Rambling around those swampy crossroads of punk/soul/rockabilly Barrence Whitfield and The Savages are creating that garage lo-fi R & B that just rattles and shakes like 50?s boogie-woogie on a three day bender.
The Boston based collective throws down with abandon, teetering on the edge of the stage, but never collapsing off of it. Whitfield’s voice screeches and screams mid way between Little Richard and Screaming Jay Hawkins as The Savages propel the fury forward. “The Corner Man” punches things off powerfully as the stripped down raw jangle motors fiercely around the ring. The swaggering blues of “My Baby Didn’t Come Home” would sound proper pumping from a roadhouse juke, listening with a beer in hand.
Tracks like “Show Me Baby” and “Sugar” amp up decades past R &;B while scuffing up the edges and injecting pure energy into the mix. The groups unique take on the age old money problem titled “Bread” is unique yet completely within the mold of this punk/soul style. The disk closing “Turn Your Damper Down” is a careening rickety roller coaster ride, exciting from take off to crash landing
Whitfield’s lyrics stay in the tried and true boy/girl issues realm and don’t really elevate things, but the singing style and playing mesh so well, the words come secondary. Whether it is their surf rock inspired “Blackjack” or their hip shaking hound-dog light “Hey Hey Little Girl” the five piece of Barrence Whitfield (vocals), Peter Greenberg (guitar), Phil Lenker (bass), Andy Jody (drums), and Tom Quartulli (sax) play with freedom and a rawness that is invigorating. – Glide Magazine
Posts Tagged ‘dig_thy_savage_soul’
Rambling around those swampy crossroads of punk/soul/rockabilly Barrence Whitfield and The Savages are creating that garage lo-fi R & B that just rattles and shakes like 50?s boogie-woogie on a three day bender.
Barrence Whitfield occupies stages like a man possessed, a relentless quality he’s also brought to the studio with his band, the Savages, on his last two albums: 2010’s Savage Kings and the new, mind-blowing Dig Thy Savage Soul.
In phone conversation, Whitfield’s manner is serenely reserved, as if he’s conserving energy for the impending thermonuclear explosion that characterizes every Savages gig. And yet Whitfield’s determination, conviction and passion are evident in every response he gives, with one particular stand-out.
“Peter Greenberg,” Whitfield says, touting the Savages’ original and latest versions. “There wouldn’t be a Barrence Whitfield without Peter Greenberg. I’m proud to have been able to lend my voice to it and to have Peter be the master guru of everything.”
Whitfield’s potent endorsement refers to Cincinnati’s own Peter Greenberg, the extraordinary Customs’ guitarist in the late ‘70s, who played with DMZ and The Lyres after his ‘80s relocation to Boston (where Whitfield still lives).
“A friend, who worked at the same record store that Peter and I got x-ed out of, suggested Peter was putting together a new band and that he was looking for a black singer who could scream and shout like Little Richard and I thought, ‘I can do that,’ “ Whitfield says. “I listened to enough of that stuff to know what it takes. We met at his house over a boiling pot of chili and listened to some great records. I don’t think I opened my mouth to sing before he said, ‘I think I got my guy.’ We hit it off quickly.”
The Savages became an undeniable sensation in Boston and along the East Coast with their incendiary live shows and releases (the eponymous 1984 debut album and 1985’s Dig Yourself). Perfect-storm proponents of a wickedly cool hybrid of ‘50s R&B, ‘60s Soul and Garage Rock, with a slightly snotty touch of ‘70s Punk, the Savages’ local legend grew exponentially, eventually accruing a U.K. fanbase which included rabid supporters Elvis Costello and Robert Plant.
As the Savages’ popularity peaked, Greenberg left music for the energy industry, a path he followed for 20 years (he currently lives in New Mexico).
Whitfield maintained his James Brown/Little Richard/Screamin’ Jay Hawkins performance style, assembling a new Savages lineup that was good but couldn’t approach the original’s unhinged glory.
In 2008, Shake It Records co-owner Darren Blase and DJ/The Long Gones’ vocalist Bryan Dilsizian approached the scattered Customs about performing for a 30th anniversary celebration of the Shake It label, which released the band’s two seminal 45s. Everyone agreed to the reunion, even Greenberg, who hadn’t played guitar in two decades.
“That was the first show in a long time and it was a lot of fun, even though I couldn’t play very well again yet,” Greenberg says. “I was kind of rusty. It was fun, so that got me going. I had stopped short and didn’t play for a long time and it was exciting and I was inspired again. The analogy is — I was frozen in ice for 25 years like a Neanderthal that all of the sudden got thawed out and I was the exact same thing I was in the past.”
Soon after, Ace Records inquired about re-releasing the first Savages album and Greenberg scoured his archives for bonus material. After meeting with Whitfield about the project, the two considered reuniting the Savages for a new album. In short order, Whitfield, Greenberg and original bassist Phil Lenker were joined by saxophonist Tom Quartulli, former Customs keyboardist/Cincinnati music icon Jim Cole and veteran local drummer Andy Jody.
“I definitely feel lucky that I hooked up with these guys,” Jody says. “It’s a really fun gig and we all get along. When we did the first record, they came to Cincinnati and we rehearsed at my house. We did demos and learned them the best we could and cranked out the record in a week. This (new album) was easier in a way because we were playing together for a couple of years and we could do more original stuff.”
“It was great to be able to make these records and I think they’re probably better than the ones we originally did,” Greenberg says. “We have more maturity and when you get old, you don’t really give a shit what other people think and you seem to have more confidence. Barry never loses his enthusiasm, and he can sing better now than he did then, as far as I can tell. We feel we can do anything.”
The Savages’ triumphant comeback, Savage Kings, was recorded in Cincinnati at Ultrasuede and produced by John Curley; Blase released the U.S. version on Shake It, while the Monster imprint handled it in Spain. The band garnered tons of positive press and did some limited touring (a few U.S. dates and a couple of European tours), and almost immediately began working on the follow-up.
“We made the new record first and called (respected modern Roots music label) Bloodshot and said, ‘We’ve got a finished record, let us know what you think,’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll put that out,’ ” Greenberg says. “It was pretty simple.”
Recorded just like its predecessor, Dig Thy Savage Soul is inspiring almost universal adulation and the Savages are embarking on their most extensive U.S. tour to date, followed by a European jaunt where they’ll film an episode of Later … with Jools Holland.
For their MOTR Pub shows this weekend, the Savages will play two sets each night: the first a tribute to King Records with several guest vocalists (including The Customs’ Thom Heil, The Auburnaires’ Vince Gray, the Hiders’ Beth Harris and The Stardevils’ Lance Kaufman); the second, a straight Savages set packed with songs from the first two and last two albums, and maybe even some new tracks from their next album.
I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy. It happens. But when you let being ‘busy’ take you away from things you want and should do for yourself, you’ve stopped living for simply existing. Not acceptable.
Thankfully, I saw the light and decided that the cure for my “busy trap” was to check out the new album Dig Thy Savage Soul from Barrence Whitfield & the Savages. The album came out last month on Bloodshot Records and has been glaring at me from my To-Do list for far too long. It was just the right prescription. And now I’m sharing the dose with you.
5 Reasons Why You Need to Hear Barrence Whitfield & the Savages’ Dig Thy Savage Soul
1. If Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry,Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard formed a band, with Willie Dixon as the producer, they would make this album. Forget “Blurred Lines” being ‘reminiscent of a sound’ this IS the sound. It’s the perfect recipe of Rhythm & Blues and Rock n’ Roll that turned parents and teenagers against each other over half a century ago.
2. THAT VOICE. A mix of Howlin’ Wolf and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Whitfield has a voices that shrills and kills. It’s scratchy, powerful, and soulful growl, but not in a boisterous way. Classic.
3. It ain’t all about the guitars. Behind the amazing voice, saxophones and keyboards drive many of the songs, the guitar is all about the rhythm. Don’t get me wrong, the guitar lines and solos are awesome, but be ready to get blown away by some rock n’ roll sax and keys as well.
4. “I’m Sad About It“. I’ve always loved the Sam Cooke song “Sad Mood” due to its pleasant musical tone and simple instrumentation. The ‘sad’ song is so beautifully executed it makes me smile. On the contrary, “I’m Sad About It” just makes you feel sad… and upset, deep down in the pit of your stomach. Like a page torn straight from a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins songbook it’s filled with shrieks and hollers, and the keyboards will drive you mad. You’ll never want to have a bad dream again, or at least have a punching bag ready for when you wake up. I also love the use of musical pause in this one.
5. Timeless. They say age is nothing but a number and here that rings true. At 58, Whitfield is releasing his first album with the Savages in nearly twenty years. A lot can happen in two decades, lucky for us that period only made this band stronger. Barrence Whitfield & the Savages sound fresh, full of energy, and ready to power forward no matter what.
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages‘ upcoming album Dig Thy Savage Soul (out Aug. 13) is the rock and R&B group’s first American release in about 20 years, and a fierce next chapter for the raucous soul and rockabilly-influenced band. I recently caught up with Whitfield — the group’s fiery frontman — by phone, from his home in Massachusetts, to talk about cases of mistaken identity, the group’s long history, and the new record.
Where did the band’s name come from?
We started up in 1983 in Boston, in a place near Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. We were just rehearsing, trying to figure out names and someone blurted out “Savages” because we were savages with this go-for-the-throat music. We needed to get the point across.
Your given name is actually “Barry White” – which you changed early on. Did you really think folks would confuse your gritty, rock n roll voice with his smooth croon?
You know that’s the big joke — where you show your ID and they look at you, and they look at the name and say “sing a couple of songs!” So I changed my name from Barry to Barrence. And from White to Whitfield.
But actually, I found out about a year and a half ago that Barry White’s real name was Barrence Eugene Carter. Isn’t that something?
This group hasn’t released an album here in about 20 years. Why did you decide to bring back the Savages?
We all went our separate ways a long time ago. My guitar player, Peter Greenberg. who produced the record, went and became a successful business man, and so did the bass player. They all went their separate ways, and I continued on with my music throughout.
But we got back in touch [a few years ago], we were talking… got together, we started saying to ourselves, “Let’s try it again! Let’s get back to where we left off.” And here we are a few years later. We’re pretty much still the same band that rips the brain cells and throats of human beings every time we play.
The first song on the album is “The Corner Man.” You didn’t write this — guitarist Peter Greenberg did — but it sure sounds personal.
The song is in metaphors of boxing, if you’re familiar with the sport of boxing. The boxer always has a corner man who tells him what to do in the boxing ring. You go out there, you listen, you come back and he fixes you up. It’s the first song [on the record] and it gives you a knockout punch, like “pow!” It hits you and you have to listen to it.
Are you the corner man?
I’m the corner man, sending the boxer out there to do a job that needs to be done. He needs to get a win, he needs to get a knock out. He needs to know who he is as a boxer and a man — the power and the knowledge. And I’m pushing the lever for him.
BEVERLY — While playing a block party here recently, the one-man R&B wrecking machine who calls himself Barrence Whitfield was reminded of Grover’s, the old Beverly nightclub where his band, the Savages, often tore the roof off.
“People’s heads would be smokin’, ” recalled the stocky frontman with a grin.
For the better part of two decades, Whitfield has sustained that energy, bringing his yowling brand of classic rock ’n’ roll from New England’s working-class stages to the summer festivals of Europe and Japan with a rotating cast of backing musicians. Now he’s reunited with Peter Greenberg, the guitarist who helped him create the Barrence Whitfield persona in the mid-1980s. Their new album, “Dig Thy Savage Soul,” out next Tuesday, has all kinds of smoke coming out of its ears.
For years, when Whitfield traveled overseas, he relied on a network of pickup musicians to back him up, “like Chuck Berry,” he said, signing a stack of posters in a coffee shop a few hours before the block party. Offstage, he’s a gentle soul with little round glasses and matching hoops in his pierced ears. Behind the microphone, he’s possessed by the ghosts of rock past.
Middle East Downstairs, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge 617-864-3278.http://www.mideastclub.com
- Date of concert:
- Sept. 7, 8 p.m.
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He recently performed in Dubai, where “I was jumping on the tables in front of the sheiks,” he said. “It just goes to show that rock ’n’ roll is everywhere.”
One place it was not was in Greenberg’s life, for almost a quarter-century. The guitarist, known to Boston fans as a founding member of DMZ and a key member of the Lyres, quit playing music when he earned a degree in environmental policy and began a career in the energy business. Living in Taos, N.M., after selling his business to the country’s largest solar panel manufacturer, he began reissuing albums a few years ago by those early groups and the Customs, a beloved garage band he formed in Cincinnati in the late 1970s (between his stints in DMZ and the Lyres).
When Greenberg cut a deal with Ace Records to reissue the Savages’ 1984 debut, he invited Whitfield out to Taos, where they began working on new music together. After releasing an album with a label in Spain two years ago, they set their sights on reestablishing the Savages name in America. “Dig Thy Savage Soul” is poised to do just that, with the enthusiastic support of their new label, Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, an upcoming showcase on NPR’s World Cafe Live, and a record release party Sept. 7 at the Middle East in Cambridge.
“I think this record is going to explode all over,” said Whitfield. “Better late than never!”
A connoisseur of vintage rock ’n’ roll, he can still be found behind the counter at the Record Exchange in Salem, just over the bridge from his home in Beverly.
“It’s my life,” said Whitfield, who was born Barry White. “I’m very proud of what we’ve put out, and very excited to get a second chance.”
After studying to be a news anchor at Boston University and Emerson College, he dropped out; Greenberg convinced him to try performing while both were working at Nuggets in Kenmore Square. Since there was already a singing Barry White, they came up with Whitfield’s stage name.
“Truthfully, if it wasn’t for Peter, there would be no Barrence Whitfield,” he said.
The new album, a graduate seminar in delirious, soulful rock, features several can’t-miss songs with lyrics by Michael Mooney, a Taos musician with whom Greenberg plays in a local band called Manby’s Head. (The band is named for the Taos legend of Arthur Manby, a British speculator whose decapitated body was found in 1929.) Mooney writes with a flair that’s unusual for the Savages’ no-frills style of rock and R&B, which builds off the Louis Jordan and Bill Haley jump blues songs Whitfield often covers onstage. One of his songs on “Dig Thy Savage Soul,” “Oscar Levant,” makes the arch mid-century TV intellectual the unlikely subject of a hard-charging garage rock song.
Mooney is “kind of an art-rock guy,” explained Greenberg, on the phone from Texas, where he lived for a time until moving to Taos. “It’s my job to keep him down the straight and narrow.”
The album’s lead track, “The Corner Man,” plays off a boxing metaphor: “I’ll teach you how to go the distance before you’re on the ropes again,” Whitfield howls as the band (including onetime Lyre Phil Lenker on bass) rages behind him.
“It hits you right in the gut, which is what it’s supposed to do,” said Whitfield. “[Mooney’s] a great songwriter.”
The original songs and the recruitment of two younger members, drummer Andy Jody and saxophonist Tom Quartulli, have given the band a new sense of vitality, said Greenberg, who, like Whitfield, is in his late 50s.
“We really didn’t want to keep repeating ourselves. Barry and I both have broad taste in music. We love to hunt records together. We love anything that’s honest, and rocks.”
He credits his own long hiatus from the music business with giving him a fresh perspective. “So many musicians degrade over time — they get worse or do more of the same. Whereas I didn’t have a chance to. It’s like I was frozen in ice.
“Some people, when they get as old as we are, you look at them and they’re old. We haven’t given up on life.”
Greenberg, said Whitfield, “wants to finish what he left off with us back in ’86.” And he couldn’t be more pleased. “Most people doing this music left great epitaphs,” he said. He won’t leave his own until he’s good and ready.
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 theBloodshot 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.
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages’ upcoming album, Dig Thy Savage Soul is the rock and R&B group’s first American release in about 20 years. Whitfield and the Savages’ have been playing together since 1983, and are internationally known for their unique fusion of rockabilly, jazz and funk. Whitfield, who contributes lead vocals to the Savages has been compared to the likes of artist Little Richard, and after hearing the opening track “The Corner Man” this listener can say Whitfield definitely has the set of pipes to back up those claims up. Whitfield’s shouts deliver a one-two punch to your ears effortlessly paired with guitarist Peter Greenburg’s rolling rockabilly guitar riffs. With the addition of some sweet saxophone this mix makes one bad ass rock and roll record.
My personal favorite song off the album is “I’m Sad About It”. In this track, Whitfield croons about heartbreak and deception all the while keeping his rough and tumble gritty sound. A close second is “Show Me Baby.” This track has a unique sound reminiscent of the early work of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry while boasting a very catchy chorus.
Overall this album is definitely worth a listen. It’s soulful yet all the while makes you want to wear all black to a biker bar and cause a real sweaty dance ruckus. Dig Thy Savage Soul drops August 13 and is released through Bloodshot Records.
In the Boston of the 1980s, Barrence Whitfield & the Savages shows were legend.
“Those were the days where I was pretty much throwing myself to the wolves — and the floor, the wall and the chandelier,” recalls Whitfield, the leather-lunged shouter who put a group of the town’s garage-rock veterans, like guitarist Peter Greenberg and bassist Phil Lenker, through frenzied sets of retro-styled R&B and obscure soul covers. “Each night, we’d walk off, Phil would have a bloodied lip. I’d be ripped up; my pants would be tattered in shreds. Peter’s wrist would be sliced up from strumming the guitar.”
The Savages disbanded by the end of that decade but regrouped in 2011 and released an album in Spain called Savage Tracks. While Whitfield may have learned how to survive a show intact, the group’s new Dig Thy Savage Soul, out Aug. 13 on Bloodshot Records, still showcases a wild musical abandon.
The Corner Man, premiering at USA TODAY, begins with blistering garage-rock guitar chords, before Whitfield comes in like a boxer intent on pummeling his opponent. The album also contains a handful of vintage covers, like Nashville R&B singer Bobby Hebb’s Bread, the B-side of his 1966 smash Sunny; deep-soul singer Lee Moses’ I’m Sad About It; and bluesman Harmonica Fats’ My Baby Didn’t Come Home Last Night.
The current Savages lineup includes Greenberg and Lenker from the band’s early days, as well as Andy Jody on drums, and Tom Quartulli on sax.
“We just got back in the studio, and these original songs started coming,” says Whitfield, who still lives in the Boston area. “We wanted to take another step up from the Savage Tracks record. I felt, coming out of that record sessions, that we should try to get an American deal, ’cause we were doing all this other stuff.”
The group currently has plans for a fall U.S. tour followed by several dates in Europe.