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.