In this regular Sunday feature, we ask people about 10 things that changed their life. This week, Alan Gorrie, founding member of the Average White Band.

1. The arrival of Rock ’n’ Roll

The National:

BEFORE Elvis and Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and The Comets arrived in my life, I had been listening to my dad’s records.

He was a pianist so those would have been mainly piano jazz, the likes of Fats Domino, Art Tatum and Meade Lux Lewis. So, it was all the real stomping jazz piano – exciting stuff.

But suddenly there was something else, something that a had real youthful edge to it. It felt like it had the same energy, but they were doing it with guitars and great singing and even though they were older than me, they felt that they were somehow within my grasp.

When Buddy Holly died in 1959, I was just 12 years old, but hearing him, Elvis and Haley at that age was earth-shaking.

2. Please Please Me

IT was March 1963 and I was listening to Radio Luxembourg. The world stopped for me that night, when I heard Please Please Me by The Beatles.

Being honest, Love Me Do didn’t have that much of an effect on me, but this new release was completely different. It’s even quite emotional thinking about it now. Nobody had ever sounded like that and nobody ever did again.

The song of course, but the feel of it, the whole damn thing… I was in a school choir at that point, so I understood the theory of singing, and when I heard McCartney singing that descant above Lennon’s descending vocal it blew my mind.

That same year I first heard Dougie Martin sing. It was in Perth City Hall, where there was a youth centre every Sunday night. Dougie was sitting in with a local band called The Cyclones and we hadn’t seen him before. When he opened his mouth, he sang everything from Ray Charles to Roy Orbison flawlessly.

My friends and I were pinned to the wall – we wondered how a mere Scottish mortal could do this. Subsequently I got to know him and found out he was from Dundee and was taking a break from his band the Hi-Four at that time (which supported The Beatles in Dundee), but that was a massive turning point.

Hearing Dougie sing like that maybe me think that maybe I could, or at least try. It certainly forced me to get moving.

3. The Blue Workshop

FROM 1964 to 1966 we had this wonderful experimental club in Perth called The Blue Workshop which I had a hand in setting up. By this time, I was at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art in Dundee and I had a couple of pals there who played sax – that was Molly Duncan and Roger Ball – so I brought them along to take part.

Jim Mullen, the legendary jazz guitarist, also came through as did my own band The Vikings. There was a really interesting amalgamation of jazz and rhythm and blues and rock – all performing together.

There was also a young drummer, a 15-year-old from Dundee called Robbie McIntosh who came along and played. We realised then that we had seen a bloody genius at work. So, this was unwittingly a template for the Average White Band.

When I moved to London in late 1966, Molly and Roger moved too, and we said we needed to put together something like The Blue Workshop and we needed Robbie McIntosh. He really was the key to us playing soul music.

4. La Bamba

The National: La Bamba. Photograph: TSLLa Bamba. Photograph: TSL

BETWEEN 1964 and 1966 The Vikings also became a resident band at a club in Falkirk called La Bamba.

I think it’s true to say that this was Scotland’s Cavern. It had the same vibe, jam-packed with young Mods and all the best bands played there.

The fact that it was in the very centre of the country meant it was easy for bands from all over to get there – always the good bands, never the showbands. You could probably describe it as Mod – blues, R&B, and good rock.

When we had nights off, we would drive through from Perth to see bands like the Dream Police, who had Hamish Stuart singing with them. There was also The In Crowd, with Onnie McIntyre. So that’s how we met the other musicians who fitted into the jigsaw puzzle later.

It was also an incredibly important place for me personally, because I met my wife there.

5. My Safety Net Disappearing

I DROPPED out of art college in late 1966 when I was 20 but being truthful, I think the college might have dropped me as well. 

At least my old man didn’t have to pay back my grant. That might have ruined him, being a musician as well.

I said to him: “I’m off to London with the band, but if it doesn’t work out then I can come back and try something else.” And he said to me: “No you bloody well won’t. You’ve made your bed – you’ll bloody well lie in it.” There was no revolving door to him. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it all the way. It was all the more surprising because he had never been like that before.

I think that gave me a slightly stiffer resolve to the other guys – it changed my approach to what the music business was all about. I didn’t think of myself as having a safety net. There was only a tightrope and it had to be walked all the way.

When the guys started to peel off one by one and The Vikings fell apart, I started to go to auditions, play with other people and then there was The Scots of St James.

I don’t really think my dad gave me parental advice; it was more of a device I think.

6. Going to LA

The National:

THE Average White Band arrived in LA in August of 1972 (above), to record Bonnie Bramlett’s solo album. She had come over to London at the insistence of Bruce McCaskill, who was Eric Clapton’s roadie with Cream. Bonnie saw us play a couple of gigs and asked us to be her backing band for the album.

At that time LA was the centre of modern American black music. While we were rehearsing in Studio Instrument Rentals, all the guys from Stax records there were rehearsing for the Wattstax benefit concert.

They came in and saw all these young Scottish white guys and said. “What the f*** is going on?!” This was Freddie Stone, Leon Ware, Joe Tex, and Bobby Womack, who came in and played with us. He took Hamish’s guitar and turned it upside down because he plays left- handed. We all stood there thunderstruck at what he could do innately.

While we were there the radio stations were playing records like The Isley Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone – it was as if we were all baptised. We came back different people and as a band we had definitely crossed the divide. There was no more desire to do it the old way because British soul music really wasn’t the real deal.

We came back with the intention of doing it right, then taking it back to the States and proving ourselves there.

In early 1973, we were asked to support Eric Clapton at the Rainbow and that along with a gig at the Marquee a few weeks later got us our first record deal.

7. Meeting Jerry Wexler

WE met Jerry Wexler at a party in LA in 1974. We had always wanted to be on Atlantic Records, but the UK office had turned us down.

At the party a demo version of The AWB album was playing and when he heard it, he said he would sign us the next morning. In his book, Rhythm and the Blues, he recalled it by saying: “The music hit me where I live.”

He put us together with producer Arif Mardin who took us to Miami and then New York to record it all again and add a couple of new tunes.

This was huge – working with these giants of music was our kick upstairs and made us play with so much more gusto and verve.

8. Marvin Gaye

The National:

IN 1976, we were playing the Holly- wood Palla- dium on Hallo-ween. Marvin Gaye was at the show and during the encore he bounded up the steps on to the stage to join us.

Now, it’s always great when someone joins you – but this was Marvin Gaye. He never jammed with people, it wasn’t his style, so to do something to move him to do that spontaneously was something else. It wasn’t arranged; it wasn’t rehearsed. I don’t think any of us could get our feet back on the ground for days after that.

You feel like you’re being endorsed by the very best, and it puts lead in your pencil to move on and make more records, despite everything that happened. Thank goodness our tour manager at the time was also a consummate photographer.

9. The death of Robbie McIntosh

THE album came out in August and we were brought back to the States. We played four nights at The Bottom Line at New Year, opening for Elvin Bishop and then we went to LA and had a week at The Troubadour. Everyone in the LA music business was there by the end of the week, wondering what the hell this was. We had Elton John and Martha Reeves joining us for encores. All the stuff of dreams.

Then, on Sunday night, Robbie died and in a split-second everything changes. Our friend, the guy that we built the band around was gone in a heartbeat. That was the end of the joy of joining Atlantic and concentrating on that album. That’s why we’re performing it in its entirety on a tour next month.

10. Rediscovering painting

The National:

I DIDN’T learn much at college. Maybe I wasn’t ready, but some of the teachers were young painters, more interested in what they were doing themselves.

In 2006, I joined an art institute near where I live in Connecticut, with an amazing master landscape painter, David Dunlop. It really has taken me out of myself. Now I’m interested in looking at everything around me – it’s taught me how to see; how to observe the landscape and people in it. I go around composing paintings all the time.

Most of my paintings are done in Scotland because the landscape thrills me. It also takes me places in Scotland where I haven’t been before. It helps me escape the rigours of being in a band and running a band.