How'd a White Boy Get the Blues?
If theres one thing I want people to know about me, its that I'm a
survivor, says Popa Chubby. Heres my story: My dad died when I was
seven. 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 twenties. 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, and here I am today.
Here is at the forefront of modern blues-rock, where the mix of
intensity and integrity captured on Popa Chubby's Back To New York City
has made him one of the genres most popular figures. And hes an
imposing figure at that, weighing more than 300 pounds with a shaven
head, tattooed arms, a goatee and a performing style he describes as
the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson.
You get the picture. And if you don't, Back To New York City paints it
vividly. On the discs 11 nasty cuts Popa Chubby has flipped the
blues-rock label around, putting rock at the fore and the pedal to the
metal with fat, scalding guitar sounds and stories plucked from true
life. Some, like the rubber-burning title track and the pleading A Love
That Will Never Die, are autobiographical tales that channel whats
deep in his blood as well as the fevered pulse of the city Popa Chubby
has called home for 30 years. Others, like Stand Before the Sun and
his sweet n sizzling take on Johan Sebastian Bachs instrumental
Jesus Joy of Mans Desiring, chronicle his search for spiritual
enlightenment, which has led Popa Chubby to practice Tai Chi and Chi
Kung before his sweat-soaked concerts. And then theres pure shots of
fun like the chest-thumping Warrior Gods, which thunders along like a
long-lost Motörhead gem, and She Loves Everybody But Me, a
tongue-in-cheek hard-core Texas shuffle that purposefully nods to Stevie
Ray Vaughan in its skyrocketing leads and solos.
Before he adopted the name Popa Chubby, Ted Horowitzs first gigs were in the New York City punk scene starting when he answered an ad in The Village Voice in 1977 for a guitarist and was hired by this crazy Japanese special effects performance artist in a kimono called Screaming Mad George who had a horror-movie inspired show. So right from the start I was taught about rock n roll as theater, and I learned from George and the other bands who were playing CBGBs at the time the Ramones, the Cramps, Richard Hell, whose band, the Voidoids, I joined, that rock n roll should be dangerous. Musicians like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols werent just bands. They were a threat to society.
The blues was always the foundation of my playing style, since I'd grown up on Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin, but when I started playing blues in New York clubs I understood that the blues should be dangerous, too, he explains. It wasnt just from playing in punk bands. Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters were dangerous men. Theyd cut or shoot you out of necessity if they had to, and Little Walter packed a gun and wouldnt hesitate to use it. That danger is a real part of the blues and I keep it alive in my music.
For the prolific Popa Chubby, who was born Ted Horowitz, Back To New York City doesnt simply capture the fire and energy of his live shows better than the previous 20 albums hes made since 1994 which is an impressive accomplishment given his history of house-rocking discs. It represents an entirely new level of his tempestuous, soulful playing.