The Early Years
The Average White
THE EARLY YEARS
I grew up playing soul and pop tunes in various bands around Glasgow, my home town, most notably the Dream Police who made a couple of singles. In June '72 I was invited to join the newly formed Average White Band.
I had worked with Alan and Onnie before and the idea of playing in a band with saxes was new and enticing but the chance to play with my favourite drummer Robbie MacIntosh clinched the deal so I completed the final line-up of AWB.
This was an incredibly exciting period as things started to happen almost immediately. By August we were in L.A. working on Bonnie Bramlett's solo album - hearing lots of inspiring new music and working with a lot of great musicians such as Freddie Stone, Bobby Womack, who gave me the greatest guitar lesson I ever had just by turning up and overdubbing a complete part the second time he heard the tune.
We also befriended our contemporarys, Little Feat, their percussionist Sam Clayton becoming like a seventh member of the team, sitting in with us every time we were in L.A. and even once in Amsterdam as our paths criss- crossed Europe. After we returned to Britain the band was gigging non stop and developed quickly through the first album 'Show Your Hand' (our manager wanted to call 'Delusions of Adequacy' - which I still think is a better title!), a short tour of the U.S. opening for B.B.King and the Eric Clapton comeback show which got us a lot of attention up to the second album.
We had decided we needed to record in America and were told by one exec ''you're taking coals to Newcastle" - I guess there was a shortage of coal the following year! Anyway we got to LA, did the record, were dropped by the label and lucked into a meeting with the man who was to be instrumental in making it happen for us, Jerry Wexler, co-founder of Atlantic Records.
In a matter of weeks we were in New York making what would be 'AWB' a.k.a. 'The White Album' with the legendary Arif Mardin producing. This really put us on the map but as the record was beginning to make some noise we were stopped in our tracks when Robbie McIntosh, our first drummer died.
About six months later the album and single were simultaneously number 1 in the U.S. charts (talk about your bittersweet symphony).
We had to carry on and did so once we were lucky enough to persuade Steve Ferrone to join us. We then recorded 'Cut the Cake'. This was a very difficult period and it was a hard record to to make but did produce some songs that withstood the test of time such as the title track, the ballad 'Cloudy' and a little drum'n'bass groove Steve and myself hatched called 'Schoolboy Crush'. We followed this with the live album 'Person to Person' as we toured incessantly.
Our third studio offering for Atlantic was 'Soul Searching' - according to some 'a change of direction'. The music was merely growing, developing - Roger's arranging, Steve really making his influence felt, the songwriting blossoming and grooves and vocals becoming more adventurous. It was a concept album only in that it had a beginning and an end that contained themes from some of the songs but that was the only thread that tied them together other than the fact that we wrote them.
We had been on the road too long so it was freeing to be back in the studio again. It is definitely our most 'studio' recording but I think it ranks alongside the' White Album'as our best. Two tunes from that record I still love and continue to play. 'Queen Of My Soul' is really about the joy of the experience of playing or listening to music and was also a homage to the great genius musicians who inspire us and give us so much through their work (appropriately Molly blew one of his most memorable solos on this tune). 'A Love Of Your Own' was the first thing I wrote with my L.A. buddy Ned Doheny and it materialised in about ten minutes. Anytime we hung out together we would wind up noodling on a couple of guitars and on this occasion a song just popped out. It was complete - conception to birth - in half an hour.
'BENNY AND US'
In '76 we relocated to Criteria Studios, Miami, for a while to begin work on the next album. We stalled creatively and went back to New York to cut a single with Ben E. King. This took the pressure off and as it turned out in about three weeks we finished an album - 'Benny & Us' - a title I always hated. He'll always be Ben E. to me. It was really his album, we were merely the backing group albeit a very committed one.
Of course in between studio stints we continued touring and when the next road trip ended we restarted work on the aborted 'Miami Sessions'. These were to become' Warmer Communications"... a title that Warner Communications had problems with but eventually cuddled up to. I had heard a James Taylor song called 'Daddy's All Gone' which was about the downside of touring - obviously having come up with the idea it was a song I would have liked to have sung, but Alan wanted to have a go and as we always tried to keep a good balance between the two of us, I gave it up without another thought.
As the record finally started to come together in New York, I was finishing work on something called 'She's A Dream' which had a kind of Brazilian feel so we decided it would work well in front of the Reggae'ish title track.
On the song 'Big City Lights' Arif had recorded some Manhattan street noise so I thought I'd get some island atmosphere to put between 'She's A Dream' and 'Warmer Comm's' and went to Bermuda on a weekend off to record the tree frogs singing.
As I bumbled along in between the palm trees and bushes skirting the beach next to the hotel with my headphones on, Nakamichi cassette recorder over my shoulder and mike in hand, I must have looked like some deranged zoologist cos' the next day I was paged as Dr.Stuart by the hotel's front desk but the recording was fine and the results are there on the album.
'THE ATLANTIC FAMILY LIVE IN MONTREAUX'
In '77 we spent a week at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Arif had written a big band arrangement of 'Pick up the Pieces' which became one side of a two record set (ah! the grand old days of vinyl) titled "The Atlantic Family Live in Montreaux". The rest of the album consisted of tracks by other artists on the label such as Ben E., Sonny Fortune, David 'Fathead' Newman, Luther Vandross and Herbie Mann, with us as the rhythm section. All the vocalists had a go on 'Everything Must Change' and Dick Morrisey blew a beautiful lyrical solo but the version of 'Pick Up the Pieces' was spectacular with Don Ellis and a couple of the guys from his horn section plus Sonny Fortune, Dick, Klaus Doldinger and the Brecker Brothers - while the rhythm section was augmented by the late and amazingly gifted Richard Tee and Jim Mullen on piano and guitar. Rafael Crus and Sammy Figueroa beefed up the percussion end. Sammy would later tour the U.K. and U.S. with us. This session was the culmination of, for me at least, the most memorable week we spent together. We heard and participated in a lot of great music and enjoyed some beautiful weather, food and wine. Michael Brecker's tenor solo on 'Pieces' was probably the high point of the whole trip - well lunch at 'Giradet' was maybe close.
'FEEL NO FRET'
We decamped without Arif to Compass Point in the Bahamas in '78 and it was kind of like the beginning again - in a way. We were left to our own devices and the distractions of sea, sun and sand only helped to make these sessions more relaxed, productive and creatively stimulating and in a few weeks we put together our last really good effort. We definitely soaked up the Carribean influence on this album most noticeably on the title track 'Feel No Fret' and on the reworking of the Bacharach classic 'Walk On By' plus a little bit of Brazil on Steve's tune 'Atlantic Avenue'. If only we had asked Arif to mix those tracks. We still had our engineer Gene Paul - son of Les, who had worked with us from the White album and was very much part of the team but when we came back to New York to mix it, it became 'mixing by committee' and consequently suffered. The record still sounds great but maybe if Arif and Gene had mixed it we would have had an even better result.
In '79 we started working with producer David Foster and after a really good batch of initial sessions in L.A. went back to New York and made the fatal mistake of leaving our spiritual home 'Atlantic Records'. In the move from Atlantic to Arista, we lost the initial tracks we cut with David, which
eventually became part of 'Volume 8' on Atlantic and started afresh in January '80 on what would become the album 'Shine'. But the rot had set in. Losing those tracks was tough and we started to lose direction. Consequently the record fell short of expectations though it contained three hits: Alan's song 'Let's Go Round Again', something my mate Ned Doheny and I wrote 'Whatcha Gonna Do For Me' and Roger's 'For You For Love'. Although Arif was no longer producing the band, Steve Ferrone and I continued to work with him constantly on various projects - Steve on things like Scritt Politti and me singing backgrounds for Aretha, writing for and singing with George Benson but we also worked together many happy hours on Chaka Khan's solo albums in the late seventies. Thus in October '80, Arif, Chaka, Steve and myself trooped off to Switzerland to record and wound up recutting a blistering version of 'Whatcha Gonna Do For Me' which became the album's title and No.1 single.
When the album was released, a mini tour was organised using most of the guys who played on the record - David Williams on guitar, Anthony Jackson on bass, Leon Pendarvis on keys, The Brecker Brothers, Steve and myself - what a blast! - those guys plus Chaka!
'CUPID'S IN FASHION'
But despite our extracurricular activities, the main priority was still AWB even though the situation was worsening - we could not agree with the record company on the producer or material. Finally though, we made our worst and what proved to be our final recording 'Cupids in Fashion' with producer the late Dan Harttman. We finally reached our creative nadir on 'Theatre of Excess'. The only upside was the Ned Doheny song 'Loves a Heartache'. We dutifully went on tour but it was over - a few months later the Average White Band ceased to be.
I have fond memories of amazing shows and great moments, when in full flight this was a wonderful thing to be part of. Ten years of my life with six other individuals who had a certain chemistry together and created something special for a moment in time.
AWB. R.I.P. 1972 - 1982