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, and early Don Covay, Whitfield & the Savages, though never breaking big nationally, are a great cult act, a triumph of substance over style, with a bunch of terrific records to boot. Whitfield (real name Barry White, no joke!) 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 ex-Lyres guitarist Peter Greenberg, who shared Whitfield's love of raging soul and R&B. After hearing Whitfield sing, Greenberg was convinced they'd found the best voice in the city and Barrence Whitfield & the Savages were born. For a while, they were the toast of the town, and without a doubt one of the best live acts in Boston. It was a hopeful sign too -- an African-American man working with a bunch of white guys in a city not known for its racial hospitality. 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, especially Greenberg and drummer Howie Ferguson, were raucous and rough, in high gear from the moment they hit the stage. Their debut LP was released to much acclaim (some of it national) in 1984, but the Savages' 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. By the time the third album was released, the Savages had been replaced by a whole new band, and while the mania remained intact, there was a concerted effort for smoother soul songs designed to show off Whitfield's voice. While America was being apathetic to the Savages, England was going wild for them. BBC disc jockey Andy Kershaw fell in love with the band, taped a gig in Boston for air in Britain, and brought the Savages over for a tour. Among their English fans were Robert Plant (who showed up at some gigs) and Elvis Costello, who was supposedly writing a song for them. Unfortunately, English success didn't translate back into big sales in America, and the band soldiered on with a few more personnel changes, but remained a cult act, touring in their strongholds and releasing fewer and fewer records. In 1997, Whitfield began working with the Movers, a Boston-based blues octet. ~ John Dougan
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