “When you work with talented people, it infuses you again with that fresh energy and an appreciation for being able to do what we do.”
Connecting with each performer in the studio, Bailey adds, was effortless. “Their music and their artistry speak for themselves. They’re all just really great people: talented, fun, lovable, personable, intelligent, insightful. It wasn’t trying; it definitely wasn’t work.”
The easy-breezy sense of camaraderie Bailey established for Love Will Find A Way is grounded in the same compassion and connections to people he brought to Earth, Wind & Fire’s music when he originally joined the musical ensemble in 1972. The self-acknowledged workaholic whose recognizable voice is heard on “Devotion,” “Reasons,” “Fantasy,” “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” “Shining Star,” “Getaway,” “September,” “Sing a Song” and “Serpentine Fire,” among other memorable singles, likens the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees to a Super Bowl team and credits their success to keeping positive energy around.
Bailey admits that the prolific Songwriters and Vocal Group Hall of Fame band set out to become “the best in the world.” “We were just in our element,” he said. “We were in a zone. None of us could have foreseen the impact or the longevity that the band would have. We worked tirelessly to do the best that we could. We researched, studied, rehearsed, played, wrote, wrote some more. To get one good song, you got to write five.”
Continuing their reign to this day as a huge draw at festivals, concert halls, stadiums and arenas around the world, Earth, Wind & Fire’s cross-generational and genre-blurring fan base continues to grow. Bailey takes a moment to acknowledge his late bandmate and group co-founder Maurice White’s concept and philosophy for the four-time American Music Awards honorees to “render a service to humanity.”
“That’s what he wanted the music to do,” Bailey declares. “That’s a lofty vision. We’re still about really giving the people that come to see us more than what they paid for.”
Keeping White’s benevolent stance at close range, Bailey is proud of the work his own nonprofit organization, Music Is Unity Foundation (MIU), is doing. He, along with his daughter Trinity, started MIU a decade ago to assist those who age out of the foster care system. Underprivileged youth are given musical instruments along with opportunities to attend soundchecks to job shadow artists and crew.
MIU also awards grants to organizations that are helping those emancipated foster care victims. A portion of the proceeds from both Bailey’s and Earth, Wind & Fire’s box office receipts go to supporting MIU.
Bailey believes his massively successful, five-plus-decade career to the tune of over 50 gold and platinum certifications totaling 90 million units sold should assist with helping those less fortunate.
“They need support, a village, mentors and the basics for survival,” Bailey states. “For whom it is given, much is required. It behooves those who are fortunate to pay it forward to help those who are in need.”
Bailey concludes, “We’ve had such a blessed life touring this world and playing for all of our many millions of fans. We hope to continue, as Maurice says, to serve you well with our music and our endeavors.”
Philip Bailey’s Favorite Albums of All Time:
Miles Davis | Kind of Blue (1959)
Marvin Gaye | What’s Going On (1971)
Stevie Wonder | Innervisions (1973)
Joni Mitchell | Blue (1971)
Earth, Wind & Fire | All ‘n All (1977) & I Am (1979)