Barrence Whitfield is the rare vocalist that comes around as infrequently as a December hurricane, with the same power and surprise. But Whitfield will tell you himself that a frontman is nothing without the right backing, and the best foil for the frenetic vocalist has always been guitarist Peter Greenberg. Whitfield and Greenberg met as record store employees in Boston in 1983. Greenberg had made his mark in Cincinnati with the Customs and in Boston with DMZ and The Lyres and was assembling a Garage Rock/R&B/Punk outfit. One conversation with Whitfield gave him his undeniable lead singer.
Christened Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, the band unleashed two scorching albums — 1984’s self-titled debut and 1985’s Dig Yourself — and secured their East Coast reputation with a live presentation that was equal parts Rock show, tent revival and sweat lodge.
Within two years, the Savages dissolved. Greenberg entered the energy industry and Whitfield formed a new band, a somewhat pale imitation of the original Savages. Whitfield’s new group recorded some decent albums, and his sizable reputation allowed him to tour Europe. He even explored his Country/Folk side with Americana icon Tom Russell.
In 2008, Cincinnatians Darren Blase (Shake It Records owner/operator) and Bryan Dilsizian (of The Long Gones) organized a Customs reunion, luring Greenberg out of his 20-year musical retirement. In 2010, Ace Records wanted to reissue the first Savages album; a subsequent meeting between Greenberg and Whitfield ultimately led to a full-blown Savages revival, with original bassist Phil Lenker and newcomers Tom Quartulli on sax and Cincinnati resident Andy Jody, the busiest drummer in any scene. (Cincy veteran Jim Cole has also contributed keyboard/organ work to the band.)
In short order, the rejuvenated Savages recorded their incredible comeback album, 2011’s Savage Kings (released by Shake It in the U.S.), and its follow-up, 2013’s incendiary Dig Thy Savage Soul (on Bloodshot Records), both produced locally by John Curley at Ultrasuede.
Since then, the band has been tearing shit up on the road with a swaggering ferocity typically exhibited by bands half the members’ ages.
With any luck, the Savages will drop some new tunes into the set list at their upcoming Cincinnati tour stop, but it hardly matters. Brand new or tried and true, Barrence Whitfield & the Savages will launch you into the stratosphere like a Rock-powered Saturn V. Bring a clean T-shirt; you’ll sweat through the first one.
BARRENCE WHITFIELD & THE SAVAGES open for the The Sonics Thursday at Woodward Theater. Tickets/more info here .