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Earth, Wind & Fire puts unique spin on band’s first Christmas album

Earth, Wind and Fire has never produced a Christmas album — until now.

Chicago’s own Verdine White, the co-founder and bassist of the legendary group, says the reason is simple: The musicians never had the time. But at the special request of a record exec, the band erected a tree in its Los Angeles studio and this past March got to work giving several holiday songs a uniquely EWF feel.

“The president of Sony Legacy asked us to do the record, and it was actually kind of good,” says White, who is originally from the South Shore neighborhood on the Southeast Side.

“In our career we’ve done so many things — regular albums, television shows. We just never got around to [a Christmas album]. Sometimes you can’t get around to everything. But we finally had the timing and we blocked off the studio. It turned out really good. It sounds like Earth, Wind and Fire. That’s the most important of all.”

‘Tis true. Lead singer Philip Bailey selected the standards to cover on “Holiday,” but the group definitely added some surprises. EWF fans will be happy to hear a Christmas version of the much-beloved hit “September.” Except now that song is “December.” And it works.

Lucky you, a Spotify list of the entire album is below:

“What we wanted to do was make sure they were ‘ours’ and that we put our own spin to the songs,” says White, 63. “We did a play on words from ‘September’ to ‘December.’ Then a play on words for ‘Happy Feelin’ ‘ to ‘Happy Seasons.’ We put our brand within there. We wanted to do it in a way that the fans wouldn’t think we were being promiscuous with it, but something they could really latch on to outside of those traditional tunes.”

Christmas music is a tough genre now, he says, adding that back in the day, when the Christmas classics were made, there just weren’t as many musical options, so everybody gravitated to the same handful of songs. “We didn’t have Kwanzaa back then,” he says. “We didn’t have all those celebrations throughout the year. You didn’t have rock ‘n’ roll and R&B and hip-hop. All those things weren’t on the table.”

Today’s Christmas music is all over the place, with no easily definable classics because of the spread of everyone’s tastes, he believes. It’s important for music aficionados to listen to it all — no matter the genre. He does recommend Alexander O’Neal’s and Toni Braxton’s Christmas albums. “Now you got all kinds of genres, so Christmas [music] might not be as concentrated. But you, first of all, have to respect the music. You have to think of it as a musical outing.”

The tree in the studio was weird. But it worked. Plus, they recycled.

“We started it in March and put a tree up in the studio while were doing it,” says White. “It was left over from the previous Christmas, but it worked anyway.”

White remembers his holidays in Chicago as “noisy.” His parents — mom a teacher, dad a doctor — owned a home off on Chappelle Avenue. “There’s nine of us, so there’s a lot of music and food and it got noisier as the holidays went on,” he says. “We went downtown to the movies and things. As a teenager I was doing gigs and that was always the bread and butter.”

In fact, White made more money from playing those country clubs and office parties than he did in his first year or two after entering the music industry. “New Year’s gigs, holiday gigs, country clubs. You play when they’re coming in and the glasses are clinking. As a 13-year-old, I probably made a hundred bucks at a gig.

“It was great, yeah. I probably made more money getting tips than my first two contracts when I started in the record business.”

Track Listing is below:

1. Joy to the World

2. Happy Seasons

3. Oh Come All Ye Faithful

4. Winter Wonderland

5. What Child Is This?

6. Away In a Manger

7. The Little Drummer Boy

8. Every Day Is Like Christmas

9. The First Noel

10. Sleigh Ride

11. Snow

12. Jingle Bell Rock

13. December