Popa Chubby's blues evoke life on the edge
DALTON — After a few decades in a particular line of work, many people are married to stability. Popa Chubby isn't one of those people.
"I have no balance in my life at all. My life is completely unbalanced and out of control at most times, and I'm barely teetering on not going over the edge," the 59-year-old singer/guitarist born Ted Horowitz told The Eagle by phone recently. "But what I've found is — I found a little trick from Keith Richards: Once you go over the edge, there's a ledge over the edge, so the whole key is to just teeter on that ledge for as long as you can. It's a precarious balance indeed, but I've become quite good at it. As a matter of fact, I may be the best besides Keith at living on that ledge."
Peril fuels the brand of electrified blues and rock Popa Chubby will play at The Stationery Factory in Dalton on Friday, May 17. The Hudson Valley-based artist draws from his early years in the New York City club scene, when blues was more dangerous, when it wasn't so "Disney," he said. Gripes aside, his passion for the art has not waned. It's what consumes him.
"Music is not part of my life; music is my life. I live music. I eat it. I breathe it. I do nothing but play guitar. I have no hobbies. I have no friends. I have no social life. All that exists is myself, the notes and the six strings," he said.
Chubby will be taking the stage with his 1966 Fender Stratocaster and a backing band that includes keyboardist Dave Keyes and bassist Paul Loranger. The group will play tunes from across Chubby's catalog, featuring fan favorites recorded on his 2018 "Prime Cuts" album. "Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer," "Hey Joe" and "Hallelujah" are among them.
"I wouldn't usually put two covers on a record, but those two had to go on there," Chubby said of "Hey Joe" and "Hallelujah."
He had an extensive catalog from which to draw for the record. Chubby's career took off in 1995 after he released "Booty and The Beast," which introduced "Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer" and "Same Old Blues" to the world. He was with Sony Music at that time, but he was soon producing albums with indie labels and, eventually, on his own. Independence wasn't a new concept for him.
"Here's my story," Chubby once said in promotional materials for one of his more recent records. "My dad died when I was 7. I was abandoned and raised myself. I moved to New York City when I was 18 and started playing music. I got a huge heroin habit and ended up strung out on the streets until I was in my early 20s. I started playing again and got away from drugs and never went back, and then I got into the New York blues scene of the early '90s."
Manny's Car Wash belonged to that realm. Chubby was in the house band at the New York City club, meaning he would frequently open for prominent acts such as Lonnie Brooks, Anson Funderburgh, Lonnie Mack, Sam Myers and Hubert Sumlin.
"There used to be a tradition where if you were going to play the blues, you kind of apprenticed with the older guys. You backed them up. You followed them. You went to their shows," he said. "That doesn't exist so much anymore. There's a lot of young cats out there who are just learning the music off YouTube and playing it."
The instrumentals have changed, too.
"There's a lot of great talent out there with some amazing players. The guitar world has gone into a way more fusion-oriented direction. All these cats now, it's about how many notes they can play," Chubby said. "I don't so much dig that. I'd prefer to hear a melody and a statement. I'm still about B.B. and Freddie King at the end of the day."
Chubby saved some hits to include on a second volume of "Prime Cuts." He's also working on a record, "The Flavor Is in the Fat," that is set for a February release. Before that time, he will have toured throughout the U.S. and Europe, where he has long been popular, and gotten married. The wedding is set for January.
"Let me say it in the press so my fiancee believes me," he quipped.
In life or in art, settling down isn't exactly Popa Chubby's mantra.
"I'm touring relentlessly," he said, "and it's pretty awesome."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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