An obscure fusion of funky bluesman, hip-hop mastermind, and fervid rap lyricist, Garrett Dutton, better known as the revered G. Love speaks about getting back with the Special Sauce, returning to Bluesfest, recording with the ‘sassy’ Merry Clayton, his upcoming record and future collaborations.
Today’s illustration of G. Love is from Chris Nixon. Chris is an illustrator, designer and creative director based in Perth and is inspired by the West Coast and classic surf culture.
HAPPY: Mr G. Love thanks for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of Happy today, shall we get straight into things?
G. LOVE: Hello there! No, thank you for taking the time to interview me! And yeah, sure thing.
HAPPY: After more than 4 years apart, what’s it like to finally have all the original members of G. Love and Special Sauce back together?
G. LOVE: Yeah, it’s been great. We thought “Let’s take a little break” but once we got back together it’s been really good! I think being in a band is kind of like being in a marriage, I mean I’ve never been married (laughs) but it’s the relationship, you know? … You can’t put a finger on why you love somebody sometimes, and sometimes you must think you’re crazy to love somebody but it’s a real kind of love and you have some sort of magical chemistry together and you realise it’s a tough thing to put a finger on, but it’s a special thing you can’t seem to find with anyone else.
So, it was the same thing with the band, Jim, Jeff and I, when we make music together something really unique comes out of it. Could I go and sing my songs with technically better musicians who are technically better looking, who are younger and more ‘rock n roll’ ? I mean yeah, but I was dating this model once and her friend saw this shot of my band, and she said “Who casted them?!” and I was like, “It’s not like that”, people can actually do something other than look good… So, there’s something to be said for that chemistry between Jim, Jeff and I!
HAPPY: It’s evident that Sugar is very much reminiscent to the band’s earlier recordings, was there a particular reason for going back to that sound? Or did it just happen naturally?
G. LOVE: We’ve done 15 records at this time, and I feel like when I’m best is when we just let it be raw and let it be off the cuff, make sure the songs are great and don’t try and get too sassy with it. The records I like to listen to are mostly hip-hop, I like shit raw, you know? And so that’s how I want to do it, and the more I play music I want to make something that’s gonna be raw forever, and therefore it’s just not going to be influenced by one certain era, it’s gonna be timeless, so I was happy to record like that and I chose to do it like that, and I’ll choose to do it that way again, because I feel that’s the best thing for me to do, and that’s how I’m gonna come off the best and be true to music that I love to make and listen to!
HAPPY: What’s your favourite track from the record?
G. LOVE: Let’s see, I really love this record, so it’s tough to say… the two that have popped into my head are Good Life and Weekend Dance #2.
HAPPY: My personal favourite One Night Romance features the legendary Merry Clayton, who of course, did the famous vocals on Gimme Shelter…what was it like working with her?
G. LOVE: Yeah, it was great, she came in, and was such a nice woman, she’s kind of laid back and kind of sassy, a powerful woman, who was quick to laugh and tell stories… but she was also like the princess! I think she said her grandchildren call her ‘Grandmother Princess’ or something like that (laughs) so she’s very much like a princess, and she was just charming! I’d ask “Oh Merry would you like a glass of wine” and she’d go “Oooh I’d love a glass of wine!”, and so we’d walk in and she’d tell stories for a while and when we hit the studio, I mean I work pretty hard on my singing and I’m still not much of a singer, but I was going to try and do the best I could and let it all hang out and she certainly let it all hang out! So yeah, we got the track and it was really interesting to watch the way that she kind of rhythmically nuanced certain phrases and it was really subtle, that rhythmic punch of the lyrics she wanted to move to certain places… she’s the true vocal mistress.
HAPPY: You’ve performed at Bluesfest a total of five times now, how does it feel to be making a comeback this April?
G. LOVE: I don’t know whether to be happy that I’m finally coming back there this year or angry that it took them so long to invite us back (laughs). No, it’s one of my favourite festivals and we’re just really happy to be coming back and the line up is, I have to say, one of the best festival line ups! I mean, when I first seen the line up, and I’m not just saying this because I’m on it, I thought “Wow, this is one of the best festival line ups I’ve ever seen, period.” As far as the stuff that I like to listen to that’s one of the most insane line ups I’ve ever seen! We’re honoured to be a part of it man!
HAPPY: On the topic of Blues, I hear a lot of the early Chicago bluesmen when listening to your music, which blues musicians have influenced your journey? And what do the blues mean to you?
G. LOVE: I think on this recording you can hear a lot of Bo Didley’s influence, you can certainly always hear John Hammond’s influence, and Little Walter, and Charlie Musselwhite on the harmonica… The song Night Life itself lyrically is a John Lee Hooker cover, kind of! It takes verses from one of John Lee Hooker’s songs Whiskey and Women, the groove is our own thing, and he retained the publishing… But may he rest in peace; he was great Mr John Lee Hooker. But what do the blues mean to me? It’s been this type of music that’s really spoke to me, I don’t know why or how but the first time I put on this John Hammond record called Country Blues his acoustic solo record, to me it was just like “This is what I’m trying to do” and I didn’t know it yet.
I thought “This is the path”. Structurally the blues are very simple, but it’s about how profound and deep can you make it, using these simple tools and it’s very easy to make the blues sound cheesy, so it’s like how can you make something that’s still real and dark, or happy and groovy or funky and make it still be ‘the shit’? Where it can be 100 years later, and it still speaks to now? Because that’s kind of what I’ve always been about, like “Okay, I’m gonna take what I’ve learnt from Robert Johnson or Bo Didley and I’m gonna do my own thing with it, and make it for me, where I’m living at now” and so that’s what the mission is, you know?
HAPPY: Of course. It’s an opinion of many, including myself, that you’ve invented your own completely distinct concoction of genres… How did you go about establishing that unique sound?
G. LOVE: Well, I think it’s a product of where I was from, Philadelphia and growing up in the city and being exposed through that to hip-hop, urban, and rap culture. Philadelphia is a really integrated city, and all the neighbourhoods are close, so one second you could be in a nice white neighbourhood and the next thing you could be in an Irish neighbourhood and you keep walking and you could be in a Puerto Rican neighbourhood, or a black neighbourhood, every neighbourhood changed like every five or ten blocks, so I always said to anybody that was coming from out of town “Just don’t walk too far in one direction” (laughs) because you might end up in a neighbourhood where you’re not welcome.
I was into basketball, so I grew up as one of the only white kids in this basketball league, and that was the first time I heard the Beasties (Beastie Boys) when my friend who happened to be black said “Oh, check this record out” and I was like “Oh that’s cool, buddy” and he was like “Those are white boys, just like you” and I couldn’t wrap my head around it that a white person could rap, until I heard the Beastie Boys when I was 15 or whatever, and even though they got huge, hip-hop was something we grew up with, we knew all the raps, we used to write graffiti, we used to go skateboard, and play basketball, break-dance and all this hip-hop stuff, but you didn’t seriously consider you could be rapper.
So that was one side of me, and the other half of me was this acoustic folk singer, and later on I was an acoustic blues man and I first latched onto Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary… folk music, right? And then I realised “I like the blues” and then I put my all into the blues, and one day it just kind of happened, I was playing as a street musician and I was finished singing my song, and I just started rapping these lyrics to this Eric B & Rakim song called Paid In Full over a blues riff, and I said at that moment “I’m the only white person, in the world right now rapping and playing a Dobro in Philadelphia, no one else is doing this” and I knew by then, at 17 or 18 that you have to be original. I always wanted to be original, I didn’t want to be follower, and I’ve never been one, from the clothes I wear, to the music I play and everything in between, and I knew I had something special then, and that was it. It wasn’t something that I ever contrived to do; it was just always something real.
HAPPY: Do you have any new music coming out in the next year at all?
G. LOVE: Um, yeah! I’ll be starting to work on a recording this year, I don’t think it will come out until 2016 but I literally just had a call with my manager from the label two days ago to try and build the momentum for the next recording project, which I thought wasn’t going to happen till at least next fall but now it’s starting this spring.
HAPPY: Is that gonna be a solo record, or with the band?
G. LOVE: It’s gonna be both! Even something that’s just a ‘G. Love’ record still has the Special Sauce on it, but I think this new record is going to be more like our record Lemonade but a little more blues orientated, I think there’s gonna be a lot of collaborations on it, and explorations into the blues… The first people we’re gonna collaborate with are North Mississippi All Stars, I’m gonna go down to their studio in Memphis in May and do some stuff with them, that’s already booked, so that’ll be the first one! And I don’t want to drop any names but there’s certainly a bunch of people on that Bluesfest line up that I’d like to get with in the studio.
HAPPY: Although he’s not on this year’s line up, how about Charlie Musselwhite on the record? That would be a brilliant!
G. LOVE: Yeah, he’s definitely on the list!
HAPPY: Interesting! Now I’ve got one last question, we love to talk about what makes us happy, so what makes you happy?
G. LOVE: Well, being in love makes me happy, and watching my kid… I could just stare at him; it makes me happy just to look at him! And playing music, I really am happy when I’m playing music, deep down inside and that’s something I’m very thankful for. Oh and I love surfing too! That’s another one of my passions… it can be frustrating though! (laughs)
HAPPY: Awesome! Well thanks so much for speaking with me today; I really hope to see you perform live in April!
G. LOVE: Cool! We’re really looking forward to it. Thanks so much, see you in April!
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