We were young and we knew
And our eyes were alive
Deep inside we knew our love was true…
— From “After the Love has Gone”, EWF
Can you remember? Songs in the ’70’s — the power you felt when you first heard a group that stirred something deep, something down where your wild spirit lives? Were you lucky enough to attune your heart to the clean sound of wind blowing poetry through brass and woodwind instruments?
I was lucky. I had a band leader in Junior High School, who loved Chicago, one of the greatest horn bands of our era. He wanted us to play it, to “punch it out,” clearly, powerfully, as he directed. “No! It’s not dah, dah, dah,” he would admonish, “it’s dah, DAH, D A H!”. “Now let’s do it again.” And we did it again, and again, until the music came out cleanly, like a stream of fresh, cold water from the student’s stainless steel and porcelain fountain in the hall.
As time goes on
Just what you mean
— From “Color My World,” Chicago
Because he couldn’t find a score of their music written for a “stage band” of five trumpets, four trombones, five saxaphones, a drummer, a pianist, and a bass player — he wrote out the pieces, by hand, with a pencil. He put those hand-composed charts in front of us. Then he pulled the music right out of us, with an alternating clenched and open fist, standing on a podium in a hot gymnasium during warm 70’s Fall days. We won the Stage Band competition in Vancouver, Washington USA, that year.
I asked him once why he loved Chicago so much. Mr. Klien told me that he loved what the musicians were doing; how they managed to make such popular music with horns; how he loved the tempo transitions they made from an even four beats to a five/four rythym. Then he said, “hey, why don’t we put down our axes, and make the scene down at Dollies with a coke?” Yes… he really talked like that, but then the 60’s had just melted into the 70’s. That was when Coke still meant sugary pop. When pop cans had to be opened with a can opener. Do you remember?
Make a scene we did — Mark, the short, skinny kid who could belt out a brilliant trumpet riff, with a larger sound than any other band member; Chris, the funky tromboner, who later played in a military band; “Buffer,” the large baritone sax player, a bit goofey, but who kept rythym at a deep lively beat. We laughed and teased — we were kids. We were musicians, and we were happy. I remember older folks dancing to our music when we played at a hotel one night. And I do remember, very clearly, how even with mouths pressed to horns, the faces of those kids smiled when they played… as they gave out the music.
You’ve given me something I can’t understand
Being a happy man…
— From “Happy Man”, Chicago
Just as the “crazy man” memories of pushing the right wind, at the right tempo, through a saxaphone were fading, I went to college in the late ’70’s. The confusing Vietnam War was just over, the new age of Aquarius was just dawning, and youth was discovering stereo equipment with a vengeance. Armed with a 50-watt amplifier, a smooth turntable with custom diamond needle, and two, “tower”, speakers standing four feet high, I discovered a number of albums popular in that day. I remember first hearing George Benson, on his album, “Breezin,” and thinking how incredibly smooth that music was. His was a gentle, rythmic guitar that spoke to your soul. It was relaxing, and I never tired of hearing it, Benson’s musical voice, even after 3 concerts. There was a kind of peace in the music of that time. Stevie Wonder spoke of Sunshine in your Life it a way that made your mind forget any troubles. Remember?
Somethin’ happened along the way
What used to be happy was sad”
— From “After the Love has Gone,” EWF
I don’t know… maybe that’s what music is — a dialog with your soul. In this day, it really seems like more of an argument. Like the musicians have forgotten how to celebrate. When I hear a lot of today’s rap music, I lament — why doesn’t this reach the place of clear heart? Are our hearts that clouded? Have we lost our soul? Sure it’s a trying time — I hear that.
It didn’t used to be that way. Hear this: it doesn’t have to be that way now. We just have to remember.
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul…
— From “That’s the Way of the World,” EWF
There was a group, popular in that time, that had power — the power to call you to your feet without you knowing why. Another horn band. This group cleanly told your heart to sing. They punched out songs of the spirit that you danced to, not because someone asked you to dance, but because when you heard their sound.. you went spontaneously into the dance. You just went. They told you your soul was good, and that you could be whatever you wanted — that you could win. Celebrate that. When Earth, Wind, and Fire played, I believed. I believed I could run the fastest race. I would listen to them before I laced up my new “jogging” shoes (remember when “jogging” was a new concept?), and went on a run. I knew the party would be a success when we slyly scheduled Earth, Wind, & Fire tunes into the mix with just the right breaks in between.
“Play it again,” our friends would ask of a beloved EWF song. And we did. We played it again, not to get the music right, like we did in the stage band, but because it was right already. It was pure, and we knew it. You have to celebrate when musicians work and struggle to make something right, and do it again and again, until it comes out through that discipline, to set you free. Slow tunes that manage to mix sadness and happiness. Fast songs that capture the spirit beat of universal dance.
The University had separate girls and boys dorms back then. Some students came from Africa, some from Europe. Some studied engineering, others art. But the dance floor knew no separation, no labels, when the music was right. People all crowded onto the tiles in the dorm basement when that music played. And, when you looked across the sea of dancing faces, the celebrating souls in movement, you could see again the same smiles that the musicians faces gave when the stage band played. Not just on the faces, but even in the curves and postures of dancers in moves to the beat. Joy echoes. Your body smiles. Bah dee Ahhh.
How did they do that? How are musicians — how is their music — able to touch into us like that? Isn’t that what we ask about magicians? How do they do it?
I think, perhaps, that music is magic — pieces of wonder that we can hear. And every magician I have ever known, has admitted that the secret to how it’s all done — is always very simple. Simple? Maybe with honest soul music from horn bands and singers, it comes down to this: remember your magic spirit and celebrate that. Simple. Play it… then dance.
I remember that. And now I have to thank them. Thank those musicians who worked it out. Thank them for giving us that pure heartfelt dance in the newness of youth, and for being there still when we can dance again. When we can dance again, and for the first time, dance a dance that remembers. We heard the wind. They are playing it still… can you hear them? Do you remember?
Our hearts were ringing
In the key that our souls were singing.
As we danced in the night,
Remember how the stars stole the night away
Ba de ya – say do you remember…
— From “September”, EWF
By Scott Frangos, a web developer, canoe enthusiast, music player and listener, and whose spirit leaps at the thought of attending a concert — 35 years later — featuring two of the best horn bands to ever play in the ’70’s — Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Chicago. Yep, they’re on tour together nationally — imagine that. Google them… and you can hear them too. He thanks his wife Pepper, for remembering, too… and buying the tickets. Let’s dance.Powered by Sidelines