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Live & Direct: G. Love

Born Garrett Dutton in Philadelphia, Pa., G. Love grew up equally enthralled with folk, blues, and rap, devouring everything from Lead Belly and Run D.M.C. to John Hammond and the Beastie Boys. After migrating to Boston, he and his band, Special Sauce, broke out in 1994 with their gold-selling self-titled debut, which earned widespread critical acclaim for its bold vision and adventurous production. Over the next 25 years, G. Love would go on to release seven more similarly-lauded studio studios albums with Special Sauce (plus four solo albums on his own), solidifying his place in music history as a genre-bending pioneer with a sound The New York Times described as “a new and urgent hybrid” and NPR called a “musical melting pot.”

G. Love recently spoke with WYEP's Kyle Smith.

Kyle Smith: We've kicked open the doors and we're having an open house to kick off our 50th anniversary year. And it's really nice that there's another anniversary happening with the tour for the 30th anniversary of your debut album, “G. Love and Special Sauce,” the self-titled album that turns 30 this year. Congratulations.

G. Love: Thank you, thank you Kyle. Thank you Pittsburgh.

Smith: So we're going to be talking about that album a lot. And, he was last here when “Philadelphia, Mississippi” came out about a year and a half ago. But, we're going to want to get some songs from the debut album. And why don't you start things off?

“Shooting Hoops”

Smith: Boy, you know how to warm up the crowd, that's for sure. On this cold day, G. Love is here, and G. Love and Special Sauce are in town for the 30th anniversary tour. You're just underway with the tour and congrats, it's sold out tonight.

G. Love: Thank you.

Smith: And I want to say thank you. I've been here at the station for 25 years. And you're 30th anniversary of your debut came out. I can't think of too many that connect with your audiences continually do it, you know, you show up at radio stations, you do different events. You're playing lots of benefit gigs over the years. Congratulations on 30 years of doing this.

G. Love: Well, thanks, Kyle. And, you know, thanks to all you guys. And, Pittsburgh has always been such a supportive place, an important place for us to come, because, of course, I'm from Philadelphia. So, this was some of the first gigs we got to play outside of Philadelphia and Boston.

And I'll never forget, I've told the story a lot over the years, but when we came to play the H.O.R.D.E. Tour (and this must have been in 1994 and 1995), we just had an amazing moment where we were playing a side stage. It was powered by a generator. We had a huge crowd of people out front. We started playing our first single called “Blues Music,” and then all of a sudden, the generator died. So our whole sound system shut down, and you heard the crowd go, “Oh, let's see.” So we didn't we didn't miss a beat. And because we were all playing acoustic, we just kept playing. So the crowd went, “Ohhhhh yeah.” And, you know, we kept playing the song. And, it was just a magical moment that I'll never forget.

Ever since then, you know, it's been a real special place for us to be here. But the 30 years, man, we got to throw it all back to our fans, and we don't even call them fans, they’re family. The people that support live music. There would certainly be no us without you guys and, just a great our audience at large for, you know, supporting us year after year and giving us a job. So thank you.

Smith: Well, thank you. And, you've done the hard work, too. There was somebody actually walking around here today that I had a conversation with that saw you, busking in the pit at Harvard Square many years ago in Boston. So that's pretty amazing. And we, we kind of know a little bit about your story of sneaking into clubs and catching blues acts and things in Philly that you've talked about over the years. But, how did you decide that you wanted to make that connection between blues music, hip hop and also folk music?

G. Love: Yeah. Look, I started out, playing, you know, learning a lot of Beatles songs. And, so I was learning how to sing and play the guitar at the same time from a young age. And, I started playing harmonica when I was 15, and then I had a harmonica rack, like you see I got on right now and, you know, started playing a lot of Bob Dylan and Neil Young kind of things. That was around 1987, so I thought I was the only person in the world who had ever heard of Bob Dylan. Because at my high school everybody was playing in a Cure cover band, which was awesome. So, you know, we were playing “Boys Don't Cry” and stuff like that, but I was doing like a folk thing, so it was very unique, except when I went to the open mic night and I noticed, yeah, other people had heard of Bob Dylan.

So I said, well, I got to change my thing. So then I found out about John Hammond, the Blues player, you know who quit? Who quit suddenly. Bob and John were best friends in the 60s. And John's father signed Bob Dylan. And, John Hammond's records introduced me to the blues. And through that, I was able to follow this path. And so I was a Blues player, but I was writing songs about, you know, the city of Philadelphia. Like the last song I played, I was trying to paint a picture of basketball courts or writing about graffiti writers and homeless people and the things that I would see, you know, in the city of Philadelphia.

One night, when I was busking, I started rapping the lyrics for this Eric B. & Rakim song called “Run for Cover” over one of my blues riffs. It was really a magical moment. And I kind of realized then that I really stumbled upon something unique. Then I went home the next day, I wrote like, a rap about bicycle couriers and I was just always trying to paint pictures of city life. So that was how I merge the two things.

Smith: Oh, that's a great story. Also, I remember when the record came in and I started listening to the full length record, and there's a cover that opens up the record. It's a Guitar Slim tune, and I didn't realize that until later, probably a couple of years after listening to the record. But was that kind of your way of saying, I'm all about the blues by covering an old Guitar Slim tune?

G. Love: Yeah. So to your point, it's more of like an appropriation or a sample. I would approach what I was doing like a hip hop DJ or producer would approach making a hip hop tune — taking an old record and taking a little sample off of it. So we would approach a lot of music like that. And that song in particular, that was actually a freestyle in a studio that leaves off our debut record. It was a 22 minute jam that we edited together into a three minute song, and the band started playing this great riff, and that was the first thing that came to my mind, because it was one of my favorites.

I shouted out that chorus and then I started rapping. But yeah, that was a little bit of, you know, our recipe was to take pieces. So I would learn while learning a Robert Johnson song or a Muddy Waters song and then make them take that and kind of, instead of looping it and sampling it, play it and make a song around it.

Smith: You know, 1994 was a little different time and MTV was still influential on music and semi-popular music. And also “Cold Beverage” was on the heavy rotation on MTV. And your song was getting played at alternative stations.

G. Love: Beavis and Butthead. Did not like it.

Smith: Well, you're still here and I don't think they're on the air anymore. Well, the thing is, how does somebody in their 20s handle going from busking to getting signed and all of a sudden, boom, you've got a gold record all of a sudden.

G. Love: Yeah, no, man, it was a crazy time. Look man, we went from being street musicians, so kind of on the fringe of society, to signing a huge valuable record deal with Epic Records, which is owned by Sony, one of the biggest corporations in the world. So we went from being outside to being fully into this system. And, you have to think that, just to Kyle's point, like in the 90s, especially right when we got signed, the music industry was busting out. I mean, they had so much money, and it was crazy. And they were just throwing it around and they were signing a lot of people to what we would call a developing act, developing artists, meaning, we don't think you have a hit right now, but we hope that you would develop into someone who can make a hit.

We were talking offline beforehand about, like, my graduating class was people like Michael Franti, Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, The Roots, we all kind of got signed around the same time.

So some of us developed into huge artists and were able to have a great career. Things were a lot different then and I did grow up on the road, so I kind of came of age. And I've been doing this the whole time. So the only other thing I've done is washing dishes and being a garbage man.

Now, I’ve got four kids. I got a 22-year-old, and I have three littles, seven, three and two. So I will be on the road for the foreseeable future.

Smith: G. Love is here. It's the 30th anniversary of their debut album. There's a new edition of the album that is out playing a sold out show at the Thunderbird tonight with Special Sauce. How about a couple of songs?

“Cold Beverages”
"I Love You"

Smith: We are Live and Direct with G. Love. G. Love and Special Sauce are playing a sold-out show at the Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall tonight. G. Love is here to share some memories and songs. Obviously there was “I Love You” and also “Cold Beverage” from the debut album that came out 30 years ago this year. Some albums are timeless and some at times can sound dated for their time. But, given this a fresh listen, recently, all the way through, from “Blues Music” to “This Ain't Livin” and some of the other songs that are on there and one that you're going to do in just a few minutes, it's just a reminder that there's a lot of great music out there that stands the test of time. And that's definitely something you hear when you take a fresh listen to your debut album.

G. Love: Well, thanks. It's really cool. We were able to rerelease the first record, and we released it with ashow that we performed at the Knitting Factory in New York City. That first year, we played two shows at Keb Mo, who was our labelmate and who also recently produced my Grammy-nominated record, “The Juice,” a couple years back. He was opening the show. We had two sold out shows in one night, and it was the time before, like right after we had finished the record but before it came out. So it was cool.

The record is being rereleased on vinyl as a double vinyl on Record Store Day. So, look, it's been really exciting, and, if you just blink your eyes and all of a sudden you're 51 years old and you've been on the road for 30 years. So yeah, we’re very, very thankful.

There's a lot of a lot of people, a lot of artists along the way that were great, that are no longer with us or didn't weren't able to really capitalize on their shot that they had. And a lot of talent. So, you got to be safe out there and pace yourself. And it's a marathon. A lot of bands are out there doing these tours where you're out there running. I think we're on our, like, eighth show of 42 shows. So yeah, this is our life. I was thankful to be able to do it and wow, to look back at 30 years and say, wow, we did something pretty good back then. Well, of course, we thought it could have been a whole lot better then, but I think it'll turn out pretty good.

Smith: I know that you've taken a lot of risks in your career over the years from what you want to do musically to recording and doing solo records and things. What do you think is your biggest risk that you've ever taken as an artist or a musician?

G. Love: Well, I think about, like, doing radio stuff like this, especially when I was a kid I will come to do this. I probably did come here at an exact place and to where I would come and they'd be like, “Okay, where are you going to play? You know, the single.” And I was like, “I'm not playing a freaking single, you know?” And I would just be playing something I just wrote and the radio people were like, “Hey, you don't get it.” And I mean, I was just like, “I don't really care. I just want to play, you know, the stuff that I wanted to play.”

And, I didn't figure out until years later that, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, they're playing two singles, so maybe I should also play a single, because that's what we're kind of focusing on here.” So it took a while to kind of figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of the music industry. But, I kind of figured it out over the years before it totally messed up everything in spite of myself.

Smith: Well, it seems like you've done pretty well overall. And you've been a collaborator over the last, 15, 20 years as well, whether it's Donavon Frankenreiter, Citizen Cope, the Dickinsons from the North Mississippi Allstars, especially on the last record, “Philadelphia, Mississippi.” Is that something that you've been really focusing on over the last, like, 10 years? You know, with collaborations?

G. Love: Yeah, collaborations are just the greatest thing ever. I think we've been really doing it a lot over the years because I look back into the 90s and I remember one session we had Dr. John came in and I don't know what his deal was, but we recorded on, like, 15 songs in the studio, and his wife was getting so upset. I just kept saying, “Well, Mack, you want to try another one?” “Yeah, sure.”

But, yeah. Look, I got into, like, John Hammond, who I spoke about earlier. I got to produce his record, “Push Comes to Shove.” I've got to perform with, share the stage with many of my hip hop idols from A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gang Starr, KRS-One, Run DMC. I’ve gotten to really collaborate a lot recently with DMC from Run DMC. And of course my collaboration with Jack Johnson helped to kind of launch his career and also save mine. Like Kyle said, the Avett Brothers, I mean, just a really diverse group of people I've gotten to work with. And, you know, Keb Mo, that collaboration was so special to me. He took me on, like, a master class of music, music history, studio production, songwriting. Everything. He's such a meticulous guy.

I think the great thing about collaborations are that just to be able to bounce creative ideas with other people. It always takes you outside of your comfort zone and takes you into a place that you weren't really planning on heading. And a lot of times that can be a really magical, moment.

I do like a lot of stuff with emerging artist of people, you know, hit me up on Instagram, for instance, and say, “Hey, you know, we're a band out of Pittsburgh and we got this record and would you do a feature?” I would say, “Yeah, we'll do a feature.” And I would. So I do a lot with very established artists and also up-and-coming people. I love it.

"Baby’s Got Sauce"

Set list:
Shooting Hoops
Cold Beverage
I Love You
Baby’s Got Sauce

Interviewer: Kyle Smith

Thomas Cipollone
Tom Hurley