Earth, Wind & Fire
Subsequent to EWF's first tour of Europe, where they opened for the rock band Santana, Columbia Records wanted another album released as soon as possible. As a result, EWF returned to the studio in June 1975 and from these recording sessions two singles - "Sing a Song" and "Can't Hide Love", the latter written by Clarence "Skip" Scarborough - were spawned. These and other studio recordings were included, along with mostly live concert material from their 1974 and 1975 tours, on the double album Gratitude, released in late 1975. Gratitude rose to and stayed at number one on the pop and R&B charts for three weeks and six weeks respectively; it was also the second bestselling R&B album of 1976 and is certified triple Platinum for sales of over 3,000,000 copies in the US by the RIAA.
The band was nominated for Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the title track, "Gratitude". "Can't Hide Love" was also Grammy-nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices. Earth, Wind & Fire also won a Rock Music Award in the category of Best Soul Album for Gratitude and Down Beat magazine's Readers Poll for favorite Rock/Blues Group in 1975.
Additionally, in 1975 Maurice established a production company called Kalimba Productions to which he signed artists such as his former bandleader Ramsey Lewis, singer Deniece Williams (a former member of Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove backup group) and girl group The Emotions, who had a run of hits with Stax Records from 1969 to 1974. Maurice loaned the band's signature Phenix Horns and most of the other band members and put on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire these artists and others who were signed to Kalimba Productions.
After helping co-produce and arrange Earth, Wind & Fire's new album, Deniece Williams's debut album, This Is Niecy, Ramsey Lewis's Salongo, and The Emotion's first Columbia Records album Flowers, Charles Stepney died of a heart attack on May 17, 1976 in Chicago at the age of 43. He was survived by his wife Rubie, his three daughters, Eibur, Charlene and Chante, his parents and his brother. With Stepney's passing Maurice took over and completed the production of the band's new album, Spirit, which was released October 1976. EWF paid tribute to Stepney in the form of the album's title and that of its title track. The album reached number 2 on the Billboard Pop and R&B Albums Chart and was certified double Platinum in the US by the RIAA; additionally, Spirit spawned the hit singles "Getaway" and "Saturday Nite.
During this period EWF concerts started to become loaded with pyrotechnics, magic, laser lights, flying pyramids, levitating guitarists and elaborate production tricks, that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid and a disappearing act, which saw EWF literally vanishing from sight. Magician Doug Henning directed many of their tours throughout the 1970s with his young assistant, David Copperfield. The band also began to be choreographed by George Faison.
In November 1977, the group released another studio LP, All 'N All. With an Egyptian/post modernistic themed album cover, All 'N All featured the hit singles "Serpentine Fire" and "Fantasy", and achieved triple Platinum status. This album was the first of several to feature striking cover art by the Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka.
In 1978, EWF picked up three Grammy Awards, the third for their rendition of The Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life". EWF's performance of the song was included on the self-titled soundtrack of the movie, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. The film was a commercial failure; however, "Got to Get You into My Life" was the biggest hit from the movie's soundtrack, reaching numbers one and nine on the R&B and Pop singles charts, respectively.
1978 was also the year that Maurice and EWF's managers Cavallo and Ruffalo worked out a deal for the launch of a new record label called The American Recording Company (ARC), to be distributed through CBS, and the creation of a recording studio, George Massenburg/ARC, also called "The Complex", in West Los Angeles. The year ended with the release of another hit single, entitled "September", which was added to the quintuple Platinum compilation album, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which came out on November 23, 1978, four days before Thanksgiving. At this time, Bobby Harris of the Dazz Band requested and got Philip Bailey to produce the group's first album, Kinsman Dazz. Bailey had a major input into the group's vocal arrangements and would also co-produce the band's second album, Dazz.
January 1979 saw the band performing "September" and "That's The Way Of The World" at the Music for UNICEF Concert, which was broadcast worldwide from the United Nations General Assembly by NBC. Other artists performing at the event were ABBA, the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart. Subsequent to this performance the band donated the royalties from one of their songs to UNICEF and began a tour of Europe and Japan.
The group's ninth album overall, seventh for Columbia Records, and second released on the ARC label was I Am. It was another smash hit, going double Platinum and reaching numbers 3 and 1 on the R&B and Pop charts, respectively. Singles spawned from this album included "In The Stone", "Can't Let Go", and the sad David Foster/Bill Champlin-written ballad "After the Love Has Gone", which rose to the number 2 spot on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts and won a Grammy for the Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammy Awards of 1980. Though the band had previously overlooked disco, the summer of 1979 saw EWF topping the dance music charts with their most disco-inspired single "Boogie Wonderland", which was produced by Maurice and Al McKay and featured The Emotions. Even with the song's success, Verdine White claims that the band is not a disco band, saying: "I guess you could say we were at the party but didn’t get on the dance floor."
In October 1980, the double-album Faces was released, and rose to number 2 and number 10 and the R&B and Pop charts respectively; it earned Gold status in the US. In a 2007 interview, when asked which EWF album was his favorite, Maurice White replied: "Probably Faces because we were really in tune, playing together and it gave us the opportunity to explore new areas." After the release of this album, longtime rhythm guitarist Al McKay left the band for personal as well as professional reasons. He was replaced by returning rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista, who gave the band a bit of a hard rock sound with his style of playing.