Average White Band
Average White Band
Formed in London, England, in 1972, Average White Band, or AWB, introduced funk and soul musical elements into the popular rock ‘n’ roll idiom, thereby introducing many European and American audiences to music traditionally associated with African American performers and listeners. The band’s ability to Exposé international white audiences to funk music is credited by some music historians as the beginning of the disco era, in which Western musicians of various races and ethnic backgrounds borrowed rhythmic elements from such African American musicians as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Larry Graham, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins to create a rhythmic dance music that obscured racial categories.
The band’s first incarnation, from 1972 to 1982, is the period for which they are best regarded. The ensemble was founded by six Scotsmen—Alan Gorrie, Owen “Onnie” Mclntyre, Roger Ball, Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, Robbie Mclntosh, and Hamish Stuart—who had established themselves individually and in various groupings as strong support musicians for well-known acts. For example, Ball and Duncan had been members of the Dundee Horns, Gorrie and Mclntosh had played with Brian Auger and Ben E. King, and Mclntosh and Mclntyre supported Chuck Berry on his only number-one recording, “My Ding-a-Ling.”
Bass player and singer Gorrie and saxophonist Duncan were roommates in London. The pair asked keyboardist and saxophonist Ball, a former art school classmate of Duncan’s, and Mclntyre, a guitarist and vocalist acquaintance from Glasgow, to form a band that they hoped would draw comparisons to the soul band the Detroit Spinners. Unlike the Spinners, however, the new band would play its own instruments. Michael Rosen was selected to play trumpet but quit shortly thereafter, leaving the band with two saxophone players, a combination that gave the group a sound resembling that of the Stax/Volt musicians the Memphis Horns. Mclntosh joined the band as its drummer. Stuart rounded out the lineup as a second lead vocalist and guitarist.
The musicians honed their style by playing European clubs and American military bases, and they appeared at the Lincoln Festival, in Lincoln, England. American singer Bonnie Bramlett saw the band and dubbed them Average White Band after hearing their heavily soul-influenced sound. In 1973 they were selected as the opening act for Eric Clapton’s all-star comeback performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London, an event that was organized by the Who’s Pete Townshend and featured Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Rick Grech. Later the same year, the group recorded its first album for MCA Records, Show Your Hand. The album was well received by critics, but it did not attract record buyers. The band did embark on a successful tour of the United States and Canada, leading to a relocation to the United States. AWB signed with classic soul and jazz label Atlantic Records in 1974 and teamed with
Members include Pete Abbott (born on November 9, 1963, in Pomona, CA; joined group, 1996), drums; Roger Ball (born on June 4, 1944, in Dundee, Scotland; left group, 1997), keyboards, saxophone, vocals; Adam Deitch, drums; Malcolm “Molly” Duncan (born on August 24, 1945, in Montrose, Scotland), saxophone; Brian Dunne, drums; Steve Ferrone (born on April 25, 1950, in Sussex, England; group member, 1974-82), drums; Alan Gorrie (born on July 19, 1946, in Perth, Scotland), bass guitar, vocals; Elliot Lewis (born on March 10, 1962, in Norwalk, CT; joined group, 1989), guitar, keyboards, vocals; Alex Ligertwood (born on December 18, 1946, in Glasgow, Scotland; group member, 1988-96), vocals; Robbie Mclntosh (born in 1950 in Scotland; died in 1974 in Los Angeles, CA), drums; Owen “Onnie” Mclntyre (born on September 25, 1945, in Lennoxtown, Scotland), rhythm guitar, vocals; Hamish Stuart (born on October 8, 1949, in Glasgow, Scotland), guitar, vocals; Fred Vigdor (born on February 23, 1958, in Norwalk, CT; joined group, 1997), saxophones.
Group formed in London, England, 1972; opening act for Eric Clapton’s comeback Rainbow Theatre concert, 1973; released debut album, Show Your Hand, 1973; issued second album, Average White Band, 1974; single “Pick Up the Pieces” entered U.S. and U.K. popular music charts, 1975; released million-selling follow-up Cut the Cake, 1975; group disbanded, 1982; group re-formed with Gorrie, Ball, Mclntyre, and vocalist Ligertwood, 1989.
Addresses: Website — Average White Band Official Website: http://www.averagewhiteband.com.
producer Arif Mardin to produce the album Average White Band. Mardin, who would go on to eventually produce the comeback disco albums of the Bee Gees, assisted Average White Band in finding a sound that was crisp, rhythmic, and distinctive.
The band’s newfound success was darkened by the tragic death of drummer Mclntosh in September of 1974. The band had been celebrating a successful week-long set of performances at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles at a party in honor of Gregg Allman, and Mclntosh ingested strychnine-laced heroin that he believed was cocaine. Gorrie also consumed the poisoned drug, but party guest Cher kept him awake until he received medical attention. In the meantime, the Average White Band album was both a critical and commercial success, and the album’s first single, “Pick Up the Pieces,” went to number one in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In a review at Rolling-Stone.com, critic Bud Scoppa commented: “Every track on Average White Band pulsates with a tightly reigned energy, and several weave a low-keyed poignancy through the thick, churning rhythms. From every conceivable angle … the AWB impresses here in an assured, forceful way.” After auditioning several drummers to replace Mclntosh, the band hired Steve Ferrone, a longtime friend of the band and former drummer of the group Bloodstone. In an ironic twist on the band’s name, Ferrone also became the first African American member of the band. Ferrone debuted with the band at two benefit concerts honoring Mclntosh at London’s Marquee Club in January of 1975. AWB’s success led MCA to reissue their first album, Show Your Hand, retitled as Put It Where You Want It, in 1975.
Average White Band retired to the Newport, Rhode Island, home of Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun, to compose material for their next album, which was also produced by Mardin. The resulting album, Cut the Cake, was released in 1975 and yielded three hit singles: the title track, “Schoolboy Crush,” and a cover version of Leon Ware and Pam Sawyer’s “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” “Schoolboy Crush” became increasingly popular on R&B radio stations. The rhythm section from the song’s opening was eventually sampled by hip-hop act TLC for their 1992 hit single “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg.” Mardin produced the band’s next album, Soul Searching, which was released in 1976 and yielded a modest hit with the Hamish Stuart song “Queen of My Soul.” AWB followed this release with a double-live album, Person to Person, in 1977. That same year the band collaborated with former Drifters lead singer and solo artist Ben E. King on the album Ben E. King and Us, which was arranged by Luther Vandross and premiered live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. AWB recorded their last album with Mardin in 1978; its title, Warmer Communications, was a pun indicating Atlantic Records’ purchase by Warner Communications.
Average White Band self-produced their next album, Feel No Fret, which they recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. The album was their most commercially successful since their Average White Band release and included a remake of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, “Walk On By.” The band subsequently signed with RCA Records for its North American releases and Arista Records for its United Kingdom albums. AWB recorded three more albums, Shine, Average White Band Volume VIII, and Cupid’s in Fashion, before disbanding in 1982. In 1989 Gorrie, Ball, and Mclntyre re-formed the Average White Band and released the album Aftershock with former Santana vocalist Alex Ligertwood and new keyboardist Elliot Lewis. This version of the band recorded and released Aftershock in 1988. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, the Average White Band has featured a varying lineup in addition to several of the founding members. The band recorded Soul Tattoo in 1997 and Face to Face in 1998.
Show Your Hand, MCA, 1973; reissued as Put It Where You Want It, 1975.
Average White Band, Atlantic, 1974.
Cut the Cake, Atlantic, 1975.
Soul Searching, Atlantic, 1976.
Person to Person, Atlantic, 1977.
Benny and Us, Atlantic, 1977.
Warmer Communications, Atlantic, 1978; reissued as Warmer Communications … and More, Rhino, 1994.
Feel No Fret, Atlantic 1979; reissued as Feel No Fret… and More, Rhino, 1994.
Shine, RCA, 1982.
Cupid’s in Fashion, RCA, 1982.
Best of the Average White Band, RCA, 1984.
Aftershock, Polydor, 1988.
Pickin’ Up the Pieces: The Best of the Average White Band (1974-1980), Rhino, 1992.
Live on the Test, Griffin, 1995.
Soul Tattoo, Foundation, 1997.
Face to Face, Average, 1998.
Very Best of the Average White Band, Crimson, 1998.
Classic Cuts, Snapper, 1998.
The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Salamander Books, 1986.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
“Average White Band,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 20, 2002).
“Average White Band,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/recordings/review.asp?aid=48377&cf=170 (April 20, 2002).
Average White Band Official Website, http://www.averagewhiteband.com (April 20, 2002).
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