At SxSW, in addition to Bloodshot shows, we’ll be at Antone’s Records 3/12 @ 3pm and the Filter Magazine Party at Clive Bar 3/13 @3pm
IN PARIS LIVE ON OUI FM
ON THE BBC!
Go to our Facebook page to see the video of The Corner Man on
Live…with Jools Holland
MOJO GAVE US FOUR STARS
WE HAVE BEEN RELEASED!
And THE VINYL DISTRICT has this great review of the the album that we snagged, ’cause it’s THAT GOOD.
Graded on a Curve: Barrence Whitfield
and the Savages, Dig Thy Savage Soul
Under their original lineup, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages came up with a pair of very sweet LPs in the 1980s that combined attention to such fine precursors as ‘50s rockabilly, uncut ‘60s R&B and the eternal grandeur of The Sonics. In 2010 three-fourths of that group recommenced activity with an unusually high standard of quality, and now they’ve come up with a blues-kissed rock ‘n’ soul humdinger of a record with the Bloodshot Records-issued Dig Thy Savage Soul. As its twelve songs unwind, not only do they return to classic form, but Whitfield and his band also achieve the seemingly impossible; they exceed it.
First arriving on the scene at a time when punk rock and its subsequent offshoots were at loose ends and for many had basically run their course, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages can be considered a major component in a widespread mid-‘80s back-to-basics impulse. This urge to reexamine the eternal potency residing in the heart of rock ‘n’ roll’s roots asserted itself in earnest after a major portion of the decade’s musical action, both popular and underground, had become simply too highfalutin for many to endure.
While traces of this never really explicitly defined movement can be uncovered even at the very start of the ‘70s punk shebang (and prior, of course), roughly ten years later droves of folks were tapping into ‘60s garage (largely inspired by a spate of compilations that dug under the fertile surface of Nuggets), raw ‘50s rockabilly (pointed in this direction mostly either by The Cramps or The Stray Cats), and a few even blended an assortment of inspirations into an approach that was aptly described as roots-reverent (The Blasters, a superb Los Angeles group, served as a top-notch early exemplar of this style.)
Naturally, some of this stuff retained loose ties to punk, but the majority of it actually had little overt connection with lip-snarl and kerrang of the ’77-variety. It wasn’t a specifically underground scenario, either; Los Lobos became quite a commercial factor, for just one example. However, Whitfield and the Savages emerged with a punk background and energy, yet they lacked potentially off-putting gestures, being best described on their first two LPs as a hopped-up party band. They were certainly raucous, but were never abrasive in execution.
Well, unless you consider the prime material from ‘60’s Washington state garage monsters The Sonics abrasive or somehow off-putting. The enduringly gigantic sound of that unit can be assessed as a major stylistic predecessor to the brand of forceful motion the Savages’ specialized in. Except that instead of just bearing down and blaring it out ala The Sonics, this ‘80s Boston group utilized a sly handle on finesse, the better to spotlight the abilities of their highly talented vocalist leader.
Barrence Whitfield (born Barry White, adopting a stage name for rather obvious reasons) first gave rock ‘n’ roll a try while living in New Jersey, but nothing panned out. He moved north to study journalism at Boston University, and while working in a record shop in the city he struck up a relationship with a few Beantown punk vets that were in the early stages of forming a band. This bunch included his co-worker Peter Greenberg, Phil Lenker, and Howie Ferguson, all formerly of oft terrific Boston unit The Lyres, with Ferguson also an ex member of the swell Real Kids.
Everyone bonded over a shared love for primo ‘60’s soul and R&B, and with hotly honking sax player Steve LaGrega completing the picture, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages came into being shortly thereafter. They honed their attack at parties and on local stages and then cut their self-titled first LP, the album issued on the small Mamou label. On one hand that disc is just some right-minded guys laying into some spirited non-sophisto rock ‘n’ soul. But on the other it’s delivered with such smarts (landing directly between respect and aggressive transformation) that it stands up tall as a classic.
At this point the band was a covers-centric outfit whose main ambition was to cut loose on the bandstand at any given opportunity. In an era that brandished a highly-developed approach to record production, the bare-bones Barrence Whitfield and the Savages easily connected like a calling card for a sweaty, booze-fueled live experience, and yet they still managed to garner some national attention on the back of positive reviews.
In ’85 the group knocked out a follow-up LP Dig Yourself on Rounder. It featured stronger production than the debut, but otherwise their style was essentially the same. Unsurprisingly, the band’s rep spread, especially in the UK, where their fans included both Elvis Costello and Robert Plant. But then quickly, the original incarnation of the band was done.
Barrence recruited a fresh lineup of Savages that produced a pair of discs, ‘87’s Ow! Ow! Ow! and ‘89’s Live Emulsified, both for Rounder. A newfound attention was paid to Whitfield’s impressive talents, and even on the live disc, the raucousness was less immediate. While still enjoyable affairs, a substantial amount of the early magic was lost. Other albums followed, including a pair of Savage-less collabs with Texas C&W musician Tom Russell, but I’ll confess to losing track of Barrence’s gifts.
In a fantastic turn of events, 2010 found Whitfield reunited with Greenberg and Lenker, the trio rounding up a batch of sympathetic cohorts (Andy Jody on drums, James Cole on piano and organ, and Tom Quartulli on sax) to record a fine little disc titled Savage Kings. Hitting the rack the following year via the small but estimable Spanish record label Munster, the LP provided a strong snort of the original Savages’ splendid gusto.
Happily, they weren’t satisfied with just one record as evidence of their return to form. Now signed to Bloodshot Records, a maneuver that will certainly increase their profile with interested parties, they’ve come up with Dig Thy Savage Soul, and the results find them easily retaining their energy and edge on a dozen cuts.
Coming across immediately is how infused with punk spirit they are. Plum doozy of an opener “The Corner Man” should squeeze the glands of any Sonics acolyte you’d care to play it for, with Barrence’s roar in top-notch emotive form throughout as the rhythm section bears down to glorious work and entertains nary a whit of grandstanding. In consort, Greenberg’s raw guitar tone is truly the max from start to finish.
You say you want solos? Well okay partner, “The Corner Man” holds a couple superior ones, brief and simple as apropos to this kind of rich mania, on both sax and guitar, with Greenberg’s erupting like the beautiful essence of a beer-drenched night in the midst of a lone gone Hot Rod Summer. Yes, the punk template is of ‘60s vintage, but the power is pure ’77, and Barrence and crew harness it will great skill.
“My Baby Didn’t Come Home” is a bluesy mid-tempo groover that emphasizes the leader’s undiminished range, with Whitfield’s shouting halfway between Big Joe Turner and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. And the band’s performance is tiptop. Particularly of note is the horn section, blowing hot and thick, with Quartulli’s solo a wonderful essay in how not to play too many freaking notes.
And titling a song “Oscar Levant” is just a primer in classy cool. Levant had it in spades (An American in Paris or The Band Wagon, anyone?) and so does Barrence. The tune is a total ripper, with the strength of the singer’s voice stealing the show. But as the songs progress, the whole band is killing it with relish and without a misstep in sight.
“Bread” is a rousing take of a crafty little tune from Bobby Hebb, known mostly for his excellent oldies rotator “Sunny,” but additionally noted as the holder of quite a varied career, including membership in Roy Acuff’s Smokey Mountain Boys and serving as co-headliner on a tour with The Beatles. The fact that Barrence knows deep cuts like this one is a big part of his appeal. Not interested in one-upmanship, he just wants to share the good stuff. Initially coming on like the Mar-Keys on steroids, “Bread” quickly builds into a brawny rock ‘n’ soul stomp with some very welcome backing vocals from Beth Harris.
There’s a nasty blues thread laced into the weave of “Hangman’s Token,” but in integrating this element the music never stops connecting like an amped-up Savages, and that’s just bonus. And “Daddy’s Gone to Bed” extends this blues template, presenting a true rarity; a band that not only deeply understands the inherent burning simplicity of the classic ‘50s Memphis-derived electric blues but also knows how to adapt it to their own brand of party/club uproar without the slightest bit of creative friction.
“Blackjack” is a short tribute to those lost sax-driven instrumental zingers of the early-‘60s, and it’s a stone gas. “Hey Hey Little Girl” is a majestic slice of old-school R&B infused with just the right level of contempo oomph; all the solo spots are superbly rendered and Whitfield holds court like a fun-loving benevolent king. And a take of Lee Moses’ “I’m Sad About It” brings some deep soul fervor to the proceedings; Barrence’s testifying is right up there with “Oscar Levant” as one of Dig Thy Savage Soul’s highpoints.
“Show Me Baby” continues mining the soul zone with grand results (with another excellent backup singer spot), and like the aforementioned double-dip into the blues, it details this record’s well-considered construction. Often this sort of stripped-down stuff can register like a big hyperactive spurt of unpremeditated mayhem, but it’s clear that a whole lot of thought went into the making of this record, and this only increases its overall worth.
With “Sugar,” Barrence’s booming voice enters into a smoking dialogue with Quartulli’s sax, and Greenberg’s clean-toned hard-struck guitar brings it all together. And with a cover of Jerry McCain’s “Turn Your Damper Down,” the band returns to the blues once more and winds Dig Thy Savage Soul to an exceptional close.
Prior to approaching this record, I mainly hoped it would retain the strengths of their prior album Savage Kings. I had no idea that I’d be assessing this as the best record in the band’s career. Heavy partisans of the debut and Dig Yourself might consider this sacrilege, but please listen before fuming. Not only is this the strongest Savages release in terms of production value, but it also wins out in terms of inspired focus and pure energy.
Next to Dig Thy Savage Soul, most of the reunion affairs I’ve heard register as weak tea. This won’t likely be my pick for the best release of 2013 (though it won’t miss by much) but it’s definitely a prime contender for the year’s happiest surprise.
GRADED ON A CURVE:
Newbury Comics Online
has a special deal only for YOU!
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages DIG THY SAVAGE SOUL with Limited* Autographed Postcard!
Order up our upcoming release, Dig Thy Savage Soul and get a limited* edition autographed postcard signed by Barrence himself, with each disc purchased! But hurry, we have a limited supply of postcards, sharpies, and pretty soon now, Barrence is going to lose the feeling in his signing hand.
Check out the promotional video we made just for this special offer. It’s a dandy.
And if you were still hesitating a bit about buying our latest disc. Here is what Ink 19 had to say.
“Good god almighty, this is IT!…This record makes ya wanna drink. And I mean that in a good way!”
And better yet, how about Mr. Elvis Costello himself?
“”I hadn’t heard from Barrence in a while…I have now. Don’t “Turn Your Damper Down”…Turn it up!”
What are you waiting for????? PRE-ORDER THIS BABY right through here.
*The fine print from the Newbury Comics site: Offer valid only with purchase of Dig Thy Savage Soul. This special offer is valid for both domestic and international orders. Pre-ordered CDs shipping with promotional items are limited to (5) per customer. Autographed postcards will be available while supplies last, newburycomics.com will post information when autographed postcards are sold out.
All the words from our single THE CORNER MAN
as seen on YouTube
Play it ever-loving loud. Your neighbors will love you for it! No really, they will.
Savages Live! Long Live Savages!
Our story as a speed read.
Back in 1983, Barry White (a.k.a. Barrence Whitfield) and Peter Greenberg were working at Nuggets, a record store, in Kenmore Square in Boston. Greenberg, who had previously played guitar in DMZ and The Customs, had recently quit his job playing guitar with Lyres and had begun to form an instrumental Rock n’ Roll band with ex-Lyres Phil Lenker on bass, Howie Ferguson (and Real Kids too) on drums. Once Barry White began some impromptu singing at the record store, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages took off—killing any idea of an instrumental group.The first iteration of the Savages went on to record two critically acclaimed, blockbuster LPs that combined the best of 50/60s rocking R&B with high-octane garage/punk. The first LP, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages was released on Mamou Records in 1984 and was re-released in 2010 on Ace Records with additional material. John Swenson wrote in the Ace liner notes “that in the dark days of the early 1980s… The Savages kept Rock n Roll alive.” The original Savages recorded a second LP in 1985, Dig Yourself on Rounder Records that also rocked in an Esquerita-like manner.
According to Andy Kershaw of the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, “What positioned Barrence and the band way beyond any other rock’n’roll of the era was a unique marriage of Barrence’s personality and R&B shouter elan to the bounce and insolence of Peter Greenberg’s essentially rockabilly guitar style. With the addition of much ill-mannered saxophone, we have here a band which embodied the heart and soul of rock’n’roll.”
In 1986, Greenberg and Lenker moved on, and the original Savages disbanded soon after. Little did they know that this would be temporary. Thankfully, Barrence kept it alive over the years producing a wide-range of mighty-fine recorded output while continuing to tour worldwide and becoming internationally renowned for his wild performances.
In 2010, after a 25-year hiatus, Whitfield, Lenker, and Greenberg decided to hang out in the desert and play some shows in the Southwest. This led to the recording of the Savage Kings LP in Cincinnati in December 2010. Cincinnati, Ohio, home to King Records, served up the chance for the Savages to honor and channel their heroes who recorded on King as well as produce a great Rock & Roll record.
The core Savages lineup of Whitfield, Lenker, and Greenberg was now ready to go, supported by an All Star team on Savage Kings that included Andy Jody on drums and Tom Quartulli on sax. Check out their star-studded BIOS! The LP was released in the summer of 2011 on Munster Records in Europe and Shake It! Records in the USA.
Since the release of Savage Kings the guys have been extensively touring Europe and the USA.
In April 2013, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages became Bloodshot Records Recording Artists and that famed label will release their albums worldwide. A new LP of mostly original material, dubbed Dig Thy Savage Soul was recorded at UltraSuede Studio in Fall 2012 has been unleashed on August 13. You can dig they savage soul on CD or on long-playing vinyl, as well as in those handy mp3 files. The Savages will begin a world tour to support the new LP in the Northeast and Midwest USA in September, Europe in October, and the balance of the globe this coming Winter and way into 2014.