AWB co-founder and iconic saxman Molly Duncan dies

(October 8, 2019) We were sad to read the post this morning from the Average White Band Facebook page about the death of group co-founder Molly Duncan, best known for one of the most iconic saxophone solos in music history:

We are saddened to learn of the passing of our old friend and tenor player, Molly Duncan. He had a recent bout with cancer, and so one half of the "Dundee Horns" is with us no more. His was the world famous sax solo on Pick Up The Pieces, but apart from that, he was one of the funniest and most charming people you could ever meet. He was a founding member of the band - also from Dundee Art College, as are Roger Ball and Alan Gorrie - and will be sorely missed. His son, Dan, was with him at the end, and our condolences are with him and other family members.

(October 8, 2019) We were sad to read the post this morning from the Average White Band Facebook page about the death of group co-founder Molly Duncan, best known for one of the most iconic saxophone solos in music history:

We are saddened to learn of the passing of our old friend and tenor player, Molly Duncan. He had a recent bout with cancer, and so one half of the "Dundee Horns" is with us no more. His was the world famous sax solo on Pick Up The Pieces, but apart from that, he was one of the funniest and most charming people you could ever meet. He was a founding member of the band - also from Dundee Art College, as are Roger Ball and Alan Gorrie - and will be sorely missed. His son, Dan, was with him at the end, and our condolences are with him and other family members.

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 Duncan, Onnie McIntyre, 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 of Gorrie (vocals, bass), McIntyre (guitar), Freddy Vidgor (saxophone), Rocky Bryant (drums) and Klyde Jones (vocals), 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.

Despite his sad passing today, Molly Duncan’s lifetime of work will continue to provide jamming good times for generations to come.

By Chris Rizik

 
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