Whitfield and Monkey Hips to rock the blues in Hull
"I felt I hadn’t been in vogue in the States in a long time,” said Barrence Whitfield in a recent interview. “It’s hard enough to get gigs, let alone good paying gigs. That’s the reason why I stuck to Europe, but I feel a sense of something happening now with live music. I saw it a little bit recently. People want to go out, and they want to rock and roll. They want to party. There needs to be some more excitement out there. It was like that a lot when we were playing in the ’80s, and we need to let people know there’s a band out there that can make ’em go completely nuts.”
If there’s anyone who knows about going nuts and doing it with flair and stop-on-a-dime showmanship, it’s Whitfield, one of the finest R&B and soul singers the Boston area’s ever produced, and long a club staple.
To hear Whitfield tell it, it’s like he’s been gone for a decade, or at least since the members of his old band, the Savages, began to move on. He’s never been gone, per se. He’s just spent most of his time recording, doing movies and television, and indulging a ravenous fan base in far flung locales like Finland, Belgium and Australia that’s been kinder to Whitfield than stateside music scenes. He’s passed through a number of bands and collaborations over the years, too; he can usually be counted on, for example, for a soulful sit-in whenever his old buddies in Los Lobos come through Boston.
But if there’s ever been a time when it’s finally accurate to say Barrence is “back,” it’s the present. He has a new band, the Monkey Hips, and having just wrapped a successful residency at Precinct in Somerville, he’s both expanding his scope to gigs in Connecticut, New York City and upstate New York, and hammering away at the local markets he knows well – including a headlining spot at the C-Note in Hull on Saturday, when he says, “we’ll probably rekindle some old memories of Savagedom.”
“This new band’s cooking right now,” Whitfield said. “We went down to New Haven and New York with it and both nights just blew the tops off people’s heads. I’m already thinking about doing the Midwest sometime next year, and I’ll be keeping up around New England and places like Portsmouth, Manchester, Portland and stuff like that. We’ve got a couple of offers to do a record. It’s cooking, I tell you.”
The Monkey Hips are a well-traveled collection of players. Former Savages ax-man Alan Shinefeld is on guitar, and he and Whitfield are joined by bassist Jim Haggerty (Rocky Velvet), drummer Tauras Biskis (Sheinfeld’s bandmate in Memphis Rockabilly), and saxophonist Mario Perrett (Love Dogs and countless others).
According to Whitfield, as the quintet began to play gigs – including a date late in the summer at TT the Bears, where, Whitfield said, “they blew the house away” – they realized almost instant chemistry. The band focuses on Whitfield’s back catalog and a deep well of covers from a number of genres, but Whitfield says they have new material in the works, too.
He laughs off any suggestion that as he gets older, the classic Whitfield energy will wane. He hasn’t lost his sense of humor and stagecraft, either; at a recent show at New York’s Rodeo Bar, the band wore fezzes, and at a show in Rochester, the return of a long-shelved Whitfield stage effect caused one print reviewer to proclaim, “The turban is back!”
“Oh, yeah, once you get on stage and the music comes ... well, like I said, it’s a good thing to be on with these guys. They’ve got some imagination, I tell you,” he said. “But I’m just happy to be out there still, at my age, doing this. I enjoy it so very much.”
The Patriot Ledger