Before Barrence Whitfield gets down to some answers about his band, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, on his way to Friday night’s gig at The Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, he first has a question.
“When was the last time you went to a really great show where you came back out and you were out of breath and you were sweating like a pig and you said, wow, what a great, intense show?”
But before you can respond, he answers.
“That’s what you’re gonna get with this band, that’s for sure. You’ll tell your friends ‘man, you should have been there.’”
As boxing great Muhammad Ali once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you’re telling the truth,” and Mr. Whitfield (born Barry White) is certainly telling the truth about a band that has been resurrected Stateside nearly 30 years after their first self-titled album was released in 1984. Mixing blues, R&B, soul, and a hefty dose of high-energy rock and roll, the Boston-based group certainly didn’t sound like anything coming out of New England at the time, but that didn’t stop them from building a healthy following back in the 80s.
“We’re not your typical Boston band and it’s definitely not a Boston sound,” he said. “We just happen to live there and be there. We take our inspiration in music from southern rhythm and blues, and we have some garage influences. A lot of influences go into what we play, and we get around as far as the music we listen to.”
Of course, with little way to fit them into a neat industry cubby hole, Whitfield and company had to go overseas to gain the acclaim they deserved, and they did for a while until quietly fading away. But Whitfield, who remained active in the studio and onstage, never said never when it came to the possibility of a reunion.
“You never give up any time when you’re associated with wonderful people and great musicians, but it definitely wasn’t on the radar,” he said. “I think it was by chance, and it was something I’m glad that did happen, and it was due to the fact that another record label in England - Ace Records in London, which is a great reissue label - wanted to re-release our very first record and put it out, and they were very happy to do that. And I think that was part of why me and (guitarist) Peter (Greenberg) got back together. He was in a house in New Mexico, and he asked me to come out and do some gigs with him, and that was the first time we played in over 25 years.
“And as we were sitting in his fine mansion on a hill (Laughs), we were talking about getting together and maybe doing another run at the Savages,” Whitfield continues. “So we picked up a couple of new members and started rehearsing and putting together that one record we did a few years ago (2011’s Savage Kings). We kept doing it, got some great offers in Europe, went there to play and did very well with that, and then we went back in the studio and did the second album and wanted to put it out on an American label, and here comes Bloodshot (Records). And they were really excited to do this. So here we are now, and getting back together again, it’s like we never lost it. We got right back into the groove right when we started playing.”
They’re not the Grateful Dead, but that was a long, strange trip to get here. And what may even be stranger is that some will pick up their new album, Dig Thy Savage Soul, and think this is some new band that fell out of the sky and into their local venue.
“I think sometimes they’re kind of shocked about the point that we’re the ages we are and they expect us to be coming off wheelchairs and crutches,” laughed the 58-year-old Whitfield. “And the next thing you know, here we are, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, we played back in the day, and lo and behold, we’re coming out with this energy that any 20 or 30-year-old person should be really rocking.”
Actually, Whitfield and the Savages (Greenberg is joined by Phil Lenker, Andy Jody, and Tom Quartulli) put 20 and 30-year-olds to shame with their energy on stage, as well as on record. Just take a listen to Dig Thy Savage Soul's almost-punky opener “The Corner Man” and if you’re not moving, a check of your pulse may be in order.
“I think we still got as much energy and we play with much more intensity than any of these young bands,” said Whitfield. “I think we can give them a run for their money because we’ve been there and done that. It’s just a case of loving what we do and doing what we love and coming out there with all our battle gear on.”
And as far as their fans are concerned, Whitfield welcomes all comers, even second generation listeners.
“We do have a wonderful reputation, but there are still a lot of young people out there who really don’t know the band, or their fathers or their uncles might have seen us play,” he said. “They say ‘oh yeah, that band, those guys were unbelievable back in the day,’ and then the next thing you know, their kids come to see us and go ‘dad, that band you played me, those guys still got it; they’re great.’”
Again, it ain’t braggin’ if you’re telling the truth. And Barrence Whitfield wouldn’t lie to you.
Barrence Whitfield and The Savages play The Bell House in Brooklyn on Friday, September 13. For tickets, click here