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November 23, 2014

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Acting like a kid is the bassline of Earth Wind & Fire’s Verdine White

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Members of Earth Wind & Fire: Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson.

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Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and Verdine White of Earth Wind & Fire.

“Boogie Wonderland” is where Verdine White has discovered the Fountain of Youth.

The forever stomping, strutting, wild-haired bassist for Earth Wind & Fire is 61 years old. He turns that age, coincidentally, on the day of this interview.

“My phone’s been blowing up,” White says during a chat in some down time before EWF hits the stage at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif., just west of San Jose. “It’s ringing every two seconds. Started at 5 o’clock this morning, In fact, I have a twin sister (Geraldine Holmes, who lives in Memphis), and I have to call her after I talk to you.”

White is performing with EWF on Friday night at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel (show time is 8 p.m., and tickets start at $39.50, minus fees).

EWF -- the shorthand term for the band favored by its most devoted fans -- usually notches a Las Vegas performance in their U.S. tour schedule. Over the years, the band has played such venues as the late Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas Theater (when it was Le Theatre des Arts), the Luxor Theater (in the hotel’s Spotlight Series before Criss Angel moved in with “Believe”) and Planet Hollywood, when the resort officially took on that name to replace Aladdin. White owns a home in Las Vegas, which is not something he typically broadcasts, mostly because he is on the road so often.

And what is he doing on his birthday? “I’m celebrating it by performing. That’s how I usually celebrate, my birthday or any day.”

More from the interview with the dynamite musician and showman:

Johnny Kats: One time I wrote about you, after a show at the Luxor a few years ago, that Cirque du Soleil should built a show around you. Bring in some gymnasts in Spandex and on bungee cords to complement what you do onstage.”

Verdine White: Ah! Yeah! Yeah! From your lips to God’s ears, man. Hah! I love it.

J.K.: It was meant as a compliment.

V.W.: It would be great (laughs).

J.K.: How do you keep yourself so physically conditioned to perform as energetically as you have for the past 40 years?

V.W.: I have to work out more than I did before. I go to yoga class, things like that to keep your energy level up because it is a hard-hitting show. There is a lot going on. Music, choreography, sound, and you have to really keep it together, physically. … Yoga works for me. It gives me a chance to breathe, stretch and just kind of balance the body.

J.K.: Why did you pick up the bass as your favorite instrument?

V.W.: I was in orchestra class when I was 11, 12, 13 years old, I went into the orchestra room and I saw it. It spoke to me, man. It spoke to me. … Bass is the instrument that resonated with me. Guys now play multiple instruments … but at the time, I stayed with that instrument because it was all-consuming for me. I loved everything about the instrument, how to take it apart and put it back together. The lessons. I just stayed with it and learned it as best as I could learn it.

J.K.: There are, of course, a certain set of songs that Earth Wind & Fire has to play live. I’ve talked to artists who have a lot of hits, and one of them called these songs “riot songs,” meaning that if you don’t play them, there will be a riot.

V.W.: That’s right (laughs).

J.K. : Are these songs -- “Fantasy,” “Serpentine Fire,” “September,” “Shining Star,” “Boogie Wonderland,” all of those -- still fun and fulfilling for you to perform onstage?”

V.W.: Yeah, because what is happening now is a new generation that is hearing these songs played live for the first time. Now, what we do is add a lot of B-sides from our old records, things like “Gratitude” and “On Your Face.” Songs that weren’t as popular commercially in the wide spectrum of things but were just as hip in our Earth Wind & Fire catalog.

J.K.: I have a friend in town here who is a great vocalist, who performs around the city. He loves Earth Wind & Fire. His name is Tyriq Johnson, and he sings for a band called Santa Fe & the Fat City Horns. They perform a great Earth Wind & Fire medley, and Tyriq is trying to get an EWF tribute band together to play in Vegas. What do you think of that kind of depiction of the band, in that context?

V.W.: It’s good. I’m good with it. You know, we see a lot of that with us, and with other acts, as well. It’s a compliment because it shows that the music is good, and they just love playing those songs. They wouldn’t play them if they weren’t good and if people didn’t want to hear them. People obviously like our tunes.

J.K.: What are you listening to now?

V.W.: A variety of things. Jazz. I love the latest Adele record, which has really been blowing up the last couple of years. There are some great songs on that album.

J.K.: I’ve seen you perform in four different venues in Vegas over the past 10 years or so. You’ve been here a lot. Do you remember the first show you played here?

V.W.: A long, long time ago, we played Caesars Palace. Circus Maximus, way back in the day. We were opening for Bill Cosby. As a matter of fact, we did a concert the other night, in Oregon, and he’d just been there the night before. But that show in Vegas was 1972, something like that. When we were wearing tights and we didn’t have any shirts on at the time. Back in the hippie days, man (laughs). We were something else.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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