New Smooth Soul Survivor - Pick Up the Pieces

"Pick Up the Pieces"

[Song written by AWB, Roger Ball, Hamish Stuart]

awbThis time around the choice of Smooth Soul Survivor has a decidedly British theme.  Although a hit rich with the feel of Philadelphia and Memphis it was fashioned by a group of talented musicians with their roots firmly in Scotland.  The track is ‘Pick Up The Pieces'.  The writers and performers are the Average White Band.

"Pick Up the Pieces"

[Song written by AWB, Roger Ball, Hamish Stuart]

awbThis time around the choice of Smooth Soul Survivor has a decidedly British theme.  Although a hit rich with the feel of Philadelphia and Memphis it was fashioned by a group of talented musicians with their roots firmly in Scotland.  The track is ‘Pick Up The Pieces'.  The writers and performers are the Average White Band.

As they say, soul enthusiast Alan Gorrie was then and is now.  Even before 1972, when Bonnie Bramlett gave the group their ironic name, Gorrie had dreamed of forming a soul band to be the next Detroit Spinners who would also play their own instruments.  The fact that the musicians he gathered around him were all white and came from Scotland seemed not to matter.  In fact they became one of the few white groups that crossed the divide to achieve success and credibility while playing funk.  The original line up of Gorrie, Stuart, McIntyre, Duncan, Ball and McIntosh initially played clubs in Europe and appeared at American military bases.  They made their bone fide debut in 1973 as the opening act of the Eric Clapton comeback gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London.

However, these guys were no beginners.  Both McIntosh and McIntyre had already backed Ben E King and had played on the Chuck Berry hit ‘My Ding A Ling'.  Successful tours of the USA followed but even before the band had recorded ‘Pick Up The Pieces' the line-up was hit with a tragedy typical of the rock scene in that era.  On 23 September 1974 in Los Angeles, after a week of concerts and at a party thrown for Gregg Allman, Robbie McIntosh died of a heroin overdose.  Alan Gorrie similarly overdosed at the same party and his life was only saved by the prompt actions of Cher who succeeded in keeping him awake.

Despite the enforced change to personnel that the loss of McIntosh brought, The Average White Band, by then permanently based in the USA, enjoyed continued chart success.  In 1975 the band released the album that included ‘Pick Up The Pieces'.  Simply titled ‘Average White Band', it later came to be known as the ‘white album'.  The track hit the play lists of American radio stations on 22 February 1975 and made #1 in both the albums and singles charts that same week.  On 15 March 1975 it reached #6 in the UK charts.  The recording was produced by the legendary Arif Mardin.  Born in Istanbul in 1932 he was of Turkish origin and was best known as the driving force behind the early work of Aretha Frankin at Atlantic.  Mardin also worked with Isaac Hayes, The Rascals and Dusty Springfield before teaming up with Chaka Khan and Hall & Oates later in his career.

The success of the Average White Band rolled on throughout the seventies.  One notable highlight was the association they had with Ben E King on the long player ‘Benny And Us' which, in part, was arranged by Luther Vandross.  The band went on into 1980 but when the album ‘Cupid's In Fashion' proved to be a commercial failure it led to their break-up.  Gorrie, Ball and McIntyre got back together in 1989 to reform the band and they worked with mixed success throughout the nineties with projects that included some interesting collaborations with Daryl Hall.

As can be expected from such a classic track, ‘Pick Up the Pieces' has been featured on numerous compilations and some of these examples can be classed as being more appealing than others.  For example it can be found on the 1998 ‘Basketball's Greatest Hoop Hits' which showcases eighteen rock and hip-hop tunes routinely played in arenas across America.  From the same year it is included on ‘Listen In Colour' which is an early example of what at that time became a series of ubiquitous compilations from London's Jazz FM.

What's more ‘Pick Up the Pieces' found a way to television and is on an album to commemorate music from the top rated television show Beverley Hills 90210, ‘Songs From The Peach Pit'.  Also from the small screen the track is included on ‘That 70's Show Presents That 70's Album - Jammin', a recording based on the sitcom from Fox.

In addition ‘Pick Up The Pieces' has enjoyed its time in the movies with 1996 being the year when it featured on both the soundtracks of ‘Swingers' and ‘Fox Hunt'.

As well as being on the excellent compilation ‘Classic Funk Mastercuts Volume 1' one of the most unusual inclusions is on ‘Legendary Jazz' where the Average White Band can be found sharing space with jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus.  In fact ‘Pick Up the Pieces' lives quite nicely in that warm place where jazz and funk meet.  Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub and Rick Braun include it on their 1994 self-titled release.  The same track is part of the 1997 sampler from KKSF 103.7 FM San Francisco and Tom Scott picks up on it for his 1990 release ‘Them Changes'.   The New Orleans Nightcrawlers do it their way on the 1997 ‘Funknicity' and finally, Candy Dulfer includes it on her ‘Sax A Go Go' release of 1993 from where it was selected for her ‘Best Of Candy Dulfer' showcase in 1998.

‘Pick Up The Pieces' has proved to be a fabulous Smooth Soul Survivor.

Denis Poole.  June 2007.

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