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Average White Band

+ {Alan Gorrie}

Scotland’s soul scene was thin on the ground until fiery funksters AVERAGE WHITE BAND burst through to “Pick Up The Pieces” – left by the likes of Americans SLY & THE FAMILY STONE, FUNKADELIC and TOWER OF POWER – in the mid-70s. One of the few British bands of their ilk to crossover Stateside, AWB – as they were lazily monikered – took America by storm, cutting a Caledonian curveball courtesy of some “Soul Searching” platters.
Formed in Dundee, via Glasgow, in early 1972, college/university students (with a fair bit of session/group experience) took to rehearsing together as a way of maintaining a foothold in the music business. Perth-born singer-songwriter/bassist Alan Gorrie, and fellow ex-FOREVER MORE rhythm guitarist/chanter, Onnie McIntyre, were the nucleus of the initial sextet (alongside tenor saxophonist, Malcolm “Molly” Duncan), while fleeting member Michael Rosen (trumpet) was edged out for another singer, Hamish Stuart (ex-DREAM POLICE); drummer Robbie McIntosh (ex-BRIAN AUGER’s Oblivion Express) and sax-player/keyboardist Roger Ball (Duncan’s buddy from MOGUL THRASH) were plucked from the Dundee shores; incidentally, McIntyre and McIntosh had sessioned on CHUCK BERRY’s chart-topping “My Ding-A-Ling”.
After supporting ERIC CLAPTON at his comeback Rainbow concert in ‘73, The AVERAGE WHITE BAND gained enough attention to attract M.C.A. Records. Debut set, SHOW YOUR HAND (1973) {*6}, turned out to be a fair start, but convincing radio stations on both sides of the Atlantic to give airtime to a Scots R&B combo proved to be tough going. The fact that smoochers such as `This World Has Music’ (penned by Gorrie and Leon Ware), `Put It Where You Want It’ (scribed with JOE SAMPLE) and the funky `T.L.C.’, became established when re-issued into the US Top 40 under a re-vamped PUT IT WHERE YOU WANT IT set (1975), was evidence enough.
Urged by CLAPTON’s tour manager, Bruce McCaskill, to uproot to Los Angeles, AWB were duly signed up to Atlantic Records, where American audiences could witness their cool sounds first-hand. Noted producer Arif Mardin was assigned the job of lifting them from nearly-men to international stars. AWB’s sophomore “White Album” set, AVERAGE WHITE BAND (1974) {*8}, slowly but surely trickled its way into the hearts and minds of black America, although its first attendant Stateside 45, `Nothing You Can Do’, bombed unceremoniously. Somehow, the single chosen for British consumption, the part-instrumental/part-chant `Pick Up The Pieces’ (a flop when released that July), was subsequently unleashed in the US with somewhat surprising results, eventually scaling the charts early in ’75. When the parent album mirrored the success of the disco-fied platter, Old Blighty finally took notice, resulting in No.6 peak positions for both formats. Opposing B-sides from the UK and the US, `You Got It’ and The ISLEY BROTHERS’ `Work To Do’ respectively, were also LP highlights that surely deserved to be issued in their own right.
Celebrations, however, had been nipped in the bud with the shock accidental heroin overdose of Robbie McIntosh, while at a party in L.A. on 23 September 1974; thinking it was cocaine, Gorrie was saved by fellow party socialite, CHER.
One of the few bands from Scotland (never mind Dundee!) to make it big in the States, what was even more ironic was that they didn’t fit the usual Celtic musical stereotypes (i.e. folky, anthemic etc.), instead opting for a white funk/soul sound with top flight harmonies inspired by black artists of the 60s (The ISLEY BROTHERS, MARVIN GAYE, AL GREEN et al). The lock-tight rhythmic shuffle and classy horn stabs of the aforementioned `Pick Up…’ assured the track a place in funk history, the record still being played out on dance-floors today.
AWB eventually found a replacement in drummer Steve Ferrone (a black Englishman from BRIAN AUGER’s Oblivion Express). Dogged by the death of Robbie and the odd creative/artistic difference, the group began work on a Top 5 follow-up set, CUT THE CAKE (1975) {*6}. Another sizeable Stateside success, the record’s largely instrumental workouts weren’t so enthusiastically embraced by a British audience. On one hand “picking up the.. er pieces” with the similarly-themed US Top 10 title track, on the other, finding their funk feet again by way of Leon Ware’s `If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ and the group-penned `School Boy Crush’ (both Top 40 entries), this slice of nostalgic soul pie lacked a bit of icing.
As the UK musical climate changed during the ensuing few years, AWB concentrated on America, their laidback, sun-kissed soul continuing to soundtrack Californian idyll. The creamy-rich `Queen Of My Soul’ – a Hamish Stuart cue spawned from the Top 10 set, SOUL SEARCHING (1976) {*7} – was the group’s last major hit in Britain for three years. `Everybody’s Darling’, `I’m The One’ and the melodiously hypnotic `A Love Of Your Own’, might’ve flopped as singles, but their strength as album tracks delighted their stalwart fanbase.
Spread over two live-in-concert discs, the sextet duly stretched out their wares on PERSON TO PERSON (1977) {*6}. Whether self-indulgent renditions of `T.L.C.’, `Pick Up The Pieces’ (the latter clocking in at an “Autobahn”-length of over 18 minutes) and a finale cover of Whitfield-Strong’s `I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ showed off their abilities or their staying power, was one for a jury.
Pooling resources with the great BEN E. KING for a collaborative, Arif Mardin-produced BENNY AND US (1977) {*5}, it seemed like a good idea at the time, although the high gloss and sheen on many of the covers (including their take of JOHN LENNON’s `Imagine’) was lost on the critics; the album hovered outside the US Top 40, while attendant 45s `A Star In The Ghetto’ (penned by Phillip Mitchell) and `Get It Up’ (from Ned Doheny) only created a stir in the R&B charts.
On the back of a mainstream-motivated OHIO PLAYERS-meets-EW&F type set, WARMER COMMUNICATIONS (1978) {*6} – featuring a cover of JAMES TAYLOR’s `Daddy’s All Gone’ and the funk-driven `Your Love Is A Miracle’, most pundits were back on course for their transatlantic Top 40 return in the sturdy, David Foster produced FEEL NO FRET (1979) {*7} album. The evocative `Atlantic Avenue’ was another defining AWB moment, while `When Will You Be Mine’, `Too Late To Cry’, the TEMPTATIONS-like title track and a rendition of BACHARACH & DAVID’s `Walk On By’, were other tasty cuts. Having signed to RCA Victor in Britain, the group’s time with Atlantic was over when Arista (in America) duly took them under their wing at the turn of the decade.
But for AWB’s most enduring track since “Pick Up The Pieces”, the yearning disco classic `Let’s Go ‘Round Again’ (only their second UK Top 20 hit), was a lonely delight on the accompanying SHINE (1980) {*4}. This album marked a last stand of sorts, a subsequent effort, CUPID’S IN FASHION (1982) {*3}, seeing them floundering in tepid waters.
Inevitably, AWB split the following year, only ALAN GORRIE and his lone set, SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (1985) {*5}, giving followers (American-only) something to sink their teeth into; a rejuvenated Hamish found fame as sidekick in ERIC CLAPTON’s band. Equally inevitably, perhaps, AWB re-formed towards the end of the decade. A line-up of Gorrie, McIntyre and Ball recruited veteran Alex Ligertwood and a couple of session players (plus CHAKA KHAN and The OHIO PLAYERS) for the excruciating, John Robie-produced AFTERSHOCK (1989) {*3}.
Though they duly turned their backs on the studio, AWB continue to draw in the crowds every year with regular tours of the UK including a residency at London’s Jazz Café. With various shifting personnel, the main trio/group continued to release the odd album, SOUL TATTOO (1997) {*4} – featuring multi-instrumentalist Eliot Lewis and drummer Pete Abbott – plus concert CD FACE TO FACE LIVE (1999) {*5} representing a fresh phase of the once-mighty AWB. Post-millennium was as sparse, only two further live sets, SOUL & THE CITY (2008) {*5} – recorded live at B.B. KING’s – and the 2009-recorded TIMES SQUARED: LIVE FROM NEW YORK (2013) {*6}, surfaced to appease their long-standing fanbase.
Activity was resumed after personnel changes left only originals Gorrie and McIntyre (plus tenor sax/keyboards man Fred Vigdor and drummer Rocky Bryant) roping in fresh faces Brent Carter (vocals; to replace Monte Croft), bass/keyboardist Robert Aries (to supersede Morris Pleasure) and alto saxophonist Cliff Lyons. This septet presented the group’s first record for yonks – the live AWB R&B (2016) {*6}, followed by the part-studio/part-live offering INSIDE OUT (2018) {*6}; the latter showcasing a re-tread of The ISLEY BROTHERS’ `Harvest For The World’, featuring Chris Jasper.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2013-May2019

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