(January 25, 2023).  When news of the passing of longtime Earth, Wind & Fire drummer Fred White hit the world earlier this month, it immediately evoked memories of the venerable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s 1970s and early ‘80s heyday, when the then-nine-man group was firing on all cylinders and releasing platinum albums left and right.

Longtime Earth, Wind & Fire fans remember very well when the group’s album covers went from sporting eight core members (1974’s Open Our Eyes) to nine, with the addition of the youngest White brother who would be an integral part of the band’s most commercially and critically successful period for the next ten years.

(Fred White of Earth, Wind & Fire died on January 1, 2023 at the age of 67.)

Born Frederick Eugene Adams—half brother of EWF founder and leader Maurice and brother of longtime bassist Verdine—Fred White joined the band in 1974, before they recorded and released their first No. 1 album, That’s The Way of The World, the following year. 

In doing so, Fred became the last (and youngest) of the “classic nine” EWF lineup, the core membership that would record their next four platinum studio albums, plus the mostly live LP, Gratitude, also platinum, and their five-million selling 1978 Greatest Hits set, which included their newly recorded signature smash, “September.”  

But while “September,” with its heart-tugging nostalgic lyrics, easy-on-the-ears melody and sweeping “ba-dee-ya” chorus, is now EWF’s best-known song, it was pretty simple in its drum pattern, using an underwhelming eighth-note riff in a 4/4 time signature with very little variation and few drum fills throughout.  With a little more hand/foot coordination, even I might have been able to play it (even at the age of twelve, which I was at the time).

To find a tune more indicative of EWF’s funk prowess—and Fred White’s stellar playing—fans would be better served to go back a couple albums to 1976’s Spirit, the set that followed the band’s two consecutive No. 1 albums (That’s the Way of the World and Gratitude), and particularly check out the opening track and first single, “Getaway.”

On its own commercial and critical merits, “Getaway,” itself a slight departure from the band’s more mystical image (check out the pyramids on many of EWF’s late ‘70s album covers), may not have been as enduring as “September,” but it was certainly no slouch.

“Getaway” was a smash hit, itself selling a million singles in 1976 and topping the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart (EWF’s third of eight songs to accomplish that feat).  It was the track that kicked off Spirit two months before the LP’s release…and critics instantly raved over it. It’s worth noting that Spirit would have been the band’s third consecutive No. 1 album had it not been for Stevie Wonder’s landmark Songs In The Key Of Life, which entered the Billboard 200 at the top in October 1976, holding EWF’s LP at No. 2 for three straight weeks.

(“Getaway” was the first single from EWF’s 1976 Spirit album.)

A contemporary review in Rolling Stone magazine called “Getaway” Earth, Wind & Fire “at its best…a propulsive funk track laced with dizzying changes [making it] one of the most sophisticated pop hits in recent memory.”

Indeed, “Getaway” was a song so frenetic, so complex and void of convention that it’s hard to know at times whether the drummer used an eighth or sixteenth-note riff in its time signature—a signature that itself seemingly alternates between a 2/4 and 4/4 beat as the song progresses.  

That drummer would be Fred White, who joined EWF in its ascendancy when he was just 19 years old and who, along with the other eight core members, is now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work.  While White often shared drum credits in EWF’s liner notes with big brother Maurice and longtime (current) member Ralph Johnson, it was Fred who did the primary stick work on “Getaway.”

The song leapt at you from the beginning, with a deceptively subtle drum rift that builds as the tune does, with those energetic horn blasts seemingly keeping time as if they were part of the rhythm track along with Fred’s drum hits.  There are drum fills galore at unconventional parts of the beat, which create movement within the song and are designed to both keep up with and help sustain the tune’s frenetic pace.

Despite all of its complexity, “Getaway” is surprisingly easy to dance to (there’s a “Soul Train” video clip below), owing to Fred White’s precise timekeeping and funky playing, which makes you want to do nothing less than shake your booty upon hearing it (at least that’s how my parents and their friends reacted whenever the song came on).

The boundless energy in “Getaway,” which is further enhanced by both Maurice White’s and co-lead singer Phillip Bailey’s stellar vocals, seems to relent only during the tune’s stops and starts, which offer momentary breathers before the song—and Fred White’s frantic drum workout—pick up again.

It is said that “Getaway” was the tune that EWF’s famed producer Charles Stepney was helming when he died of a heart attack during the album’s production, leaving Maurice White and his band to pretty much complete Spirit on their own. Verdine, current member and the lone surviving White brother, has since said in interviews that “Getaway,” which none of the band members wrote, was their most difficult to record in the studio.

As a young ten-year-old kid when “Getaway” first came out, I didn’t appreciate the track’s (or its parent album’s) historical significance with EWF, or the song’s complexity, at least not in musical terms.  My youthful assessment then was that it just sounded amazing!

Well, that plus I just loved to see the dancers getting down to it during the “Soul Train” line on Saturday afternoons (you knew a song was “the jam” when “Soul Train” would play it during that infamous line in consecutive episodes!).

Now I understand “Getaway” to be so much more than that.  It is structurally superior to almost any other single EWF released.

As an appreciation for Fred White’s contribution to what has always been one of my favorite EWF tracks, and in his memory, this article is dedicated to him.

What follows below are a handful of YouTube videos of drummers covering “Getaway.”  The blog has labeled them “A”through “F.”  Check them out and let me and fellow readers know in the comment section or in any of the social media feeds where this article is posted which ones you thought were the best (and why).

A. Justin Swiney’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

B. Phil C.’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

C.  Mike Hetzel’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

D. Dirk Etchinger’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

E. Gary Ghost’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

F. Drum Talk’s drum cover of “Getaway”:

And here’s a clip of Fred White performing a drum solo of EWF’s “Runnin’” from their 1977 album, All ‘n All.

Rest in peace Fred White (January 13, 1955 – January 1, 2023).


No. 1 EWF fan DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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