06 October 2010

The Lost Instrumentals: Average White Band - "Pick Up The Pieces"

Six lads from Scotland formed a band in 1972, some of them already with minor credits to their name as backup musicians. Comprised of two sax players, a bassist, drummer and a lead and rhythm guitarist, the group caught its break when they backed up Eric Clapton at his "comeback" concert in 1973. The Clapton connection was important for two reasons: first, the guitar god's manager took them under his wing and landed them a contract with Atlantic Records in the US: and second, Clapton musical associate Bonnie Bramlett gave the boys a name: The Average White Band.

AWB released their self-titled Atlantic debut in the summer of 1974 in England. "Pick Up The Pieces" was picked as the lead single, and it promptly died without notice. The album came to US shores in October, and radio stations started to add the single to regular rotation. By February 1975 it hit #1 on the pop charts and #5 on the R&B list.

It remains one of the funkiest grooves ever reduced to vinyl. The guitar intro gives way to a staccato sax duet, powered from behind with a solid bass and drum bottom. The bridge is greeted by the communal shout of "pick up the pieces!" worthy of any Bar-Kays song and then . . . a scorching tenor sax solo by Malcolm "Molly" Duncan.

It really is a four minute, one second piece of musical genius, produced by Atlantic Records mogul Arif Mardin. It is a worthy addition to the legendary Atlantic soul canon.

Soon, AWB would be one of the first white groups appearing on Soul Train. A group of Scottish lads, no less.

Never underestimate the power and reach of American soul music.

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