The Hip-Hop Blues

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

In every musical genre there are artists that buck the trends, redefining the style and pushing the frontiers of music.  For example, if the term “hip-hop” only makes you think of sampled beats and heavy, synthesized bass lines then think again.  Saturday’s headliner at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, G. Love & Special Sauce, plays music that owes as much to John Lee Hooker as it does to Run DMC.

G. Love, real name Garrett Dutton, describes the band’s sound as “the Hip-Hop Blues,” a laid back groove featuring guitar, upright bass and drums which has been imitated by several other artists. Dutton alternately sings and raps over the musical backdrop, creating a stylistic hybrid of the urban, jazz and blues genres that has a wide appeal.

Dutton was born in Philadelphia, PA, and began playing guitar when he was eight years old.  He claims Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker and John Hammond Jr. as well as then-contemporary hip-hop artists like the Beastie Boys and Schooly D among his earliest influences.  When he was in high school, Dutton became a regular feature playing on the streets of Philadelphia.  He attended college for a year, then dropped out and moved to Boston, MA, where he fitted in gigs around his day job as a fund raiser for Peace Action.

In January of 1993, Duton was playing at a bar in Boston when he met drummer Jeffrey “The Houseman” Clemens.  They began playing as a duo and were joined a few months later by Jim “Jimi Jazz” Prescott on bass.  The trio became the house band on Mondays at the Plough and Stars pub in Cambridge, MA.

In 1994 the band released its first album, “G. Love & Special Sauce” on Sony subsidiary Epic Records. (Dutton created the name G. Love from the initial of his first name and the word “love” because “it just sounded right.”)  The single from the album, “Cold Beverage,” received heavy airplay on MTV and the album itself almost achieved gold disc status.  The band embarked on a heavy touring schedule in the wake of surprisingly strong album sales, before returning to the studio to record 2005’s “Coast to Coast Motel.”

The second album, although considered by critics to be stronger than the first, did not match it in terms of sales figures. During the subsequent tour, the members decided to put the band on hold after arguments about finances almost caused a breakup.  The three members all pursued solo projects for a year or two before reuniting in 1997 and releasing “Yeah, its That Easy,” a soul-influenced album featuring collaborations with several other artists.  The band embarked on a world tour to promote this release.

The following years would see the release of three more albums, including the most recent 2004’s “The Hustle.”  This was released on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire records.  Dutton and Johnson had been friends for several years because of a common passion for surfing, and have appeared on each other’s recordings. 

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 9, 2006

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