Not your ordinary 70s soul group

Boston Globe, October 23, 2005

Amid the pantheon of musicians who took soul music to its creative peak in the 1970s sits the Average White Band, a bunch of white guys from Scotland who made their mark on the genre behind classics such as “Pick up the Pieces,” “Schoolboy Crush,” and “A Love of Your Own.” The rare white group to earn recognition and praise from the black soul audience, much covered and frequently sampled in hip-hop, AWB has made it through the years, its line-up reshuffled but its commitment to the music and to rousing, committed live performance intact. The band visits Scullers on Tuesday and Wednesday. From a tour stop in Seattle, AWB co-founder Alan Gorrie spoke about the band’s current identity, its place in the music market today, and its famous risque logo, which turns the “W” into a woman’s shapely backside.

Q. For those of us who weren’t old enough in the heyday, tell me how you came up with the name.

A. It was a bit of British wordplay, a mixture of irony and a spoof, that we were anything but an average white band of the time. It was my wife–then girlfriend’s–idea.

Q. Tell me about your current roster.

A. There are the two founding members, myself and Onnie McIntyre we are to blame for the whole thing. And three American musicians: Klyde Jones on vocals, keyboard, and guitar; Fred Vigdor on saxophones and keyboards; and Brian Dunne on drums and percussion.

Q. How difficult was it for them to adapt to the AWB gestalt?

A. Painful, for them, but wonderful. They brought a lot of freshness to the old playbook.

Q. You guys are quintessentially a soul band, yet you seem to get lumped into the “smooth jazz” category a lot these days. How did that happen?

A. There’s no format on the radio left for traditional soul and R&B. R&B means something different today, and neo-soul is not what we do; those are the only playable forms of black music. In modern radio terms, we really fall between two stools. The smooth jazz stations are the ones that are willing to play us, and lots of smooth jazz artists have had hits with AWB songs.

Q. Do you consider yourself to be making music for an “older crowd”?

A. Quite honestly, no. We’ve really gotten a new, younger audience in the past four or five years, and they’re the ones at the front of the show, boogying. The older crowd that’s been with us all along are still there, but they’re a few rows back, quietly digging it in their own way.

Q. How’s life on the road after all these years?

A. It’s more difficult than it used to be. Since 9/11 everything really changed. We can’t take our tour bus over the Hoover Dam, we have to go hours out of our way. With all our stuff it takes three hours to check in for a flight and they put us through every difficulty. And a lot of it is paranoia. Let’s say it’s not being handled very well.

Q. What music excites you these days?

A. I just heard a wonderful thing by Johnny A. This guy is absolutely the greatest exponent of a guitar style that I thought had disappeared. It’s a West Coast style, very clear and melodic, and he takes it to a ridiculous level of inventiveness. Vocally, I really like John Legend’s album, produced by Kanye West; my daughter introduced me to that one. And I still have to have my fix of the Meters, Dr. John, Marvin Gaye.

Q. I see that your sexy logo managed to survive the years of conservative backlash.

A. It survived all of it. I don’t think they know what to do with it now; it’s too ubiquitous to be smothered and put away. We’ve beaten the system on that one. Nowadays it probably seems quite tame, anyway.