AWB: Danger This Band Blows Superstars Off Stage

Chart toppers, gold and platinum discs, SRO crowds, the Average White Band are accepted by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. And they’ve been known to literally ‘blow away’ some acts they’ve appeared with.

WHEN IT COMES to what has popularly been termed ‘blue-eyed soul’, there are few performers who can boast the consistency that has seen the A.W.B. constantly topping charts, earning gold and platinum records for both albums and singles and appearing to S.R.O. crowds everywhere.

Everywhere that is, except in the U.K. Or rather, they are more popular in the States amongst black and white audiences than they appear to be at home, although we understand that concerts in the U.K. during last year were pretty much sold out.

But the enthusiasm that A.W.B.’s audiences reflect wherever they go in the U.S. is hardly equalled. Not that it bothers the group excessively.

“It’s almost as if the audiences in England expect something else.” comments Onnie McIntyre, the group’s guitarist. “We’ve always had a small army of dedicated followers and of course, when we play in Scotland, everyone digs it!” Which is understandable since five of the six group members are from north of the border whilst drummer Steve Ferrone is from Sussex.

Recalling briefly, their roots in black music: “We used to listen to people like Wes MontgomeryKenny BurrellJimmy SmithBrother Jack McDuff, when George Benson was playing with him. And then, the record that really blew everyone’s mind was James Brown At The Apollo.”

“That was back in the early Sixties and a lot of the records were released in England, it was just that nobody knew about them. At least, not the public on any large scale. And that’s what really brought us all together in the first place – the same interests in the same kind of music, the same influence.

“It was like we’d interchange records and it was love of the music we were listening to that really hooked us up musically.”

Originally known just as “the Team”, the name change came through a friend of “Molly” Duncan, the group’s tenor sax player. “Molly had a friend from the Foreigh Office who he used to stay with when we were in London trying to get everything together. And he used to use the phrase ‘too much for the average white man’ all the time. So that’s really where it came from.”

Those early days of getting it all together, finding the right management, the right record company were by no means easy. Initially, A.W.B. were with M.C.A. for one album – Put It Where You Want It with the group supplying lyrics to the instrumental originally written by The Crusaders.

“But M.C.A. just didn’t feel they could do the right thing with us so it was they who suggested we find ourselves another record company and they recommended Atlantic. So we took along the tapes for a second album that was supposed to come out through M.C.A. and Arif Mardin heard them and expressed a desire to produce us.

“You see, we needed the financial support of a company that believed in us. Initially, we just did a couple of tracks with Arif and they turned out so well that we went back in and cut an album.”

That first album yielded the group’s first gold record in ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, originally released in 1974, which attained gold status in early ’75 alongside the album, simply entitled, A.W.B. which has since become a platinum album for the group.

It’s been a pattern that’s continued ever since with the follow-up album, Cut The Cake turning gold and the next album, Soul Searching, a 1976 release, marking the group’s second platinum album. Starting off 1977 with a bang, the group’s newest album, a double set recorded live in front of enthusiastic audiences in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland has already shipped gold, boding further good things for the group this year.

“We’ve been structured for a long run, you could say,” comments drummer Steve Ferrone. “Everyone gets into their music 100% within the group and that way, we don’t get stuck musically. It’s like we’ve been off the road for a couple of months and now, we’re raring to go!”

And after nearly two years of constant travel, the group have at last begun to pace their touring to allow for time off. “It started to get too hectic and from now on there’ll be no more six month tours. It will be more likely two or three weeks out and then home again.”

When they’re not working together (which is most of the time), the group individually assists on sessions and one of their future goals involves maybe producing other acts.

“But we have no desire to produce ourselves right now. Why? Because we’ve built up a fantastic rapport with Arif (Mardin) and our engineer, Gene Paul. In fact, it’s almost like Arif is a member of the group now.

“We usually present him with the tape of the tunes we want to do prior to recording and sit down and discuss it. It’s a fabulous relationship and there are many reasons why we don’t want to produce ourselves alone: one, being the objectivity. It’s hard to be objective about yourself and your work. And our sessions with Arif and Gene are so relaxed and comfortable.”

Certainly, the resulting product from such sessions more than justifies the continuing existence of the situation that’s given the group such immediate impact on record.

On stage, A.W.B. have been known to literally ‘blow away’ some of the acts they’ve appeared with. They try to maintain a suitable balance with the other acts that appear with them and the result has been favourable for all concerned. In recent times, those acts have included L.T.D.Les McCannGeorge Benson and The Street Corner Symphony.

“Basically, our audiences are mixed racially. Yes, at the beginning, people were curious knowing that we came from the U.K. to see what we’d come out with. You know, it was like they’d be sitting wondering what to expect. But we seem to have gotten over to everyone who’s seen us – and that’s definitely a good sign.

“But our philosophy has always been to just go out there and play our music and it seems to have worked.”

The future looks good for A.W.B.

© John AbbeyBlues & Soul, April 1977

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