Soul Screamer Barrence Whitfield Will Make You "Bleed From the Eyeballs"
Photos courtesy of Bloodshot Records
Attention, those of you planning to go the Barrence Whitfield and the Savages show tomorrow. Want to visit backstage or get in good with the screaming fireball of a soul man? All you need to do is cater to his sweet tooth.
"There was this club we used to play right outside of Houston and there was this restaurant nearby. And they made the best banana cream pie ever!" Whitfield says just before a sound check in New Orleans.
"And they would bring it to us backstage," he adds. "I remember one time I ate it before the second set, but had to rush out. I came onstage and there was cream all over my mouth. I just told the audience, 'Ummm...love that banana cream pie!"
The energetic singer and performer who has been compared to everyone from Little Richard and Howlin' Wolf to Carl Perkins and an "unhinged Al Green" brings his current Savages -- which includes original members Peter Greenberg and Phil Lenker -- for what he promises will be a show that may require an ambulance nearby.
"Live, we just let it explode like dynamite until we see blood coming out of your eyeballs and your brain starting to fly from side to side!" he offers. "It's what we call a savage event. I dare people to hold back on this music!"
The 58-year-old singer also puts in a fairly physical performance with drops, slides, kicks, and spins. Robert Plant and Elvis Costello are avowed fans.
And Whitfield had good reason to let it explode, coming on the heels of the recently released Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot). It's the band's first U.S. release in awhile in a discography that stretches back to 1984 when they burst upon the Boston music scene.
Dig Thy Savage Soul offers up a hot helping of musical genres from pounding R&B screamers ("Turn Your Damper Down," "Show Me Baby"), punk ("Corner Man"), blues ("My Baby Didn't Come Home"), swing ("Sugar"), and rockabilly ("Daddy's Gone to Bed").
A cover of Lee Moses' "I'm Sad About It" is a standout, and the sax-driven "Oscar Levant" pays tribute to the real-life mordant, quirky pianist and TV/film personality from the '40s through the '60s. Whitfield hopes it brings both men some attention.
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"I already knew who Oscar Levant was, so when the song was brought to me, I knew what I was getting into! And once you learn who he is, you see how fascinating he was and what a nut he was," he offers.
As for Moses, Whitefield calls him an "obscure and underappreciated" '60s soul singer from Georgia.
"We stuck to our guns with this album, though. Pete and his buddy Mike Mooney wrote some great stuff, and Phil wrote a couple as well," he continues. "And it reflects all our experiences and love for the music we listen to. We like a lot of eclectic stuff, and it's what we stand for as a band."
And while Whitfield had a stint studying -- of all things -- journalism while in college at Boston University and Emerson College, he abandoned a life as an ink-stained wretch in favor of music. "Music is what I loved," he reflects. "And I didn't want to become a 'what if?'"
After the current tour, Barrence and the boys will return to Texas for gigs at SXSW in March, then tour the UK in May, then start work on their next record. But while on the road, he's not likely to get paid like onetime tour mate and rock and roll co-founder Bo Diddley did.
"We were playing a festival in France, and he used my band to back him up," he explains. "So I'm waiting in a room with Mojo Nixon and Bo comes in, and he's getting paid. The French promoter is carefully counting the money in American dollar bills, hands it to Bo, and then Bo recounts it.
"Then, he stuffs this wad of cash in his back pocket, looks at us, pulls out his guitar, plays a bit of the 'Bo Diddley beat,' and walked out! Now that was memorable!"
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages play 8 p.m. tomorrow night at Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet.
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