Soothe The Savage Barrence

While rock and roll may never forget, at least that’s what that now silver fox Bob Seger once told us, the fact is that being past 25 and still playing rock and roll can be damned hard on old flesh. I remember Neil Peart (RUSH nation bow thine heads!) complaining about how draining it is to be a rock drummer at an advanced age. Course when you have 3,000 drums and have to bash a gong or a tubular bell every other beat, it does take a toll.

While he’s not quite in the same league as le roi du drum excess, Barrence Whitfield has for the past four decades been a rock ‘n’roll true believer. A constant if semi-unknown presence on the roots rock and roll club scene (and frat house circuit), particularly in the Northeast, from the late 70’s through the middle 90s, Whitfield and the band then drifted into nearly 15 years of silence; a surprising development from a man best known for his wild and raucous ability to howl and scream and yes, sometimes even sing loud, sax-and-electric guitar, roots-and-R&B tinged club rock. In days gone by, Barry White from New Jersey, aka Barrence Whitfield from Boston, would have been called a blues shouter. But these days, that term doesn’t actually encompass all of what Whitfield does.

In 2011, Whitfield and the Savages reformed and began playing clubs and making records again. On his latest, Under the Savage Sky, he and the Savages which again includes original members Peter Greenberg (guitar) and Peter Lenker (bass) as well as Andy Jody (drums) and Tom Quartulli (tenor saxophone), mix greasy and gritty elements into something approximating hard rock in a tune like the Greenberg co-write, “Angry Hands” (whose opening chords sound like “I’m Eighteen”). That's balanced against the microphone overloading garage rock energies of a dance number like, “Rock’n’ Roll Baby.” The liner notes in this new release were written by Stereophile Contributing Editor John Swenson. The sound here is part of the zeitgeist; which means vocals bellowed to the point of distortion and a raw, at times undifferentiated live mix. If there’s a problem here it’s that the record, despite the obvious sonic similarities, never quite captures the band’s onstage fury. It's hard to fully illustrate using just sound, the scene of a now 60-year-old man jumping, growling and working the stage like a mad man. Rather the slowing down, Barrence actually be gaining a step. A wild party awaits.

DanGB's picture

I remember seeing Barrence et al. on British TV back in the Eighties. A thrashing, leaping maniac on the stage, and I'm glad to see him back.