Back in the summer of 1994, every so often, college radio stations played a song that sounded old but also kind of new. It started with a drumbeat, followed by a guitar and bass riff. Then came a voice. A lazy drawl somewhere between rap and song. This was the era before Shazam and even the internet, really. It didn't take detective skills to figure the song was called "Blues Music," since those were the two words uttered most often. But it took an eternity before tuning in at that exact moment when a DJ announced the artist: G. Love & Special Sauce.
Nearly two decades later, the Philadelphia band is still kicking out its hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, funk, and blues with two shows at the Culture Room this month. New Times spoke with the cordial and enthusiastic G. Love, who waxed poetic about his influences and special sauces — get your mind out of the gutter. You want to talk about those kind of sauces, flip a couple of pages to Savage Love; we speak only of condiments here.
New Times: How did you get the name G. Love?
G. Love: When I was coming up, all the old blues and hip-hop guys like KRS-One and Guru had nicknames, so I started calling myself G. Love. When we put the band together, the drummer was like, I want to call the band Special Sauce. I said, "No it's got to be G. Love." So he said, "All right, it's G. Love & Special Sauce."
The first song many of us heard from you, "Blues Music," has a nostalgic sound. Now, it's been around long enough to have its own nostalgia.
It's cool. This is our 20th year being a band. It's been a crazy road. The catalyst for keeping things going is working on new material, new songs, new arrangements on the old tunes. We like to keep it fresh and keep our live sets spontaneous. Nowadays, since nobody is selling any records, it's a really liberating place in a way because you can be as raw and dirty in a studio as you want. You don't have to worry about the commercial aspects of getting on the radio. We're gearing up to make a new record in the spring, so we're looking forward to being creative, real, and honest using old-school-style recording.
Can you tell us more about the new album?
The last record was going back to my roots as a coffee-shop singer. It was cool to go back and reconnect with all those old blues. This next record is going to our more funky, hip-hop-oriented sounds. The new material is really cool and uplifting.
Are you going to play some of the new songs at your concerts in Fort Lauderdale?
Absolutely. Now's a really fun time for us to be doing shows and for fans to be seeing shows, because we're really mixing up the sets every night since we're not out promoting a new record. It's more of us digging deep into the catalog. Playing the hits but also trying out a lot of new material to see what's working. Playing live is a good way to see how certain arrangements can increase the power of the songs. It's an experimental time where anything goes.
On your website, I heard an example of that. On the live version of "Blues Music," you went into Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Then on your new album, you have a cover of "Pale Blue Eyes." So I take it Lou Reed is a big influence for you?
Oh yeah. It's funny 'cause I'm in Pittsburgh tonight, and I just went to the Andy Warhol Museum who had that connection with the Velvet Underground. But yeah, it's great to throw in some covers of our inspirations.
Who are some of your other inspirations?
I especially like Delta blues like Bukka White and Robert Johnson. John Hammond and Bob Dylan. Then, of course, a lot of hip-hop like I mentioned earlier: Guru and KRS-One and De La Soul. And I'm still into a lot of rock 'n' roll like Cream and the Beatles. Timo Shanko, our bassist, is heavy into bebop. Jeff [Clemens], the drummer, played a lot of funky James Brown and the Meters songs. So there's a lot of different influences, and they all find their way into it.
You sell your own hot sauce?
Yeah. We've had it since 2008, but we have really turned it into its own thing. We're in the process of doing a deal with a mother company to produce and distribute the sauce. It's going to have new artwork, a new flavor, so it's going to be pretty exciting and pretty spicy.
Did you come up with the recipe for the sauce?
Yeah, actually we did. There's three sauces. The legacy sauce, our take on Louisiana hot sauce. We're going to have a green sriracha sauce and also a yellow Caribbean hot sauce. Later, we'll add a chili relish. It's been real fun to mess around and get the flavors just the way we want them.
Back to the music — what can people expect when they go to a G. Love & Special Sauce concert?
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It's a trio. Myself on harmonica and guitar, Clemens on drums, and Timo Shanko on upright and electric bass. We have a set list. I feel like we're at our best when we have a map to follow, as we do get kind of lost up there. So we've got some songs to get us started, but I like to have the music lead and for the band to follow. That way, you play the room. The major accomplishment of a show is to connect with the crowd and really feel truly inspired onstage.
I think what people like the most is when they get to see something unexpected, whether that's improvisational solos or freestyle lyrics or different arrangements of some songs they know or covers they're not expecting. We try to keep challenging ourselves and really put the work in.
On the flipside, as a performer, what do you hope audiences get from your music?
We hope they feel they're somewhere between a crazy keg party amongst friends and a church revival. Have fun, be inspired by the music, and get shaken down a bit. Ultimately, I just want to show people a good time. If I can do that and everybody's smiling out there, hooting and hollering, then we're on the right track.