DJ: Cookie "Chainsaw" Randolph
Station: 101.5 KGB
Shift: 6·10:00 a.m., Monday·Friday
Back in December of 1974, I was an average white player for the Modesto Junior College basketball team in Central California. My teammate Bill Wilson, a smooth-playing guard from the Brooklyn projects, had a surprise for me. "Hey, Wolfie (the first of my many nicknames), check this out." From his eight-track player came the opening refrains of "Pick Up the Pieces," booming out of the giant speakers propped up on the backseat of his 1966 Cutlass Supreme.
"And these boys are white!" hollered Bill, as we bomped down College Avenue on the way to practice.
I tried to remind Bill of the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his dream of citing character over the identification of color, but Bill just laughed. The Scottish lads' naming their band the way they did kinda blew up that whole "color blind" thing anyway.
AWB's "White" album swept across America like a mini British Invasion, ten years after the real one. The notion that a white group could play funky soul music so well was not only novel, but something of a sensation. So, when AWB was making their debut on the West Coast, my girlfriend and I were on our way to San Francisco's legendary Winterland.
We drove the 90 miles from Modesto and parked blocks away. Arriving without tickets, we were lucky to purchase our pair moments before they sold out. We made our way to the balcony and enjoyed the first two acts: the Chambers Brothers and Etta James. Now, this is the Winterland balcony, 1975. Contact buzz, anybody? They could have called it "Bongland." Like being inside a giant hookah. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
Anyhoo, during intermission, the buzz of excitement was not just from the smoke. This crowd was alive. Out they came. Their first song was "You Got It," from the "White" album. I could tell the boys were a little jittery because the performance was not very tight. Just a few months before, original drummer Robbie McIntosh died of an overdose. Singer Al Gorrie was kept alive that same night only because Cher kept dousing him with water, so the legend goes. It would be unfair to suggest they partook in any preconcert enhancements this night, but hell, they'd be catching up with the audience. Their new drummer Steve Ferrone was the first black member of the previously all-white AWB. Not that anybody ever claimed "false advertising" or asked for a refund.
After a few songs, the group tightened up, and by the time they introduced the title cut of their next LP, Cut the Cake, my girlfriend was imploring me to take her downstairs near the stage. I was content to just kick back upstairs, but down we went. She led me to the front of the stage, which had room for us directly in front of the lead singer.
We danced all night. I couldn't believe it. MLK would have been proud. Whites and blacks dancing and smiling together in sheer joy. Then came the moment: the opening refrain of "Pick Up the Pieces," just like Bill had played for me weeks earlier. You know, where the guitar strum precedes the signature saxophone riff. Well I'm here to tell you that guitar strum lasted a good three minutes. They milked it for all it was worth. The sax guys took their sweet time resetting the microphones, fidgeting with their horns -- to the point where guitarist Onnie McIntyre gave them a look as if to say "So start, already!"
When the saxophones took wing, it was shivering ecstasy throughout the hall, long-version style. The band cooled us off with an inspired encore of "Heard It Through the Grapevine." Even more miraculously, I found my car and drove us safely home through the Central Valley fog.