TONITE: Soothe The Savage Soul


It’s 1985, I’m a college radio DJ in the hinterlands of Pennsyltucky, about to go on the air. As per my usual ritual, I cover my eyes and reach into the shelf of vinyl behind me. I pull out the above LP. I don’t even need to listen to it, I can tell by the cover it’s going to be fucking awesome. (Or to quote the captain of the boat to Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now: “My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot!”) I slap it on the turntable and…mind is blown. The music is raw-boned gasoline-gargling maximum R&B garage shake bama lama. The singer sounds like Wilson Pickett running around with his hair on fire screaming through Link Wray’s one good lung. In other words, my kind of thing. Upon closer inspection, I learn that Barrence Whitfield was born Barry White in The Dirty South in 1955, raised in New Jersey, and studied journalism at Boston University where he worked at the cool local record store, which is where he met up with Jeffrey Greenberg from garage-punk avatars The Lyres/DMZ. One day, Greenberg hears White’s leather-lunged soul-screaming, and decides they must record an album. Immediately. White changes his name to Whitfield to avoid confusion with The Real Barry White. Barrence Whitfield & The Savages was officially born. The records rip, the live shows are like a nitro-burning funny car without the parachute. Think The MC5 on Soul Train on angel dust. The chicks scream. Critics cream. The quality of life index on planet Earth rises exponentially. Eleven years and nine albums later, Barrence Whitfield & The Savages go dark. Then in 2013, without warning or explanation, a new Barrence Whitfield & The Savages album, Dig Thy Savage Soul, drops from Bloodshot. Somehow it’s even more badass than their early albums. It sounds like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins fronting The Sonics in some kind of David Lynch fever dream, where time stands still and everyone has awesome hair. It was the Party Album Of The Year that nobody heard. But that will change. Don’t call it a comeback. Call it The Second Coming Of Barrence Whitfield & The Savages and praise The Lord for that. — JONATHAN VALANIA