Average White Band (also AWB) are a Scottish funk and R&B band that had a series of soul and disco hits between 1974 and 1980. They are best known for their million-selling instrumental track “Pick Up the Pieces”, and their albums AWB and Cut the Cake. The band name was initially proposed by Bonnie Bramlett. They have influenced others such as the Brand New Heavies, and been sampled by various musicians including the Beastie Boys, TLC, The Beatnuts, Too Short, Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest, as well as Arrested Development – making them the fifteenth most sampled act in history. As of 2012, forty years after their formation, they continue to perform.
AWB was formed in early 1972 by Alan Gorrie, and Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, with Onnie McIntyre, Michael Rosen (trumpet), Roger Ball, and Robbie McIntosh joining them in the original line-up. Hamish Stuart quickly replaced Rosen. Duncan and Ball, affectionately known as the Dundee Horns, studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art (now part of the University of Dundee, but which at the time was part of the Dundee Institute of Art & Technology, now known as Abertay University), and were previously members of Mogul Thrash. Gorrie and McIntyre had been members of Forever More. McIntyre and McIntosh were used as session musicians on Chuck Berry’s recording of “My Ding-a-Ling”.
The band’s breakthrough was a support slot at Eric Clapton’s comeback concert in 1973. MCA Records released their debut album, Show Your Hand (1973), which sold poorly. Bruce McCaskill, who was Clapton’s tour manager, liked the band’s music and agreed to manage them. He borrowed money to take them to the US and to promote them. McCaskill had many contacts from his days with Clapton and managed to get Atlantic Records to sign them. The band relocated to Los Angeles and released the follow-up, AWB, better known as The White Album. It reached #1 and was the first of many with renowned producer Arif Mardin.
McIntosh died of a heroin overdose at a Los Angeles party on 23 September 1974. Gorrie also overdosed, but Cher kept him conscious until medical help arrived. The NME reported in January 1975 that AWB played a benefit show for McIntosh’s widow at the Marquee Club in London. McIntosh was replaced by Steve Ferrone (previously of Bloodstone), and, like McIntosh, previously with Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express.
In 1975, the single “Pick Up the Pieces” – taken from the No. 1 AWB album – reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song knocked Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” out of No. 1 and sold over one million copies. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in March 1975. It also prompted The J.B.’s, the backup band of the “Godfather of Soul”, James Brown, to record and release a song in reply, “Pick Up the Pieces, One by One”, under the name AABB (Above Average Black Band). It was both a tribute to AWB’s knowledge of funk and a tongue-in-cheek play on the Scottish band’s name.
AWB followed up with the LPs Cut the Cake (1975) and Soul Searching (1976), both big sellers and yielding further Top 40 singles. Cut the Cake was dedicated by the surviving band members to McIntosh’s memory. Their next LP, Benny & Us, was a collaboration with Ben E. King.
After several more albums, AWB’s audience and sales dwindled. Their 1980 disco hit “Let’s Go Round Again” (UK #12), was covered in the late 1990s by Louise. The group initially disbanded by 1983.
Ferrone went on to work with Duran Duran whilst Hamish Stuart joined Paul McCartney’s touring group. In 1985 Gorrie released a solo album, Sleepless Nights.
Gorrie, McIntyre, and Ball reunited in 1989 to record Aftershock. Alex Ligertwood (ex-Santana and Jeff Beck Group) also appeared on this album replacing lead singer Hamish Stuart, along with Eliot Lewis who co-wrote with Gorrie and joined the band as well. Ligertwood left after the album’s recording and drummer Tiger McNeil joined for the reunited band’s live shows. McNeil was with the group until 1994. He was then succeeded by Peter Abbott (ex-Blood Sweat and Tears), who in turn was replaced by Fred “Catfish” Alias in September 1998. Drummer Adam Deitch did a two-year stint with AWB from 1999 to 2001.