Average White Band still letting it all hang out

Published on March 25th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Average White Band’s Alan Gorrie has always loved being on stage. He’s had decades’ worth of doing that with the iconic band, and there is a difference these days.

“In the past we were making it up as we went along, and now everything is about flights here and there and everywhere, PA companies and light companies,” said Gorrie in a recent telephone interview. “We used to carry our own stuff with trucks. It was cowboy stuff and now the touring aspect is a real job and the only fun of it is getting on stage and playing. That’s why we still do it.”

Average White Band burst on the scene in 1975, with their self-titled album and Number One megahit “Pick up the Pieces.” It’s a song that many may not know the title of but certainly know it for its groove. In fact, it is commonly covered by artists at Thornton Winery, where Average White Band will perform Saturday as part of the 2015 Champagne Jazz Concert Series.

“You know, it wasn’t even the single, but it was “Nothing you can do” that was the single in the autumn of 1974,” he said. “It wasn’t until October and the beginning of November where we got this feedback from dance clubs to ‘Pick up the Pieces’ and they quickly decided to flip things, but it was never designed to be a single.”

That makes sense because very few instrumental singles have been big hits.

“We were just having fun, and we wanted a track on the album that was kind of a tribute to James Brown who we had been heavily influenced by,” he said.  “The last thing we though an instrumental would be a single. We knew the album certainly had a shot at having a big impact. In our minds, it was kind of flawless from start to finish, and we figured if Atlantic Records couldn’t make something out of that, then there was a problem.”

Some even considered it a disco song.

“Disco is no longer a dirty word,” he said. “Now young groups are striving to get that authentic disco sound, and it’s somehow become a retread thing, a retro thing and it is cool. When disco overran funk when we were starting to have hits, it was a pain to us because everyone wanted everything to be this up-tempo disco. It did kind of kill off funk to a point.”

But no matter what it is called, for Corrie it’s about what the music can do for people, and the band has put five songs and seven albums into the Top 40.

“We have always made music that people could dance to,” he said. “You know, there were good disco records and then cheap and cheesy songs. We always tried to make records that were strong, but that meant never repeating what you did before. All of our records were meant to be stand-alone ones.”

And there’s another in the works.

“We are just putting the mostly finishing touches to an album,” he said. “We’ve just done two or three sessions in Austin and Detroit, so we are in the process of piecing all that together for next year. It’s quite liberating because we have a varied repertoire and with the band sounding as good as it does, so we don’t have to spend hours and hours in the studio.”

For a band that has been performing for decades, it is heartening to see such a wide range of ages in the audience. It also means a lot of perceptions about whether the new version is better than the old one.

“That’s up to anyone’s opinion, and you will have one or two diehard fans who believe the old band will be the best and they are right for their taste,” he said. “There’s also legions of newer fans in recent times and they hear the younger musicians with us now and that’s their taste. You have to allow for improvisation regardless. It’s more exciting if you don’t retread.”

When talking to Gorrie, it is clear that the band is in a good place.

“We do things our own way,” he said. “We manage ourselves and we do what is practical, what is reasonably comfortable and that shows in the fact that we are able to have some spark. If that shine disappears, then you move on. You don’t want to give people second best.”

Not that they are hanging it up any time soon, but the band realizes that they have to give the fans their best.

“Maybe the most liberating thought is that you can, without conscience turn and walk away if it ever becomes less fun,” he said. “No one ever did this for the money. People become musicians for the fun of it, and if you get good and lucky, then you can have all the milk and honey. But you have to remember that you did this for the fun. That has to be your yardstick.”


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