Average White Band
In the decade when funk music grew up, a number of self-contained bands made their mark on the music world, and none more than a seemingly out-of-place group of white guys from Scotland. With a self-deprecating group name, great guitar work and the tightest horn section this side of Tower of Power, the Average White Band stormed onto the U.S. charts in 1974 with their self-titled "White Album." A blistering set of soul and funk masterpieces, AWB featured the across-the-board instrumental hit "Pick Up the Pieces" and a slew of now-classic cuts, including a sizzling remake of the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do" and the smooth "Nothing You Can Do" (later covered by Tavares). The alternating turns at lead by tenor Alan Gorrie and gravelly falsetto singer Hamish Stuart gave the perfect front to the hot arrangements and tight playing of group members Onnie McIntyre, Malcolm Duncan, Roger Ball, and Robbie McIntosh (who tragically died of a drug overdose in late 1974 and was replaced by Steve Ferrone).
By 1975, AWB was perhaps the hottest -- and coolest -- band in the world, releasing the monster album Cut the Cake, perhaps the band's best album and the showcase for another fine batch of tunes, including the title cut, "School Boy Crush" and a soulful cover of Leon Ware's "If I Ever Lose This Heaven." AWB rode this success, touring constantly and developing into one of the great live acts of the decade. They also recorded frequently, releasing 5 successful albums in the next three years. Ironically, while pop radio would abandon AWB by 1977, black radio continued to spotlight the solid music that the group would make for the remainder of the decade, including the ballads "A Love of Your Own" and "Cloudy," and the funky "Give It Up For Love" (from a surprise 1977 album of duets with legendary soul singer Ben E. King). 1980 found the group struggling unsuccessfully to update their trademark sound to address the then-ubiquitous disco market (though they had a minor dance hit with that year's "Let's Go Round Again"), and by 1982's Cupid's In Fashion AWB had faded from the upper echelon of recording artists.
AWB broke up after Cupid, with Gorrie immediately recording his solo debut, the solid but underappreciated Sleepless Nights. Hamish Stuart became a long-time guitarist for Paul McCartney and Ferrone joined Duran Duran.
The group's excellent work during the period 1974-1982 was captured on Pickin Up the Pieces: The Best of the Average White Band, a wonderful 1992 compilation on Rhino Records that is as essential a set of 70s funk as any group has released and is a testament to the great music that AWB recorded.
In 1987 Gorrie formed a revamped AWB with McIntyre, Ball and Duncan and subsequently recorded After Shock, a minor success on the Soul charts. The group has continued in various incarnations since then, releasing Soul Tattoo in 1996, a live album in 1999, and in 2003 recorded a new studio album, Living in Colour, that is available on their website. The current lineup includes Gorrie (vocals, bass), McIntyre (guitar), Freddy Vidgor (saxophone), Rocky Bryant (drums) and Klyde Jones (vocals).
Hamish Stuart finally recorded his first solo album, the excellent Sooner or Later, in 2000 for Compass Records (it is still in print and is worth finding), combining his wonderfully funky guitar work with very Philly-sounding arrangements (check out especially his ballad "New Kind of Fool"). He tours in Europe with his band and has also recorded a live album that is available in Europe.
In 2005 AWB returned with Greatest and Latest, a nice summary of their music since their commercial peak. The following year they recorded the live Soul & the City at New York's BB King's club and released it in limited quantities. It was re-released on a broader scale in early 2008.
AWB continues to perform 200+ shows per year around the world, sounding terrific on stage and pleasing their fans four decades after the musical love affair began.
by Chris Rizik