Gary James' Interview With Onnie McIntyre of
The Average White Band
They may have been know as the Average White Band, but there was certainly nothing average about them! The Average White Band or A.W.B. for short, formed 32 years ago in London by six Scottish musicians who loved American jazz and soul music, particularly the Memphis and Philly soul sounds.
In January 1975, the group's break-out single "Pick Up The Pieces" and the album "AWB" reached the top of the pop and R&B charts. AWB even received a Grammy Award. More hits followed, including "Cut The Cake", "School Boy Crush", "Person To Person", "If I Ever Lose This Heaven", "Cloudy", "Queen Of My Soul" and "Let's Go 'Round Again".
The original AWB disbanded in 1982, only to re-group in 1989. With ten albums, three Grammy nominations and a world-wide following, the Average White Band regularly tours and still records. Onnie McIntyre, AWB's guitarist / vocalist spoke with me about the group.
Q - Onnie, I believe the Average White Band performed at The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.
A - Correct. Great gig for us.
Q - So, you liked their showroom?
A - Very much, yeah. We're looked after very well, which is always nice. The suites they gave us were beautiful. The food was excellent...most enjoyable. I wish more gigs could be like that. (laughs)
Q - The Average White Band actually dis-banded in 1982 and then re-formed. Is that correct?
A - Yes. We dis-banded really due to pressure after ten years basically on the road. We formed in 1972 in London, England and we felt we did as much as we could in England. We always wanted to come to the States. That's where all our heroes lived. It's good to get close to the source as it were. We decided to move over, come Hell or high water 'round about the end of '73. We basically just came over and stayed. We recorded an album which became the basis of what became the White Album, the Average White Band's first album on Atlantic (Records). Atlantic basically signed us. After probably eight albums for Atlantic, nine all together, our first was recorded in England but released in the States, we decided to dis-band. We had a number of problems that came up via record company litigations. Basically, the trends had changed by that time. Rhythm and Blues was fresh. We kind of heralded the disco era, although we were never a disco band. To be honest, "Pick Up The Pieces" really started as a hit in the clubs and then it crossed over into radio and chart success. This phenomenal success takes it's toll after being on the road for ten years.
Q - You reformed the group in what year?
A - We started talking about it in '87 and didn't get going until '88. We got a chance to record an album in Seattle called "After Shock" and then we toured on the strength of that album. '87 really started us back on track then. All the members didn't want to do it, but basically it was Alan Gorrie and myself who put it back together again, mainly because we missed the music and missed playing. I gotta tell you, it's a lot of fun playing weekends. Then gradually, it's built up and there proved to be a demand for the music. It's really been building since then.
Q - What did you do in between the time the band broke up and it re-formed?
A - Well, personally speaking, I had a young family. The normally of being off the road was new to me. I'd just met my wife and had a son. He was very young at the time. I decided to stay home and try to work from home. So many of my musician friends never see their families because they're on the road all the time. Looking back on it, it was kind of tough at the time, but I'm glad I did it. I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and be at home, but also still work in music.
Q - How did you do that? How did you pay the bills?
A - I worked a number of projects. I did some sessions, nothing of great note. I did some writing with a jingle producer for advertising. I worked for a fine arts company in New York. That was very interesting. You do what you can.
Q - How many original musicians are in the current line-up of AWB?
A - Myself and Alan Gorrie. It's a five piece band.
Q - Your big break actually happened when Bonnie Bramlett of Delany and Bonnie flew the band to L.A. to back her for the "Sweet Bonnie Bramlett" album.
A - Yeah.
Q - How did she hear about you?
A - This business has an awful lot to do with contracts. Our manager at the time, a fellow called Robin Turner, had friends in the business. Eric Clapton's tour manager was a friend of his. He subsequently left Eric and was working on the touring of Delany and Bonnie. He knew everyone. He loved the band. In fact, he brought down a tape recorder and taped our rehearsals. He lived in L.A. and was visiting London. He flew back to L.A. with the tape. While he was back, he played the tape to Bonnie. Bonnie had just split with Delaney. She wanted to do her own album on A&M Records. So, she loved the sound of the band and needed a band. So, she basically flew us over to start working on an album. That was wonderful for us because we had just formed. We hadn't done any shows in London at that time. We'd done maybe two or three shows. It was a wonderful opportunity to fly to L.A., hang out and just see what the music business was like. Bonnie knew a lot of famous musicians. Freddie Stone from Sly's band came down. We met Joe Sample from The Crusaders. Bobby Womack came down and played guitar on one of the tracks. It was just a wonderful experience, because people came down and hung out at the studio. We got to play with these people and it really opened our eyes to a lot of music. We were made aware of more music just by being there. So, we went out and came back with armloads of albums. We were in Los Angeles for about six weeks. We started playing some of the material we picked up in Los Angeles in our sets.
Q - You couldn't get that material in London?
A - There was a lot of material that wasn't released in Britain. It's not so much now, but it certainly was the case then.
Q - Let's talk about your early manager, Robin Turner. He convinced a friend at MCA (Records) to sign the band. How'd he do that?
A - He had worked with Robert Stigwood and made a lot of contacts. Through his contacts, he started shopping our material, trying to get a record deal, to everyone he knew. MCA was one of the contacts he had. The record company liked the tapes, liked the songs he had. One of the keys to the band was the material. We were signed to MCA Europe. We did the first album in London. When we came to the States and decided we were going to stay, we recorded a second album for MCA and they really didn't know who we were, because we were signed to Europe, not the United States. 'Who are you guys?' they said. (laughs) We then took the tapes to Atlantic who we knew would like the music. They signed us and we cut all the tracks.
Q - When you lose an original member of a band and in your case it was the drummer*, what does that do to the group? Is it difficult to carry on?
A - Oh, absolutely. It was devastating. We were in Los Angeles at the time and it was just a devastating thing. What do you do? But fortunately, we had signed with Atlantic Records and they were very supportive. They flew out a representative and he came out and helped us get through it. They said 'you gotta get back into the studio and record again. You gotta find a new drummer.' Fortunately, Steve Ferrone was in Los Angeles at the time and he had recently been to some of our shows in Los Angeles that week. He was a friend of Robbie (McIntosh). He was obviously the natural choice.
Q - Not to be insensitive here, but, had it been Alan who passed away, would it have been more difficult for the Average White Band to carry on?
A - Oh, absolutely, yeah. Although Robbie was an integral member of the band. If you listen to the band with Steve, it was a whole different feel. It's not better or worse, it's just different. Obviously the main writers, the main vocalists are going to affect the sound more drastically than the drummer. But, having said that, Robbie was a huge influence in the way the band perceived and approached music. He was pretty much the lynch pin. He was in the driving chair as far as how a lot of the music was directed.
Q - Alan is the manager of the group these days?
A - Yeah. We made a decision a number of years ago to self-manage. It's really through necessity. We went through a number of managers and it's just very difficult to find someone suitable who understands what it is to be on the road. Also, managers don't tend to be cheap. So, we made a decision to self-manage and we've never really looked back as far as that's concerned. Alan does an excellent job. Him and I make the major decisions. We try to assess what's going on and do the right thing for the band. Being on the road, we can make decisions that someone who's sitting behind a desk doesn't understand. There's no way around that. You know that your not gonna book a horrendous tour where you have six nights in a truck. You know your limitations when you're traveling on the road because you've done it. It's easier for you to make the decision than someone else to make the decision for you. I think a lot of bands fall into that. They're really being directed by someone who's not on the road and doesn't understand what it's like to be on the road. They ask you to do things sometimes that they haven't done themselves. So, there's a dilemma right there. It's been very successful. Alan, as I said, does a superb job.
Q - Do you two guys take more money off the top for making the business decisions?
A - We own the Average White Band name. We have come to an arrangement with the ex-members. So, good or bad, we're holding the can. It's a partnership. You can understand that everyone doesn't want to share that responsibility and the partnership does. It comes with the territory. We pretty much try to take everyone into account. A happy band is a successful band. We try to make sure everyone is comfortable. Everyone has ideas and it works out very well.
Q - Who is your audience these days?
A - We still have a very mixed audience which is wonderful. Our biggest market by far is the United States. We've had the most success here. It's a big country and someone has to play it. We have a huge Black following in the United States, but it's also mixed as well. We get all sorts...young and old, different nationalities. I think music is the great common language. We've been in Japan a few times. We were in Moscow a few years ago. That was very interesting.
Q - What kind of venues are you performing in these days?
A - A lot of clubs obviously. Clubs and small theatres mostly. We only play casinos occasionally. It's not our main venue by any stretch of the imagination.
Q - How many days a year are you on the road?
A - It was up to 150. It's slightly less now. 80 to 100 now. It depends.
Q - Are you still recording?
A - We have a DVD that was recorded at the House Of Blues. It was recorded in Los Angeles. It was put out by Image. So, it's on video and DVD. And, the DVD has the backstage footage and interviews with the band.
On September 23rd, 1974, at a party thrown for Gregg Allman, AWB drummer Robbie McIntosh died from a heroin overdose.*
The Average White Band placed five songs in the Top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100
"Pick Up The Pieces" (#1) "Cut The Cake" (#10), "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" (#39), "School Boy Crush" (#33), "Queen Of My Soul" (#40)