Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Average White Band

(UBM: As Funky Whiteboy Appreciation Week continues, I pass the mic to my friend DeAngelo Starnes, an online columnist at He’s gonna take y’all back to the glory days.)

The Funk Age (1967-’82) produced arguably the greatest hits in the history of popular dance music. Specifically, as pertains to black dance music, the hits from this era still contain the power they had at the time they were out. Unlike music from the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Funk Age music didn’t date at all.

The peak of the Funk Age was 1972-’76. It just seemed that everything you heard on the radio was baad. One of the baadest bands producing black dance music was the Average White Band.

When AWB broke onto the scene with their monster hit “Pick Up the Pieces,” nobody black I knew thought the band was white. They sounded black and we embraced them with no regards to color. It was their sound that mattered.

They solidified their status with their next album’s hits of “Cut the Cake,” “School Boy Crush” and their brilliant interpretation of “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.” (I yearn for the days when a cover meant an interpretation as opposed to a replay of the original.)

For my money, “Soul Searching” was their apex and most consistent effort, although they didn’t have the monster hits from that piece.

AWB’s hits usually featured their two saxophones’ sound spiraling some hip shit in and around the beat. Just as baad is the interaction between the guitars... plus the back and forth between lead vocalists Hamish Stuart (pictured below) and Alan Gorrie.

But dig the twin bass interplay on the cut “Love Your Life.” (Click here to listen.) That’s Hamish Stuart playing lead bass filtered through a flanger and wah-wah. The dramatic horn break-down was sampled on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhyme.”

The twin bass breakdown afterwards with Hamish’s scream in the background is simply nasty. The slow pace of the cut emphasizes the disciplined musicianship bands from that era displayed. Ask any musician, playing slow is much harder than playing fast.

Speaking of slow, “slow cuts” (black-radio term for “love song”) can be funky too. AWB took it to the next level on “A Love of Your Own.” (Click here to listen.) The lead sound seems like another flanger but on the guitar this time. That was the thing in the ’70s, baad musicians playing with these effects toys. Roger Ball, who doubled as the keyboard player, plays a beautifully romantic solo on the alto saxophone.

And if you have the album or desire to purchase it, please check “Queen of My Soul,” which is my theme song when I get depressed. Malcolm Duncan tears it up on the tenor saxophone. Hamish is at his best expressing how critical music is to all of our lives. This song displays the versatility of 70s bands and how funky jazz (or how jazzy funk) could be.

I would recommend that any serious lover of Funk Age music purchase AWB’s “White Album” (“Person to Person” is a muthafucka), “Cut the Cake,” “Soul Searching” and their live album “Person to Person.”

(What happened to live albums anyway? They end with MTV’s Unplugged series? And talk about disciplined musicianship, check this live album and you’ll know how baad a band AWB is.)

When it comes to music, don’t discriminate. If you’re baad, you’re baad. By the way, the Average White Band used that label to diminish how baad they were. Hailing from Scotland, they felt they were performing on an “average” level compared to their black American soul music heroes. More than I can say for the Osmond Brothers, New Kids on the Block and Michael Bolton.
– DeAngelo Starnes


Anonymous said...

not only can they sing, they understand the true beauty of single malt. white american boys...where did we as a culture go wrong?

Reginald Hudlin said...

From the humility of their band name to the soul and high craftmanship of their music, AWB has always been truly beloved. Many have tried to recreate JB-level funkitude, but PICK UP THE PIECES and CUT THE CAKE succeed.

Great post.

Lola Gets said...

I remember funkin out to this band during my childhood - great post!

Undercover Black Man said...

DeAng: Have you heard Russell Thompkins’ superb rendition of "A Love of Your Own"? Click here. I can’t believe how well his falsetto has held up.

This track was on last year’s 3 Tenors of Soul album... produced by Bobby Eli, a funky whiteboy in his own right, who played rhythm guitar on tons of Philly hits.

Anonymous said...

When is someone doing the Gino Vanelli blog post?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Thanks for the kind words Reginald and Lola. Thanks to David Mills for allowing me to express my thoughts about one of my all-time favorite bands.

The thing I love about Funk Age bands is their musicianship. They could play instruments, sing, and in many instances, dance. They would play three hour shows without repeating ideas.

And they had disciplined musicianship even though they may have been high, if from nothing else but the contact from all the weed being openly smoked in the concert venues. (Another thing missed from back in the day. We didn't have to take "Just Say No" to that level. Now we have to pony up to crowded bars.)

Another funky white boy group in the same instrumental vein was The Brecker Brothers. Session musicians led by Randy and the late Michael Brecker, including Dave Sanborn, Steve Khan, and Will Lee, these boys could funk with the best of them.

Great idea, Dave, and am enjoying this week. Didn't realize how many funky white boys there were out there. And not the fakers like Gino Vanelli.

Woe said...

I really dig this band man; I don't consider them to be a white band doing black music, to me, they were black music. It's like they came from the school of JB. I always knew about them and their tunes, but I never really checked for them until I seen them doin their thing on a Best of Soul Train episode performing live. I knew them white boys had it, but I ain't know they were doin it like that! So I started looking more into the group as well as some of the individual members. Hey, did yall know that some of the group members were the nucleus of Chaka Khan's back up band for her first couple albums? I remember a post bout a few months ago with some randoms from the UBM record collection with one track there, "Tearin' It Up" by Chaka, you can hear Hamish Stewart on back-up.

mynameismyname said...

Wow, you put a smile on my face today, UBM!

Finally someone else sees the brillance in AWB's "Soul Searching" LP. That's one of my all time favorite albums. Yet, it's one of their least famous. Every song is a winner. Hell, "Love of Your Own" has been remade several times (it used to be an Apollo contestant staple) and as the article noted, Tribe sampled the horn breakdown on "Love Your Life". Brand Nubian looped up the fat bassline (and some of the guitars and horns, as well) on their 1994 party track "Word Is Bond".

Wow, just thinking about that album, makes me want to pick through my crates and put it on my turntable!


jjbrock said...

Pick up the pieces who could forget that sound. AWB, were one of my favorite bands.

Anonymous said...

Who's got dibs on writing the Jamiroquai post?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ You'll have to settle for a vidclip in the upper-right corner. 'Tis funky, though.

Salsa said...

AWB the best white band EVER!!!!

Dollar Bill said...

Great piece.
"Stop The Rain" is another start of the night favorite and for a change from the overplayed,"Same Feeling,Different Song",their hat tip to formula and popularity.

However,now that I have seen your comment,"And not the fakers like Gino Vanelli.",I am obligated to trash another fellow Canadian,that in my opinion ruined AWB,you know who I'm talkin' 'bout.

I like some of Gino's, Stevie influenced stuff and regardless of what David says,am not a self hating Canuck!LOL

bklyn6 said...

I think every black household (in NYC anyway), owned "Pick Up the Pieces." :-D

Wasn't there a light-skindid dude in this band?

Woe said...

^^^Yeah, drummer Steve Ferrone, black british dude. I think he was a later addition to the group.

mynameismyname said...

Yeah, Steve Ferrone, was the funky drummer in the band. And he was a brotha. (One was far from "light skinded" as Brklyn6 bizarrely labeled him). So, an above average black skin bleeder in an above average white band. Works for me. said...

Hey there!

I remember that album cover from when I was a! *smirk*

I still don't think that AWB was funkier than Wild Cherry though...

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Besides Hamish and the horns, Steve Ferrone was my favorite part of the band. Dig his drumming and you see why he was key to the band's sound. Especially on "If I Ever Lose This Heaven"