Barrence Whitfield
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Barrence Whitfield

Boston, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE

Boston, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE
Band Blues Singer/Songwriter


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"The music man: From choirboy, to R&B celebrity, to record store clerk, Barrence Whitfield's life is all about the tunes"

By Rosemary Ford , Staff writer
Published: December 20, 2007

He was born Barry White.

Then a singer by the same name started scoring big hits and winning fans in the '70s. So it wasn't the easiest name to bear for a kid who also wanted to be a singer - but not like Barry White.

"I always had the idea I could be like James Brown," said the 57-year-old musician now living in Beverly.

He changed his name to Barrence Whitfield, and it has served him well.

In the '80s, as part of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, he achieved cult status here and fame in England, where he counts Robert Plant and Elvis Costello among his fans.

Nowadays, Whitfield still is singing - and screaming and shouting like Brown - locally. Sometimes he performs with the former Savages, other times with another local favorite, the Boston Horns, comprised of many North of Boston musicians. He's also featured on the Horns' latest album, "Shibuya Gumbo."

"He gets the audience into the music," said Horns saxophonist and co-founder Henley Douglas Jr. of Salem.

He's traveled the world with great singers, and Douglas ranks Whitfield among the best.

"Barrence Whitfield, there is nobody like him," Douglas said. "He is a true soul singer."

In addition to playing clubs by night, Whitfield by day works at the Record Exchange on Washington Street in Salem, Mass. To him the store is a musical museum, an archive for great music of the past that allows him to indulge his eclectic musical tastes every day.

"I am glad to have a place where I can come to, and I'm able to take off from," said Whitfield, who started working at the store in 1992.

Taking off usually means touring. In February, he's got some dates in southern Spain where he will perform at a jazz festival.

Whitfield frequently plays Europe, where he says he may be better recognized and appreciated than he is in America. It's a dynamic that can be traced back to the 1980s, when Barrence Whitfield and the Savages were discovered by a BBC disc jockey.

But that wasn't the beginning of Whitfield's musical career.

He started singing as a boy with his church choir in New Jersey, had a few bands in high school, then abandoned his musical ambitions for college.

He came to Massachusetts in the late 1970s to study broadcast journalism at Boston University. In 1983 he met ex-Lyres guitarist Peter Greenberg, founder of the original Savages. At the time, Whitfield says, his voice was a little rusty.

"I hadn't performed for five years," Whitfield said. "It took me a while to get it together."

Soon Barrence Whitfield and the Savages were making waves in Greater Boston, gathering favorable reviews and national attention in the '80s. They played traditional R&B and rock, a mix of cover songs and originals, and took off after signing with Rounder Records in Cambridge.

They lived up to their name, playing wild live shows.

"We had people rip off their shirts and dance on tables," Whitfield recalled .

It was then that the group caught the attention of well-known BBC disc jockey Andy Kershaw, who came to America and recorded Whitfield and the Savages, then broadcasted the show in England. It was so popular, Kershaw pushed for the band's first European tour.

"It blew us wide open," said Whitfield, who met Plant and Costello there.

By 1995, the band would officially split though Whitfield still plays with some of the former members.

Over the years he has done a variety of other projects, ranging from two country albums with Tom Russell, to performing with Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, The Rev. Solomon Burke, Los Lobos, and many others.

Whitfield currently is working on a CD with producer Tommy Hambridge, who also worked on Susan Tedeschi's first album (which went gold), as well as her second.

He also has a tune on the soundtrack to John Sayles new movie, "Honeydripper," starring Danny Glover and Lisa Gay Hamilton.

He's most proud of the fact he has been able to deliver music to so many people.

"I am happy, as a whole, I spread that joy all around the world," he said.

- Eagle-Tribune

"Rockabilly, R&B acts to Headline Fair"

Volume XXXVIII Number 12, March 27, 2008
By Jessica Edwards

Fairgoers in 2008 will get two acts for the price of one, and can shake their tail feathers to rockabilly, country, and rhythm and blues music.

This year’s double headliner at the 40th Southeast Alaska State Fair features rockabilly guitarist and vocalist Deke Dickerson, and singer Barrence Whitfield, best known for his 1950s-era rhythm and blues reminiscent of Little Richard or Screaming Jay Hawkins.

Both will play Saturday, July 26 at Payson’s Pavilion, with a teaser preview Friday.

Fair entertainment coordinator Byrne Power said he felt his mandate was to bring dance music to Haines. He feels he’s succeeded. "If you can’t dance to this, you’re probably comatose," he said.

The two musicians, neither of whom has played in Alaska, crossed paths professionally in the past and were excited to play together.

Dickerson will open with his band the Ecco-fonics. While their music is often labeled rockabilly, the band plays in a variety of genres, including bluegrass, western swing, Memphis soul and rhythm and blues.

Dickerson has toured widely, and his music was featured in the movie "Sideways" and the HBO documentary "Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana," as well as on the XM satellite radio show "Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan." Dylan interviewed Dickerson, who played background guitar music on the show.

Barrence Whitfield likewise is a versatile musician, performing 1960s style soul, funk, and even a bit of country. Over the years, Whitfield has opened for and performed with Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Los Lobos, and Taj Majal.

More popular in Europe than in the U.S., one online review of Whitfield called him an "untapped talent."

After Dickerson and Ecco-fonics finish their set, they will play backup for Whitfield. As a finale, they’ll close the show together, Power said.

Power said he tried to get the most bang for the buck in choosing headliners. He said he was able to book two quality acts for about $15,000, less than a single name has cost the fair in years past. "It’s an excellent deal."

Power hopes a drop in ticket prices for this year’s Saturday concert – from $25 to $15 – will boost attendance. "The goal is to get people to the fair." He said the fair would be advertising the concert around Southeast and in Whitehorse.

Anyone interested in hosting the musicians and showing them Alaskan hospitality should contact Power at 766-2476.

To learn more about Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-fonics and preview their music, visit the website Various clips of Barrence Whitfield performing live can be viewed by searching "Barrence Whitfield" at

- Chilkat Valley News

"barrence whitfield-still savagely sweet after all these years"

Winter Holiday ][north shore living ][ holiday 07

By David Sneade
Photography by Jared Charney

When not touring the world, delivering his signature scream and
singular vocal style, you can find him at the Salem Record Exchange.
There, the one and only Barrence Whitfield is also in his element.
Whitfield has worked at the store since 1991. Its proprietor is
Ross Kohonen. “He’s been a friend,” says Whitfield. “He knows who
I am and that I go off and tour from time to time. If I had a regular 9 to 5,
I couldn’t do what I do.”
Whitfield is a singer. He is best known for his stint with Barrence
Whitfield and the Savages, who were the darlings of Boston’s R&B scene
throughout the 1980s. In addition to his dynamic performances, Whitfield
continues to be a songwriter’s best friend. With his encyclopedic knowledge
of American song, he is one of the more untapped talents in the
country. In the past 25 years, he has built a reputation for resurrecting lost
gems and interpreting great tunes from contemporary songwriters.
Whitfield also finds work as a session singer. One recent recording
appears in John Sayles new film, The Honeydripper. The piece is called
“As the Music Keeps Rolling On,” co-written by Sayles and local composer,
Mason Daring.
“The musicians said, ‘Oh, man, this is a song that Barrence should be
singing.’ So they called me,” Whitfield says. “It’s in the movie, which is a
great opportunity for me. It’s going to be shown for the first time at the
Toronto Film Festival this fall.”
To learn more about this local treasure who keeps rolling on, check out
his web site at or stop by the Record
Exchange to talk shop and pick up a few of his records. - NorthShore Living

"Montgomery, Winter Heat Up Kowloon"

By Brett Milano
Saturday, January 19, 2008

What’s it like to see a blues show at the Kowloon restaurant in Saugus? Put it this way: It’s not every day you hear James Montgomery work an egg foo yong reference into a Muddy Waters lyric.
Johnny Be Good: Though frail-looking, Johnny Winter can still rock.
Instead of whiskey and barbecue, it was pu pu platters and mai tais to accompany the music Thursday. But after a few blasts from Montgomery’s harmonica and Johnny Winter’s guitar, the restaurant’s upstairs felt more like a roadhouse. Sure, the setup was unusual; the stage is in the middle of the room, facing a wall, so the audience can view from only the sides. But the sound and the atmosphere are fine, even refreshing. This is about as far away from the commercialized atmosphere of the old House of Blues as it gets.
By now, Detroit-to-Boston vet Montgomery has played every kind of room there is, and he remains the model of a road-dog bluesman. Though not an innovator, he managed to put a fresh, funky spin on two chestnuts, Waters’ “Same Thing” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” the latter highlighted by a cameo from local r & b great Barrence Whitfield. Backed by a solid trio, Montgomery churned out riffs with heart and style, paying tribute to his mentors, James Cotton and Junior Wells. Now that he’s given up his bad habits and taken up exercising, he’s an anomaly - a healthy-looking bluesman.
The contrast with Johnny Winter couldn’t be more striking. For the past decade, Winter has looked disturbingly frail onstage and older than his 63 years. On Thursday, he played seated, and from his gestures it seemed his sight may be failing. Winter also has frozen his set list: He largely reprised the lineup of his 1997 live album, which leaves out most of his signature tunes. He apparently hasn’t played “Johnny B. Goode” or “Still Alive and Well” in years.
The set started on a downer, with second guitarist Paul Nelson leading the band through a lot of pointless, high-speed solos.
Things got a lot better once Winter hit the stage (and Nelson stayed off, save for a dual-guitar showdown on “It’s All Over Now”). Winter’s fingers don’t have all the dexterity of old, but that’s not a big problem: He had so much flash he could afford to lose some.
Winter’s playing seems more soulful now that he chooses his notes with greater care. There were plenty of good sparks on Freddie King’s “Hideaway” and Ray Charles’ “Blackjack,” both pure blues numbers that Winter’s favored lately. The set caught fire at the end when he called Montgomery up for “Got My Mojo Working,” and unleashed his slide guitar on Dylan’s “Highway 61” (seemingly a choice his bassist didn’t see coming). Maybe it wasn’t quite vintage Winter, but it’s not time to count the man out yet.
- Boston Herald


Built Like a Rock/ I Love Her So
BW and The Monkey Hips

Format: 7" 45 rpm Colored Vinyl with Jacket
Label: Q-Dee | Rock and Soul Series

#1 in the Q-dee Rock and Soul single series features the Sultan of Boston R & B, Barrence Whitfield, with his band The Monkey Hips, in a return to the scorched earth horn punch sound of the early Savages era.

Barrence Whitfield Eta Petti & The

Petti and Whitfield got together in the summer of 2009 in the studio Katarain to record with The Bloodyhotsaks. In only a few days, five themes created by Petti and five more versions chosen by Whitfield were crafted in an atmosphere of having known each other for years. The result is a great rock & roll record.
Raw, Raw, Rough!

Format: CD
Label: Blood Red Vinyl

Crazy, shoutin' old school R&B from a man who's voice has been described as a "force of nature“. "Here Whitfield plays with a basic strippeddown band — guitar, bass, drums, and sax. They wail and stomp as Barrence sings with such abandon that he makes Screamin' Jay Hawkins look shy." – Steve Terrell
Music Documentary Soundtrack
Wentus Blues Band: Family Meeting

Format: 2 CD Set
Label: Ruf Records

The show featured an impressive line-up of rock and blues legends, such as Eddie Kirkland, Louisiana Red and Lazy Lester, ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Omar Dykes from Omar & The Howlers, Barrence Whitfield - a real rocker in the savage style of Little Richard, Sven Zetterberg and Clas Yngström from Sweden and the great Eric Bibb.
Honeydripper Soundtrack
Theatric Release 12/2007
Written by John Sayles & Mason Daring Published by Daring Music administered by Universal Music Inc. (ASCAP) Performed by Barrence Whitfield

In 1950''s Alabama, the owner of the Honeydripper juke joint finds his business dropping off and against his better judgment, hires a young electric guitarist in a last ditch effort to draw crowds during harvest time.

Director: John Sayles
Starring: Danny Glover;
Gary Clark Jr.; Keb Mo

From Where I Stand
The Black Experience in Country Music
Various Artists
Format: CD
Label: Warner Brothers

An ambitious three-CD mini-box to document the history of black country music, From Where I Stand is quite worthy and admirable. Each disc is assembled thematically; The soul cuts are probably the best in the box, and the historical connections between the artists and their country influences are made clearer by a fine 60-page booklet. ~ Richie Unterberger All Music Guide
Van Morrison Songbook
Various Artists
Format: CD
Label: Pinnacle (UK only

The Van Morrison Songbook is a 15 track collection of cover versions written by Van Morrison. Album compiled by Simon Gee (editor of Wavelength, the Van Morrison newsletter). First cut: Cleaning Windows (Barrence Whitfield & Tom Russell)
- Van Morrison website
Tulare Dust: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Merle Haggard
Various Artists
Format: CD
Label: Hightone

Barrence Whitfield’s version of "Irma Jackson," which addresses race relations via the tale of an interracial romance; Steve Young’s affecting "Shopping for Dresses"; and the melancholy "I Can't Be Myself," where Katy Moffatt’s hits thrilling high notes. Nobody sings Haggard quite like Haggard, but these recordings are classics in their own right. –
Ritual of the Savages
Barrence Whitfield and the
Format: CD
Label: Ocean Music

Since the late '80s, the Savages have had a relationship with Ben Vaughn, and his presence and songwriting contributions have helped them continue to refine their sound without loosing the sense of manic energy that made their earlier releases so important.
- John Dougan, All Music Guide
Hillbilly Voodoo
Barrence Whitfield and
Tom Russell
Format: CD
Label: East Side Digital

With some of the best rock 'n' rollers in his band (at one time including Peter Greenberg of DMZ and Howie Ferguson of the Real Kids), Whitfield and his band keep alive absolutely crazed, piano-pounding, sax-heavy rock 'n' roll as it was known at the time of its birth. Manic falsettos punctuate the raucously rolling, storming music like nothing else heard today. –
The Corazong release of Strange Adventure includes seven bonus tracks; six recorded live at Muddy Waters in Oslo, Norway and one studio demo, totaling 17 songs. Self-released in small quantity to critical acclaim in 2006! No Depression: The Mercy Brothers come up with their o



Updated 1/2010

Barrence Whitfield is a full-throttle soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke. He has been described as the “owner of one incredible pair of lungs,” with “limitless energy” and unmatched enthusiasm for his music and his audience. Barrence is a rarity in this business--one of a few black, rock ‘n roll singer/entertainers who Spin Magazine says maintains a “frenzied’” performance.

"Whitfield is a performer so consumed with satisfying his audiences that he has been called 'crazed, frenetic and completely unhinged.” “Barrence, the singer… made up of equal parts Arthur Alexander, Nolan Porter and James Carr …this mofo burns.”

On June 13, 1955 in Jacksonville, Florida, Mrs. White gave birth to a little baby boy she called Barry. That’s right! Little baby Barry White. His family migrated to Newark, where he spent his early years singing in a local Gospel choir. By the end of college Barry had changed his name to Barrence Whitfield, a smart move considering there was a 5 time Grammy award winning singer/songwriter of the same name, who by the way changed his name from Barrence to Barry early in his career. Go figure.

Throughout high school, Barrence belonged to a few bands, doubling as a singer and drummer while perfecting his soul and funk musicality. After graduating from Jerry Lewis’ old stomping ground, West Side High School in Newark, he further explored his love of the music scene, playing with a variety of musicians eventually opening for Johnny Winter.

In 1977. Barrence made his way to Boston to attend Boston University, and later transferred to Emerson College, where he remained happily for the next few years as Journalism major. During that time, Barrence focused on school versus performing, but kept music close to his heart. His hunger and passion for all things musical led him to build a personal record collection to enviable levels. He has become a well respected musicologist who now lectures on music and its societal impact, drawing from that most envied personal record collection.

After college Barrence, like many organic music lovers, found himself working in a Kenmore Square record shop called Nuggets. There, he was discovered by guitarist Peter Greenberg, of the legendary Boston bands DMZ and The Lyres. Through this introduction Barrence got his first taste of the rock 'n roll life and Boston’s music scene. Boston reciprocated in kind with 7 Boston Music Awards including;

· Best all Around Male Vocalist

· Best R&B Vocalist

· Best Club Band

· Best R&B Band

Barrence was not just well-received in Boston but throughout North America as well as achieving stardom on a much larger scale throughout Europe. A BBC journalist and well-known disc jockey, Andy Kershaw, fell in love with Barrence after hearing a live recording of him and his band, The Savage’s. In fact, Andy was so taken by what he heard; he traveled to the US to see a Barrence Whitfield & The Savages show in person. Mr. Kershaw was blown away when he realized that Barrence’s musical talent was matched, scream for scream and howl for howl, by incredible showmanship and physical presence.

According to Andy, “going to a Barrence Whitfield show is always a full-body experience because you can't sit down from wanting to continually shake your body and dance!”

Barrence was immediately booked to play a number of shows in England where he was an instant success! It wasn't long before Barrence was traveling all over Europe, making records and being embraced by fans for his matchless and boundless energy and talent. “It's his incredible pipes and his unique persona.” fans and reviewers agreed. Among his English fans are Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Jools Holland, and the late, great John Peel.

“Whitfield wailed incredibly on a wild 'n' loose set, working dancers up so much they just started jumping up and down and howling. It was like church without the guilt.” - Frank De Blasé

Before long, Barrence was opening for, and playing with performers like Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, the Reverend Solomon Burke, Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, Richard Thompson, Etta James, Buddy Guy, and many, many, more. Barrence has received critical acclaim on two country-soul albums he did with renowned singer/songwriter, Tom Russell, including the Merle Haggard Tribute Album.

Barrence continues to be a hot, hence rather busy, commodity. In 2007 John Sayles and Mason Daring were working the soundtrack for Mr. Sayles’ release of the movie Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover. Barrence was called upon to perform a track written by John and Mason, The Music Keeps Rollin’ On. When Finland’s premier blues band, Wentus Blues Band, called upon Barrence to be a part of a music documentary being shot in Finland, he answered the call there as well. And, he ans