Though this suburban DC town has a college-like aura, ala the US Naval Academy headquarters – the ambiance was fitting for this writer, considering my introduction to AWB was during mid-1970s campus visits to Clarion University and Slippery Rock University – both Pennsylvania institutions. On this night, however, founding members Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre carried the groups’ original flag, so to speak, by ensuring that their original sound has not been compromised – and remains authentically pure, as it did during their breakout years.
Gorrie, on rhythm guitar, casually started the 90-minute set with “I’m The One.” He simply walked up to the microphone, plays the song’s catchy, rhythmic guitar intro lead, and asked the audience, “Does this sound familiar?” – the response is immediate gratification, as the band kicks-off into the funky groove – led by the “Hungry Horns,” Fred “Freddy V” Vigdor (tenor sax) and Cliff Lyons (alto sax). Gorrie, as on the recorded cut, handles the lead vocals on this one. But lead singer Brent Carter, is the group’s ace-in-the-hole. Blessed with searing octaves, Carter assumes all the more challenging riffs originally sung by Hamish Stewart, the group’s former guitarist/vocalist and original member. Though Stewart has been gone from the group nearly 30 years, Carter’s unique talents stokes memories of Stewart – mainly because Carter’s vocalese is very close to his predecessor. Gorrie and McIntyre should be commended for making such a wise decision on Carter, and hopefully, the lead singer will continue with the band for many years to come.
Though the Rams Head On Stage is a venue that uncomfortably tucks 300-plus patrons into their quaint setting, no complaints were lodged – mainly due to the non-stop flow of vintage soul and funk offerings that emitted from the AWB on this chilly evening.
It was later learned that the group has an affinity for playing Washington, DC-area venues, dating back to the 1970s. Other crowd pleasers were “A Love of Your Own” and “Queen of My Soul,” two cuts where Carter showed his true talents and value to the band as an up-front, solo man.
Rob Aries also demonstrated his value as a bassist/keyboard player. Though his bass licks pale compared with many of today’s RnB funky cats, he holds down the gig – and provides the two-for-one role that’s a value-add for an efficient working musician.
Mid-way into the set, the “Hungry Horns” channeled their love for James Brown during a funkafied flavoring called “Oh Maceo.” Drummer Rocky Bryant provided a funk-layered foundation, deeply rooted in the JB pocket. From there, Vigdor and Lyons gave their best “Horny Horns” impressions, demonstrating their love for Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley – the JBs. Band members then led audience participation to support the hornmen, as they continued with a fresh groove patterned after the JBs all-time classic “Pass the Peas.” While the horns paid homage to the funk, it’s also obvious they’re real jazzmen. Throughout the night, both delivered Bebop-oriented solos steeped in the essence of Charlie “YardBird” Parker, John Coltrane and Michael Brecker. Here, we must also credit young drummer Bryant, for staying true the core of original drum patterns of the great Steve Ferrone, who took-over the AWB drum chair immediately after original drummer Robbie McIntosh died tragically from a controversial drug overdose just before the group’s second LP release.
The intro to “School Boy Crush” demonstrated Bryant shaking the tambourine, while keeping the backbeat groove intact. This famous tune was obviously a crowd favorite, as it appeared the entire crowd sang those catchy lyrics…”She said look boy, but don’t you touch – that ain’t much, only a schoolboy crush.” Next tune, “Cut The Cake,” featured Gorrie and McIntyre on dueling guitars – always a unique AWB signature.
Lead singer Carter then wooed the ladies with his hauntingly-soulful vocals on “Cloudy,” arguably AWB’s all-time popular ballad. Carter also starred on the Isley Brother’s composition, during their cover of “Work to Do.” Thoughts of Stewart naturally surfaced, based on Carter’s soulful vocal phrasings – so similar to his predecessor.
Way too soon, the party was over and the crowd screamed encore for more. After a 10-minute water break, the fellas returned to the stage for a couple of extra goodies. A dedication to Wilton Felder and Joe Sample on “Put It Where You Want It” was a jazzy groove, while “Pickup The Pieces” brought down the proverbial house with those definitive syncopated horn lines. The final tune is the group’s all-time highest seller and most popular radio tune from their heydays. This one got ’em dancing in the aisles – regardless of the tight squeeze – the dancers just could not hide, in reference to a Sly Stone lyric.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: AWB will perform at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in North Hills Pittsburgh (Warrendale, Pa.) on Thursday, May 12. Downbeat is 8 p.m. For information call 724-799-8333). Timothy Cox is former Entertainment Editor at the New Pittsburgh Courier.