G. Love & Special Sauce | The Sweet Sound of Summer

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To describe the band's one-of-a-kind sound, Dutton coined the term "hip-hop blues." This is a pretty accurate description for a guy who sounds like a cross between De la Soul and John Lee Hooker.

 

 

Most people have at least heard of G. Love and Special Sauce, but a lot of people don't really know them. They should. This band has been consistently touring, writing and recording music since their breakout 1994 self-titled debut. So who is G. Love exactly? Always a casual fan, but never owning a record or having seen him live, I got the chance to find out on the band's recent stop in St. Louis for the city's free "Live on the Levee" concert series under the Gateway Arch.

Garrett Dutton (aka G. Love) is a 34-year-old, blue-eyed blues man who got his start as a teenager, playing guitar for change on the streets of his native Philly. A year out of high school, he relocated to Boston, where he quickly met the two musicians who would be his "Special Sauce," acoustic bassist Jimmy "Jazz" Prescott and drummer Jeffrey "House Man" Clemens. They came together, as Clemens puts it, out of "a love and respect for the blues, and for the wood tones of acoustic instruments."

To describe the band's one-of-a-kind sound, Dutton coined the term "hip-hop blues." This is a pretty accurate description for a guy who sounds like a cross between De la Soul and John Lee Hooker. His early influences included the Beatles, Bob Dylan and John Hammond; and as a child of the '80s, he grew up digging early hip-hop artists like Beastie Boys, KRS One, Schooly D, and Run-DMC.

"I'd been playing in the streets," he says, sinking back into the soft leather couch of his finely appointed, yet modest tour bus, "just writing all these rhymes about the things I saw and did every day, hoopin' and stuff like that. One day, I just started singin' rhymes over a slide riff, and it sounded really cool. I just thought, ‘There's something here.'"

Apparently, he was right. Fueled by cuts like "Cold Beverage," "Shooting Hoops," and "Baby's Got Sauce," the debut album became a huge success, hitting certified gold without extensive radio or video airplay. Over the past decade, G. Love and Special Sauce have built a dedicated fan base through incessant touring (at times playing three sets in one day). They've headlined clubs and played festivals like H.O.R.D.E., England's Glastonbury, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and more, sharing the stage with such artists as Blues Traveler, The Black Crowes, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and Warren Haynes.

Of all the folks he's had the pleasure to play live with, Dutton says he was most impressed with Haynes' guitar technique and sound. "I mean, you grow up sneaking into Allman Brothers shows…" he says, shaking his head like your average starstruck fan.

One relationship that has definitely contributed to G. Love's success is his continued collaboration with Jack Johnson. The two met when then virtually unknown Johnson came to one of the band's recording sessions, then later went surfing together (Johnson was a pro surfer).

"We were playing guitars, swappin' songs and stuff," Dutton says, "and he played me this song of his, ‘Rodeo Clown,' and I thought he was really on to something with that. He wanted me to put it on our record."glove0707a

They eventually recorded the song together for G. Love and Special Sauce's fourth album, 1999's Philadelphonic (Sony/Epic). The two stayed in touch over the years, playing shows together now and then, and teaming up again to record "Rainbow," a mellow blues tune with heavy harmonica, on the soundtrack for Johnson's surfing documentary, Thicker Than Water. When Johnson's career took off, and he started his own label, Brushfire Records, G. Love just happened to be between labels, so it was a natural fit for them to sign.

The band's second album on the Brushfire label, Lemonade, released late last summer, was an instant success, hitting number two on iTunes. "I've never been number two at anything, except maybe a bike race," Dutton declares in his new tour documentary A Year and a Night With G. Love and Special Sauce, set for release on July 31. The DVD is a one-hour, behind-the-scenes look at the band's 13th year of touring together, from the United States to Europe to Japan and back. It also features 10 full-length bonus live performances, which are all fantastic and include guest appearances by Marc Broussard, Tristan Prettyman and Donavon Frankenreiter.

The aptly named duet, "Beautiful," performed with San Diego songstress (and former Roxy/Quicksilver surf model) Prettyman is a standout. Dutton's and Prettyman's voices and guitars complement each other perfectly. And you'd absolutely swear there was something going on between these two by the sexy, sideways glances they shoot each other while singing "Baby what you doin' to me?" and "You give me that feelin', feelin', feelin'."

The only complaint I have about the DVD is that you have to play each of the bonus, live performances individually; there is no "play all" option. Along with the DVD release, however, will be a 10-track live album/soundtrack taken from two sold-out nights at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

"The performances are the catalysts, but the DVD is more about a year in the life of a touring band, the band as people." Dutton says. Watching the DVD, that is precisely what comes across. It is well-directed by Steven Oritt and gives the viewer a true sense of who these guys are both musically and personally, as well as the day-to-day trials and tribulations of being on the road, and even the tension that can develop after tirelessly touring and living in close quarters.

Like Lemonade, G. Love and Special Sauce's (free) show under the Arch in St. Louis was pure summer refreshment. Nothing says summer like great, live music played on a not-too-humid night under the stars, followed by a grand fireworks display over the Mississippi. By the time the band played their final encore, the crowd had grown to around 20,000 fans. Even Dutton was impressed – he posted this entry on his blog the following day: "Last night we had a sick show under the St. Louis Arch. Isn't that one of the seven manmade wonders? The Gateway to the West? It truly was magnificent to play right under it."

They kicked it old-school with a completely groovin' performance of "Baby's Got Sauce" from their breakout album and "Booty Call" from TheHustle. To the crowd's delight, they chilled things out for a rendition of the Johnson/Dutton collaboration Rodeo Clowns. The band did justice to some of the hits from Lemonade including the funked-out "Can't Go Back to Jersey," kicked-back "Holla!" and a completely acoustic "Rainbow." The band also played the aforementioned "Beautiful," which was a noble effort, yet lost a little bit of something without Prettyman's stunning vocals.

All in all, it was a great show, made even sweeter for this reviewer by the opportunity to briefly get to know Dutton and understand the inspiration for this highly addictive sound that has literally become my "summer soundtrack."

"The whole thing about lemonade for me was, when I first set out from Philly to make it in the music world, I went up to Boston, and I would just sit on the front porch of my place after playing the streets or practicing and make myself a big pitcher of lemonade," Dutton says. "It just symbolized old-time porch loungin', for that's where I did a lot of my shedding and writing."

Fresh squeezed and delicious. Fix me another glass. | Amy Burger

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