Al McKay: «This is how we revive the real sound of Earth Wind and Fire»

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One of the most important guitarists on the funk music scene played with his band last week in Taormina: «No tricks, no sequences and no recordings. We perform authentic live music»

He is considered one of the greatest funk guitarists thanks to his iconic riffs and grooves. During his career he has worked as a sideman with some great artists, such as Tina Turner, but what made him a star was joining the Ear­th Wind and Fire. Nowadays Al McKay recreates the atmosphere of the 1970s with his “EWF Ex­pe­rien­ce”. We met him right before the concert he did last week in the Greek Theatre of Taormina, the only Sicilian show of his international tour.

«The 1970s were the post-Woodstock years, they were characterized by “Pea­ce & Love”. We created a music based mainly on feelings»

THE STORY. Earth Wind and Fire has been probably the greatest, refined and visionary funk band of its time, able to combine syncopation with the new-age spirituality and philosophy of that time. « were the post-Woodstock years, they were characterized by “Peace & Love”. We created a music based mainly on feelings. Maurice White was very good at performing this mood and we really enjoyed working together for almost nine years». When McKay joined the EWF, he brought the band towards new prospects thanks to his iconic way to play guitar and his recognizable riff. «When you talk about guitar ‒ he said ‒ one often thinks about folk or about the speed and crazy rock way to play it, but the role of a good guitarist concerns grooves too, that is, what really makes songs work». Thus, from 1973 to 1981, McKay played and composed what then became a generation soundtrack.

«Nowadays several bands play EWF music, but we don’t use sequences or recordings. We perform authentic live music»

Al McKay during our interview

FROM “AL MCKAY’S ALLSTARS” TO E”WF EXPERIENCE”. When the experience of Ear­th Wind and Fire ended, as a result of what he defined «the nine-year crisis», McKay worked on many musical projects and didn’t take part to the latter band’s reunions, focusing on his own “All star band”, which involved some of the greatest American musicians. «At the beginning ‒ explained the guitarist ‒ we planned to make our own music, but the audience wanted to listen to EWF’s hits, so the project started to recreate the real sound of those years». Thirteen members made this happen: three singers, a trumpet, a saxophone, a trombone, a drum, a bass, two keyboards, strings and «only one guitar» on the stage to recreate a very authentic atmosphere. «Nowadays ‒ continued McKay ‒ several bands play EWF music, but unlike many of these, we don’t use sequences or recorded parts. We perform authentic live music». And the result can only be enchanting: «Concerts always turn into real parties. We just play the first notes of September to see people who were relaxed until that moment stand up and dance along».

«I’m working on a new album. Nowadays an excessive use of computers prevails in music scene, but music is still alive»

MUSIC TODAY. «Times have changed ‒ he told us ‒. People dance very hard rhythms in discos, but we make music for people to listen, not only to dance. Nowadays many young musicians prefer to make music with computers rather than with a guitar, and I think it’s a sign of our times. But this isn’t all: if you let young people listen to something different, maybe he could like it. This is the reason why there is a comeback of vinyl and analog sound». A disenchanted point of view, but optimistic at the same time, which led McKay to work on a new album. «I don’t want to anticipate much, but I can say that music is still alive».

Al McKay’s Allstar Band

Translated by Daniela Marsala

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