Movin’ & Groovin’

Serpentine Fire — “The Ultimate Tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire” returns to the Tropicana Laughlin for a night of magical songs created by one of the most famous bands in the world.
Maurice White went about the task of fusing all of his musical influences into one cohesive unit in the 1970s.
Combining African and Latin rhythms with American funk, soul, pop, rock and jazz — and overlaying it all with a huge horn sound — was task enough. But then throw in a thumb piano, a.k.a. an African instrument called a kalimba, and things got downright exciting and Earth, Wind & Fire exploded onto the scene.
This ground-breaking group created an innovative sound that changed the direction of popular music while creating a show that was a blur of colorful costumes and unbridled energy — blasting a cosmic wave of peace, love and happy vibrations. Everyone was moving, singing, dancing, or playing something.
The music bridged the gap that often separated the musical tastes of black and white America.
In addition to taking their name from the group’s No. 1 hit from 1977, Serpentine Fire honors the band with great style and music that has stood the test of time.
Fronted by Tyriq Johnson’s smooth falsetto, this band nails classic hits like “September,” “After The Love Is Gone,” “Let’s Groove,” “Reasons” and many more.
It was only a few years ago that a band called Tyriq & Jamestown was booked for an outdoor gig in Victory Plaza at the Tropicana Laughlin (then Tropicana Express), which some members of our staff attended. Upon hearing the first note it was clear this was one special band.
We’d heard that the band was from Las Vegas and that lead singer Tyriq Johnson was supposed to be a talent well above the cut. Once they started playing the funk, full sounds and soulful vocals created by Johnson and his bandmates, things surpassed that expectation.
Well, Tyriq & Jamestown became regulars on the Tropicana’s entertainment calendar, building up a local fan base in the process.
A couple of years ago, however, Johnson returned to the Tropicana in a different role altogether, that of recreating the falsetto tones of Philip Bailey and touches of the late Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire in a show called “Serpentine Fire – The Ultimate Tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire.”
It was an easy transition and a natural fit for Johnson to perform in this show. He was already recreating a wide spectrum of EWF’s explosive blend of R&B, soul, funk, jazz, disco, rock, Latin and African tinged music in his lounge shows. It was just a matter of adding the right musicians to expand on what he was doing and practicing the nuances of putting on a full-blown tribute act.
That show comes back to the Tropicana’s Pavilion Theater on Saturday, March 9.
“It is such great music that has stood the test of time,” Johnson said. “I mean, this music started in the ’70s and it’s still very popular right now. There was something about Earth, Wind and Fire that made us want to continue playing that kind of music, to give back.
“It’s said that if you haven’t been to an Earth, Wind and Fire concert, you haven’t lived, and I believe that…and I’ve been to a lot of them,” he added.
Serpentine Fire goes for the sound rather than the look.
“Right now, we go for the sound. We haven’t decided if we’re gonna do the look,” Johnson explained. “We want to kind of capture what they’re doing now more so than the ’70s. That is, unless we are hired to do maybe a remembrance of something from the ’70s. Then we would definitely grab that look. I prefer to do what’s now and give more of the music.”
Johnson knew he had his work cut out for him replicating the music of such a vibrant and energetic group.
“I felt it was somewhat of a gift. Usually, I would sing songs that were in my range of tenor falsetto,” he explained.
“When we first started out, we only did one or two Earth Wind & Fire songs — ‘September’ and ‘Shining Star.’ Then my older brother would say, ‘hey, you guys should sing the slow song that’s very popular, ‘Reasons.’ I thought, ‘Man, I can’t sing that.’ But I found out I could, so I did it in a show and was getting a lot of compliments. It became a big request when I was doing just my regular popular R&B songs, people kept asking for it.
“It was natural from there. I thought, I love Earth, Wind & Fire and need to do a tribute to these guys — pay homage to them — to let them know that we really appreciate their gift. Their music is still going and the guys are still touring. But it was a big loss when we lost Maurice White. I’m thankful that we’re recreating those sounds.
“My biggest challenge was to see if I would get the right people to do this,” Johnson added. “It took me a while to make a blueprint of how I wanted to do it. Importantly, everyone I talked to loved the music of Earth, Wind and Fire and they were so on board. They were like, ‘let’s do this, let’s do this.’ And that was great.
“Then came the challenge of putting all these people together in one room and to get it moving. And we did it and it worked out. And now I want to keep it rollin’. I want to get return dates every month or so.”
Helping Johnson capture that signature sound are Jamie Townsend (keyboards), David Romero (percussionist), William Jordan, Jr., and E.C. Adams (background vocals), Brandon Turchiano (trombone) and Ken Logan (drums).
So what makes this show a standout?
“I would say the synchronicity of the instrumentation … and after that you hit ’em with the vocals. There are certain things they wait for — that Bailey note, that special note — and when you nail it, they’re really happy and it all comes together,” he said.
“This year’s show is pretty close to the show we did a couple years ago, but this time we’ve added a new song or two,” he said. “We’re looking to give another great performance of the music and bring back memories and music of Earth, Wind and Fire.”
Is there an audience favorite no matter when they perform?
“The most popular song is ‘Fantasy,’ then ‘Reasons,'” he explained. “But all the songs are great. I mean, I get response from people all the time…’are you gonna do this song or that song?’ There’s a couple of songs we haven’t done yet, because, well, they have so many — they have a huge repertoire of music.
“It’s like you can’t get them all in 90 minutes. I’m going to have to put together a good medley of the songs people request — give ’em some of it so they’ll be happy with it.
“‘September’ is good for getting people up and moving, but if you don’t do ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Reasons,’ they’ll let you know.”


SERPENTINE FIRE

Pavilion Theater at the Tropicana

Saturday, March 9 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info