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.