Barrence Whitfield

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Powerhouse R&B, Soul and Blues

Picture of Barrence Whitfield

Great lead singers are able to transport anaudience and take them to a place where they become one with the felt emotions of the singer. Barrence Whitfield is that kind of lead singer. A Boston-based singer of what one might refer to as "traditional" R&B (i.e.,'50s- and '60s-style), Barrence Whitfield is the owner of one incredible pair of lungs and limitless energy and enthusiasm for his music...a soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, James Brown and early Don Covay.

Whitfield (real name Barry White) came to Boston from New Jersey in the late '70s to attend Boston University. Prior to college, he'd spent time singing in an assortment of ill-fated hard rock, disco, and even progressive rock bands, never really singing the soul music he grew up loving. His move to Boston was a way of putting (at least temporarily) his musical past behind him. He had no intention of starting another band; his focus was on college. That was until he fell in with a bunch of Boston musicians led by Peter Greenberg, who shared Whitfield's love of raging soul and R&B. After hearing Whitfield sing, Greenberg was convinced he'd found the best voice in the city and Barrence Whitfield & the Savages were born.

For a while, they were one of the best live acts in Boston. After some dues-paying at college frat-house parties, the Savages were ready for the local club scene, and they tore it up. Whitfield was a dervish on-stage, working himself into such a frenzy of screaming and running around that he would occasionally black out. The band was raucous and rough, in high gear from the moment they hit the stage.

Their self-titled debut LP was released to much acclaim (some of it national) in 1984, but the Savage's brand of old R&B—and the fact that they relied almost exclusively on covers—didn't help them get beyond their status as enthusiastic archivists. A second album, Dig Yourself, was greeted by even greater acclaim and attendance at live shows was peaking. By the time of 1987's Ow!Ow!Ow!, the original incarnation of the Savages had been replaced by an entirely new band. But while America was being apathetic to the Savages, England was going wild for them... among their English fans were Robert Plant (who showed up at some gigs) and Elvis Costello. Before long, Barrence was opening for, and playing with performers like Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, the Reverend Solomon Burke, Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, Richard Thompson, Etta James, Buddy Guy, and many, many, more.

Unfortunately, English success didn't translate back into big sales in America, and the band soldiered on with a few more personnel changes, touring in their strongholds and releasing fewer and fewer records. In 2011, the Savages reunited and released the acclaimed Savage Kings on the Spanish label Munster Records. Whitfield and the band signed to Bloodshot Records in late 2012 and released their label debut, Dig Thy Savage Soul, in the summer of 2013. In 2014 and 2015, Whitfield and his crew toured as the opening act for legendary garage rock ravers the Sonics, and in August 2015 they dropped their second album for Bloodshot, Under the Savage Sky. The hard-wailin' blues set Soul Flowers of Titan was released in 2018 to critical acclaim and in May 2019, Songs from the Sun Ra Cosmos was issued; this new album features idiosyncratic covers of songs composed by the Afro-futurist bandleader Sun Ra.

Barrence has garnered 7 Boston Music Awards, including Best all Around Male Vocalist, Best R&B Vocalist and Best R&B Band. He has made the North Shore his homefor many years even as he has also been a musical troubadour who has traveled the world and gained international acclaim.

—compiled from a biography by John Dougan and material from the artist's website

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