Alan Gorrie (AWB): Everybody Be Cool... Real cool!
With their early origins lying in Scotland’s thriving R&B scene of the Sixties, world-conquering self-contained Scottish funk/soul outfit Average White Band return to the UK this summer to perform at the Henley-On-Thames-based Rewind Festival plus three nights at Camden’s Jazz Café.
Actually formed in London in 1972, the outfit (whose line-up at the time comprised Scotsmen Alan Gorrie; Onnie McIntyre; Hamish Stuart; Roger Ball; Malcolm Duncan; and Robbie McIntosh) released their critically-acclaimed but relatively-poor-selling debut album ‘Show Your Hand’ through MCA Records in 1973. However, it was after a relocation to the USA in 1974 found them prestigiously signing to the mighty Atlantic Records, that bona fide success first arrived with the release later the same year of their Gold-selling sophomore set ‘Average White Band’. A Number One pop and R&B album in The States, said LP additionally spawned a Grammy-nominated Number One US pop single with the Gold-selling funk instrumental ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, which also went on to become a significant international hit. Following which (with black, Brighton-born drummer Steve Ferrone now having replaced original member Robbie McIntosh, who died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1974) the sextet would go on to release a series of consistently-successful albums for Atlantic during the remainder of the decade - including 1975’s Gold-selling ‘Cut The Cake’; 1976’s Platinum-selling ‘Soul Searching’; and 1978’s Gold-selling ‘Warmer Communications’. All of which in turn spawned such noted hit singles as 1975’s Grammy-nominated 'Cut The Cake’, ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’ and ‘School Boy Crush’; plus 1976’s ‘Queen of My Soul’.
Meanwhile, a move from Atlantic to RCA Records in 1979 in turn regained the group their UK and European mainstream audiences via the albums ‘I Feel No Fret’ and ‘Shine’, the latter in turn spawning the enduring 1980 UK Top 15 radio and disco smash ‘Let’s Go Round Again’.
Nevertheless, with record sales gradually dwindling, 1982 found Average White Band disbanding - only to later reunite in 1989 with original members Gorrie, McIntyre and Ball in tow. With Ball later leaving following the release of the group’s 1989 LP ‘Aftershock’, the group have since nevertheless continued to tour the world to critical and audience acclaim while sporadically releasing both studio and live albums along the way - their current line-up featuring Scottish founder-members Alan Gorrie (lead-vocals/guitar/bass/keys) and Onnie McIntyre (guitar/vocals) alongside new US recruits Klyde Jones (lead-vocals/guitar/bass/keys); Fred ‘Freddy V’ Vigdor (sax/keys/vocals); and Rocky Bryant (drums/percussion).
… Which in turn brings us up-to-date, as a highly-personable and forthcoming Mr. Gorrie openly speaks in-depth to ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis from his home in Perth, Scotland about his outfit’s current line-up; their groundbreaking, near-40-year-career; and their ideas on impressively being the 15th most sampled act of all time by today’s hip hop/R&B generation.
PETE: The early origins of Average White Band date back to the mid-Sixties, when you all knew each other on the Scottish R&B scene. How do you recall those days?
ALAN: “The Scottish rhythm & blues scene at that time was very vibrant and very, very dedicated - because within it you had all the three aspects. The guitar guys were into the blues, the singers amongst us obviously were into soul music, and the horn players were all into be-bop/R&B-jazz of the Cannonball Adderley kind... And so basically it was the cross-reference in that music that was at the core of The Average WHITE Band! You know, the place where all those influences collided was the heart of what this band has always been ABOUT. The instrumental side, the jazzier side, the bluesy stuff, and the sweet soul music all kinda melded into one ENTITY. Which was quite a unique thing to find in a band, no matter WHERE you came from!.. And then geographically-speaking, when you think of the fact that Celtic people have always been very soulful THROUGHOUT their music history, I guess it’s not surprising that the Scottish scene in the mid-Sixties did very much gravitate towards that type of music.”
PETE: Nevertheless, it was in London in 1972 that Average White Band actually came together as a group per se…
ALAN: “That’s right. What happened was, we’d all moved to London at various stages over the ’67 to ’69 period from our various parts of Scotland. And so, by 1971, everyone happened to still be in London and was, I’d say, ‘almost available’. So, with Onnie and I having walked away from our previous assignment with the group Forever More, from there we decided that we just had to put this band TOGETHER. And, while the other guys were still out there doing gigs with other people, their heart and soul was into forming this band as WELL. So, having known each other since the ‘65/’66/’67 days and realising that each of us had been sorta the kingpin of the various bands we’d been in back then, it meant we all knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses - and fortunately we all also had a common desire to put all out efforts into this one THING!”
PETE: Is it true that then-Atlantic Records’ head Jerry Wexler signed Average White Band in 1973 after you crashed his party in LA?
ALAN: “Correct! The next morning we were called back - in the cold light of day - to the same house the party had been held in the night before, we were given a lecture in R&B, and Jerry Wexler basically made no bones about the fact that he wanted to sign the band then-and-THERE! You know, it was like "Would papers please be drawn up?"… And then from there - having heard the tapes we were already working on in L.A. - he told us he was gonna put us in the studio with (legendary super-producer) Arif MARDIN!... So yeah, it was an elated bunch that came out of that house at lunchtime that day!”
PETE: Barely a month after the release of ‘Average White Band’, in September 1974 tragedy struck with the death of original band-member, drummer Robbie McIntyre, at a Hollywood party due to an accidental drugs overdose. What impact did that have on the group at the time?
ALAN: “Well obviously, the tragedy was DEVASTATING! It was the worst thing that could possibly have HAPPENED. Because truly Robbie McIntyre was the first person that I wanted to BE in this band. It was his drumming and his unique talent that probably blossomed the whole idea for the group in my MIND. So losing Robbie, we all felt, was like losing the lynchpin. But, you know, we were stuck in LA, we couldn’t even come back for his funeral... Which was when Arif came out to see us and basically said ‘Look, you have to get back on the HORSE! This guy was your brother - would he have wanted you to pack it all in?’. To which we replied ‘No, you’re absolutely right’. To which Arif then responded ‘So find a REPLACEMENT!’… Which is when Steve Ferrone - who happened to be in LA - started sitting IN with us. Because he could see that we were having horrors trying to get young American drummers to replicate what Robbie had done. Whereas, with Steve having been a good friend of Robbie’s, he really knew what Robbie was ABOUT. And it was then that (Atlantic executive) Ahmet Ertegun basically twisted Steve’s arms and said "You’re joining this BAND!"… And when Steve finally said "Alright, I’m gonna do it", it was a very happy and uplifting moment for us ALL! Because from then on he was the new guy in the chair, he made it his own gig in his own way - and we started to reshape tunes and retool things around STEVE. Who today is probably one of the most lauded drummers on the PLANET!”
PETE: With the group originally disbanding in 1983, what was the story behind you then later reforming in 1989 with three original members in tow?
ALAN: Well, some of us had a real desire to get back together, enjoy each other’s company, and try and make the same kinda MUSIC again. But what we then discovered was, you can never really go BACK! So, after years of us muddling around between ’89 and ’95, (original member) Roger (Ball) decided he’d had enough of touring and travelling. So he left - and I’d say it was around 1996 that we started getting really good and really getting it together again as a functioning unit. Which is when we came back here to make annual visits to The Jazz Cafe and generally just started building up a new audience that hadn’t grown up with the OLD band. Which was important, because you can’t rest on your laurels and just live off your OLD audience - you have to start developing a new FAN-base. And so from ’96 on, that’s kind of been an ongoing process for us. To where even now we work on the basis that there are new ways to play our material, that there are new ways to present things we’ve done before, that there is a new audience to get to, and that there is still that hunger in everybody to DO it!”
PETE: Interestingly, with you having been sampled on over 100 songs, Average White Band has impressively become the 15th most sampled act in the history of today’s hip hop/R&B generation. What are your ideas there?
ALAN: “Well, we’re eternally grateful for being USED in that way. Because that in itself has been a huge contributory factor toward us having a new AUDIENCE! You know, it’s been an introduction to the name, to the brand - which in turn has brought people along to see what we’re all about LIVE. And in terms of the REASON for us being so heavily sampled, I just think we had a particular groove that was essential and directly related to hip hop MUSIC! You know, along with James (Brown) and one or two other highly-sampled acts, we had the lucky GROOVE! Which is just something you could never have possibly planned or foreseen! And I think in the main we’ve always been WELL sampled and RESPECTFULLY sampled. In that there’s only been like maybe three of four occasions at most where we’ve had to say ‘No thanks. Please don’t do that - permission not granted’… So yeah, overall sampling has been a great thing - both for us AND our publishers!”
YOU CAN READ MORE FROM THE AVERAGE WHITE BAND'S ALAN GORRIE IN THIS MONTH RE-LAUNCH BLUES & SOUL MAGAZINE.
Average White Band performs at The 2011 Rewind Festival, Henley-On-Thames on August 21 www.rewindfestival.com); and at Jazz Café, London on August 29, 30 and 31 (Ticketmaster 0844 847 2514)
Words PETE LEWIS