December 28, 2017
Average White Band – AWB
Despite seeing The Average White Band live then it wasn’t until sometime later that I really got into this majestic Scottish Soul outfit and bought their records. I’d seen them supporting Wishbone Ash; sadly like most support bands I’ve ever seen then I just wished them away so that my reason for being at the gig could start.
The ‘White’ album by AWB has folklore attached to it and is revered in many circles as one of the very best Soul albums ever released. This improbable collection of Scotsmen found themselves in the USA after recording this, their second, album which their then record label, MCA, subsequently had no interest in releasing. By this stage the band had played together for some time and their ‘sound’, song writing and machine precision tightness had been developed to such a degree that Los Angeles rather than Dundee came to mind.
After the blow of rejection then as luck would have it they met Jerry Wexler (of Atlantic Records and the mentor of Aretha Franklin) at a party. They had their tapes with them. He knew gold when he heard it and the band were despatched to Florida to record the album, again, with legendary Soul producer, Arif Mardin.
This 40+ minutes of Soul nirvana caught the USA by surprise after it’s release by the very ‘whiteness’ of the band. Black radio stations happily (ignorant of its Caucasian origins) played the singles. Inevitably black audiences streamed into venues to witness the music first hand. Considerable amazement followed as six badly dressed and very hairy pale Scots strode onto the stage. The disappointment soon passed as the act caught fire.
The album also caught fire and made it’s way to the top of the US Billboard 200 and spawned the funky single “Pick Up The Pieces” with its repetitive signature riff and chorus. This ascended all the way to the top of the US charts (it had initially failed to chart in the UK) and possibly more remarkable was that the song was an instrumental.
Classic Soul Funk groups had that telepathy amongst them. These musicians produced such a tightly produced sound – it propelled your hips and feet as if you were being physically prodded. So it was with Alan Gorrie’s thumping bass, the technically sophisticated yet hypnotic drumming of Robbie McIntosh, the silky, catchy and driving rhythm guitar of Onnie McIntyre interplays with Hamish Stuart’s lead guitar. Add the saxophones of Roger Ball and ‘Molly’ Duncan and you’re transported to Soul heaven.
Nine of the 10 tracks are originals. Gorrie and Stuart share the vocals. Their plaintive tenor falsettos are heart felt and pleading throughout. When they share a vocal then the fit and harmonies are as tight as the rhythm section.
Not all the songs are turbo charged. When they take it down with “Just Wanna Love You Tonight” strings are introduced. We hear of an assignation before lovers are parted with a long tour lying ahead. The vocals are expressive and mellifluous.
After the romantic interlude they find another gear seamlessly and speed is regained with “Keepin’ It To Myself”. A sax introduction makes way for Gorrie’s vocal. More heartbreak unfolds as he concludes that he’s not sharing his love after yet more disappointment.
Aside from the Number 1 single then most memorable is the cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do”. I always liked the lyrics that explain to a long-suffering wife why he’s not home.
There are some amazing British exports, like Rolls Royce. Just like the car then AWB were amongst our most refined, high quality, beautifully crafted and unique gifts to the world.