By Bob Andelman
May 16, 1986
If seeing Little Richard perform “Great Gosh A’Mighty” in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” got you going, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages are guaranteed to cause a heart attack.
“We just play with the guts, sweat and emotion of any rock ‘n’ roll band that might’ve been doing it in the’50s” is the matter-of-fact way Whitfield explained it in a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
The same kind of raw power can be found in this Boston band’s second album, “Dig Yourself,” as might be found in Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Tutti Frutti,” James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” or Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.”
BARRENCE WHITFIELD interview excerpt: “It’s tough to like, stand still and sing this kind of music. It’s always keeping you moving around, on the edge – fun time rock ‘n’ roll.”
This is not some synthetic European sound or punk statement, just the most basic, original kind of rock ‘n’ roll there is.
“We try to bring people back to that wild and woolly time when you didn’t think about nukes or anything like that. You just went out and had a good time … dancing your troubles away,” Whitfield said.
Linda Reisinger, WMNF’s volunteer coordinator, said that the station’s program director, Randy Wynne, was the one who first heard Whitfield and the Savages and recommended them to be stars of this year’s Tropical Heatwave.
“In Washington, the audience picked (Whitfield) up and carried him while he was singing,” Reisinger said. “And the BBC came to Boston to do a video on him. He was doing flips and (then) he was on his knees, all the time still singing.”
The kind of music Whitfield belts out is not exactly conducive to static poses, he said.
“It’s tough to like, stand still and sing this kind of music. It’s always keeping you moving around, on the edge – fun time rock ‘n’ roll.
“Most people say that the live show is better than the record,” he continued. “When they come to the show, they’re immediately blown away. We’re pretty wild, hard-edged, non-stop sweating. People just get into it. At the end of the night, people just walk out drenched.”
Whitfield doesn’t blanche at the many comparisons to Little Richard that come his way.
“We were playing one particular evening,” he recalled. “Little Richard was in town to do an interview for his book. He talked to one of the music critics in Boston, who must’ve said, ‘If you want to check on somebody that’s a protege of yours, go see Barrence Whitfield.’ Sure enough, he showed up. I never got to see him, though. The next day, my manager called me up and said, “That was him! That’s the guy that was at the show! Little Richard!’ He didn’t recognize him because he had on a business suit … probably expected to see him in lame.”
“Savage” music is rarely original stuff. Of the 11 tracks on the “Dig Yourself” album, only three were written by members of the band. For the rest, Whitfield and the Savages. – guitarist Peter Greenberg, bass player Phil Lenker, saxophonist Steve LaGrega and drummer Howard Ferguson – draw on their old record collections.
“We take a lot of obscure rock ‘n’ roll classics (that only) collectors may know. We get ‘B’ sides of singles people have never even thought of turning over to the other side to listen to. We try to put a little energy into it; that’s where the ‘Savages’ come from.
“There’s a tune on there called ‘Wild Cherry,’ which was done by Walter Washington, a blues singer. Or ‘Juicy Fruit,’ which was done by Rudy Green, or ‘Sadie Green,’ which was by Pete Tyler who only made one single. He made that, and he did ‘King Kong,’ which we did on our first album. We don’t try to do the traditional things, the ones that were hits back in the ‘50s that people are already familiar with.”
Asked if maybe the 30-year; old singer wasn’t born a little too late for the musical era he has a strong affinity for, Whitfield didn’t pause to disagree.
“I’ve never played in front of an audience that stayed still for a long time,” he said. “I don’t think this kind of music can ever die.”