Born Barry White, 1955, East Orange, New Jersey

Barrence Whitfield has been hailed as the new Little Richard, also as "the greatest singing voice of the past 20-plus years"**. He is the owner of an incredible pair of lungs and limitless energy and enthusiasm for his music, which is deeply rooted in early rock and roll and the rhythm and blues from the 1950s and 1960s. Barry White (his real name, no joke) spent his teenage years in New Jersey, fronting various funk, rock and disco bands. Disappointed by the lack of success, he closed the door on the music business and headed for Boston to study journalism at Boston University. During this time (the late 1970s) he supported himself by working in a used record shop, where his inclination for singing along with records drew crowds. It also got the attention of guitarist Peter Greenberg, former member of the punk rock band the Lyres, who encouraged White to return to performing. Greenberg brought along the basis of a backing group (the Savages) in the form of disenfranchised Lyres. He also unveiled his new moniker, Barrence Whitfield, since the world just wasn't big enough for two Barry Whites.

Not long after, Barrence Whitfield (an Afro-American) and the Savages (an all-white group) were the hottest act in Boston. Whitfield's vocals and onstage antics drew on screamers like Esquerita, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Little Richard. The group released their spectacular debut LP in 1984, simply called "Barrence Whitfield and the Savages". Much acclaimed in the music press, it was a mix of originals and remakes of early R&R screamers, like "Bip Bop Bip" (Don Covay), "Mama Get Your Hammer" (Bobby Peterson) and "Georgia Slop" (Big Al Downing). Almost an anachronism for 1984. "Dig Yourself" followed in 1985, more or less in the same frenzied style, though occasionally a little more polished. It is a short LP, with "Juicy Fruit", "Geronimo's Rock" and "Breadbox" as the highlights. By the time the third album was released, the Savages had been replaced by a whole new band, and while the mania remained intact, there was a concerted effort for smoother soul songs designed to show off Whitfield's voice.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, the UK 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. The third LP, "Call of the Wild", with a version of "Rockin' the Mule in Kansas" that is even wilder than Don Covay's original, was a six-track 12-incher, released in the UK only (1987). In the US it was retitled "Ow! Ow! Ow!" and expanded with five more tracks recorded around the same time. "Live Emulsified" was a live LP from 1988, a well-intentioned but unsuccessful attempt to capture the legendary proselytic qualities of the band's concerts. A growing European following led the French New Rose label to release "Let's Lose It" (produced by Jim Dickinson) and "Savage Tracks" ( a mix of live and live-in-the-studio takes and demos). Both have their moments, but are not up to the standard of the first two incendiary LP's. New Rose also reissued Whitfield's debut on CD. With the Savages more or less idle, Barrence began working in a number of other settings. He contributed tracks to Merle Haggard and Don Covay tributes and recorded two albums with singer/songwriter Tom Russell. This experience clearly afforded him an opportunity to work in genres (country, for example) that had not been part of the Savages repertoire. Further CD's were issued in 1993 ("Hillbilly Voodoo") and 1995 ("Ritual of the Savages"). Not exactly SAO material. In 1997, Whitfield began working with the Movers, a New Hampshire- based blues octet. In 2005, he performed at the 4th Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and at the Americana International weekend in Newark, Nottinghamshire, UK. Of his act there, Ian Willis wrote in Now Dig This: "You will never see anything quite like Barrence Whitfield in full flow. The spirit of Screamin' Jay Hawkins is alive and well." (NDT 269, p. 4)


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