The continuing saga of Earth, Wind & Fire

Earth, Wind & Fire performs, more than four decades after the band was formed by Maurice White.
CBS News

(CBS News) EARTH, WIND and FIRE had a very big hit with "Boogie Wonderland" back in 1979. And with the release of a new album this month, they're determined to show they're still in the game. This morning they look back -- and ahead -- with Tracy Smith, For The Record:

In the 1970s Earth, Wind & Fire were not so much a band but a kind of musical volcano, spewing hit records.

One, "September," happens to be their most requested ever.

Their music was the soundtrack to an entire generation of first dates and wedding receptions . . . and the old sound is very much alive.

When they started out, asked Smith, "How long did you think you would last?"

"We were so young and just so ready, we weren't thinking about it," said Philip Bailey.

"We were just going for it," said Verdine White. "We just wanted to go."

The three original members - Bailey, White and Ralph Johnson -- have been together 41 years.

"We didn't know we were going to get paid, you know?" said White. "We just loved what we were doing."

"Did we get paid?" said Bailey.

"Didn't you get your check?" said Johnson.

"I'm still waiting!" replied White.

Earth, Wind & Fire was the brainchild of jazz drummer Maurice White, who founded the band in the late '60s.

He enlisted his younger brother Verdine to play bass; recruited Philip Bailey as the co-lead singer; Ralph Johnson on drums; and enough horns to blow the roof off.

It was magic, with hit songs like "Boogie Wonderland," "Sing a Song," "After the Love Is Gone," and "Let's Groove."

Web Extra Audio: To listen to a stream of Earth, Wind & Fire perform "My Promise" (from their new album, "Now, Then & Forever"), click on the audio player below.

It all looked like fun, but Maurice White's work ethic was legendary. He'd hold practice sessions whenever he thought they were needed.

"We would rehearse after concerts," said Verdine, "just to figure certain things out."

The old work ethic survives to this day: the fire is still there -- although for a time, it flickered.

In 1983, after more than a dozen albums and six Grammys, Maurice White decided that the band needed a break.

Web Extra Video: Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson explain why "Reasons" isn't the best song to play at a wedding.

Bailey described the breakup as traumatic. Johnson called it an "uncomfortable period."

"Yeah, 'cause this is all we knew, this is all we had," Johnson told Smith.

"So when somebody kind of pulls that rug out, you're like, now you've gotta rethink your whole program."

So Johnson went into construction. "I called a friend of mine who had a construction company. I went down and helped him install fire sprinklers. And then later on I went to work at Federated Stereo, selling stereos, which I was very comfortable with."