Barrence Whitfield: "I Have Enough Energy to Move A Lot of People"

Barrence Whitfield gets down.
Barrence Whitfield gets down.
care of Bloodshot Records

Since the early 1980s, Barrence Whitfield & the Savages have been pummeling audiences across the globe with a fiery mix of R&B, soul, funk and rock. Known for his over the top stage presence, Whitfield enjoys turning concerts into physical therapy sessions. The recently issued Dig Thy Savage Soul is the band's first stateside release since 1995 and may be the best thing Whitfield and crew has ever done.

From his home in Boston (while looking at twenty inches of snow) and in anticipation of Thursday night's show at Three Links, Whitfield talked with DC9 about the new album on a new label and how he still has what it takes to make an audience sweat.

How long has it been since you've been to Dallas?

It's been a long time since I've been there. I know we played somewhere in Deep Ellum. I remember there was a club down there that we used to play a lot. I actually played a wedding down there. It's been way to long since I've been to Dallas. It's overdue. During the years, we've had some good shows in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. My guitar player, Peter [Greenberg], used to live in Dallas. He lived there a long time.

Where would you be musically if you had never met Peter?

Who knows? I don't know. All I know from past history is that things have worked well when I have worked with Peter. He left to do his thing and put together a family. He was an environmental engineer.

The new album, Dig Thy Savage Soul, is your first since 1995.

Actually, this band did an album three years ago that came out in Europe. It did come out in America, but it was a limited release. This new one is our first with Bloodshot Records. That was an interesting label for us to land on. We took a chance because we had already recorded the album and we started talking about not giving it to the European label. We knew we needed to get an American label. One of the owners of Bloodshot had gone to school in Massachusetts and had seen us a bunch of times. We sent them the record and within two weeks, they called and said they couldn't take the record off their turntable. They said they had to put it out. We had no idea we were going to get such a good critical response. We went to England in September and did the Jools Holland show and the response was fantastic.

Are you more popular in Europe than in the U.S.?

I would have to say yes, but we've been going over there a lot. We haven't toured that much in the states. We would go to New York, Jersey and Pennsylvania. This time, we've had the chance to go to places like Chicago and Grand Rapids. With this new album out and the success of it and we have a new booking agent, we are looking to hit a lot of towns and cities in America. I would say Europeans have a better appreciation of our music. They grasp upon it real quickly. They always remember those old shows you played twenty year ago. Like when we played Paris and I fell through the floor, all the way down from the trap door to the basement and I was still singing. They will always come back and tell you about it.  

At 58, do you have to scale back your wild man persona?

There are certain things I can't do anymore. I still sing very well. I think sometimes I still get a little too crazy on stage. I have enough energy to move a lot of people.

When I think about your influences, I always think about Screaming Jay Hawkins.

That's one of them. Some people hear Little Richard. Some people hear James Brown. Some people hear Wilson Pickett and Roky Erickson. We as a band go with our energy. People are sweating and enjoying it and pouring water on their bodies. It is a fun show. It can be intense. We are still at an age where we can still pull that off.

You were once a music journalist. Does that give you special insight when reading reviews of your music? Do you pay attention to the reviews more as a result of your journalistic background?

I would think so. I would hope people would come to a show before they write anything. My journalism background, you can throw that out a window. It's now all music all of the time. I like to be focused on being intimate with the audience when I am on stage. I think what can't be missed is what we bring to the table in 2014. This is rock and roll that people have forgotten about. It's really good to bring that kind of excitement to a record and live as well.

What would be the easiest way to describe your music?

All you have to say is intense, rock and roll party music. If you can't walk away with sweat running down your back, you have not lived to be a savage.

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages perform with Missile and The Aquaholics on Thursday, January 16, at Three Links.

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