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Here is at the forefront of modern blues-rock, where the mix of intensity and integrity captured on Popa Chubbys 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 dont, 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.
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. 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 Id 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.
Horowitz adopted the name Popa Chubby in 1990 during a jam with Parliament-Funkadelics Bernie Worrell. He was singing a song called Popa Chubby and he pointed at me, he says. Given Horowitzs dimensions and his proclivity for getting audiences excited, the tag fit. Following two initial albums on his own Laughing Bear label, he was signed to Sonys briefly revived O-Keh Records, the one-time imprint of Mamie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other influential blues and jazz artists. Popa Chubby came into his own as a songwriter with 2002s The Good, The Bad & the Chubby with the affectingly sincere post-9/11 testimonial Somebody Let the Devil Out. His next album, 2004 s inspired Peace, Love, and Respect upped the ante as an election year protest album with hard-cutting tunes about First Amendment rights (Un-American Blues) and corporate ar-mongering (Young Men). After tipping his hat to Hendrix with the three-disc Electric Chubbyland set and tour in 2006 and 2007, Popa Chubbys subsequent three albums including 2010s The Fight Is On have chronicled his desire to reconnect with his rock and blues roots while pushing both genres boldly into the future a task expertly accomplished by an extraordinary blend of song craft, musicianship and personality in Back To New York City that telegraphs the message what you hear is what you get.
People look at me and expect a certain thing, Popa Chubby reflects, and don't realize theres more behind the picture. They see a big, burly guy with tattoos, and they expect to get beat over the head. And you will get beat over the head, but youll also get rocked to sleep, and there'll be poetry in there too..
Born Ted Horowitz, Popa Chubby is a true native son of the Big Apple. He grew up in the eighborhood immortalized in Robert DeNiro's film "A Bronx Tale." His early memories of hearing the jukebox in his parents' candy store playing the hits of early Sixties soul and R&B and the neighborhood teens flocking around it made a lasting impression on him.
"When I first heard Freddie King my world was turned upside down. I was 19 and this older cat in the neighborhood played me the Just Pickin' record and I was knocked out cold. I thought, 'Man, that's what I wanna be when I grow up.'"
In 1990 the Popa Chubby Band was born. The name was taken from an impromptu jam with Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic. "He was singing a song called 'Popa Chubby' and he pointed at me." The name captured the essence of what his music has come to represent. "Popa Chubby basically means to get excited. The core of my music is about excitement. I think music should make people feel alive."
In 1994 Popa signed a recording deal with then recently resurrected O-Keh Records (Sony Music), lured by the prospect of working with Tom Dowd, longtime Atlantic Records engineer/producer, whose recordings by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, the Allman Brothers and others are legendary. Booty And The Beast was released in 1994, and the single, “Sweet Goddess Of Love and Beer,” soon swept the country and became a summer radio hit coast to coast in 1995.
Creative differences left Popa a free agent in 1996, so he began releasing albums on his own label. On the advice of Dowd he went to Europe, where his first two CDs were released as a collection by the French Dixiefrog label. The record was an instant success and left Popa touring nonstop. The energy and showmanship of his sets earned him critical and commercial acclaim overseas, and in fact, he's become a huge star in Europe, where he appears on the covers of magazines and routinely sells out major venues.
In May 2000, Dixiefrog released How'd A White Boy Get the Blues? in Europe. Looking for a domestic label that would understand his unique approach to the blues, Popa brought the album to Blind Pig Records, which released this seminal blues-rock concept record in August of 2001. It uses electric and acoustic guitar blends, drum loops and electronics to show how close the blues, hip-hop and R&B really are. Calling the CD "a fresh take on the genre," Billboard said "If Muddy Waters was a modern blues artist, then Popa Chubby is a post-modern bluesman."
The Good, The Bad, and The Chubby followed in 2002, featuring thirteen brand new compositions reflecting, in Popa's words, "Love, Life, Betrayal, Diesel, Jet Fuel, Marriage, Murder, Stress and Passion!" At the time, Popa's recording studio was about a half a mile away from the World Trade Center, and he wrote the opening track, “Somebody Let The Devil Out,” in reaction to the September 11th tragedy. All Music Guide said the release was "one of the strongest, most distinctive modern blues albums of 2002."
The next year Blind Pig released a collection of Popa's early work entitled The Hungry Years, drawn from several out-of-print albums Popa had released on his own label in the early 90's and including three previously unreleased tracks. "From the bowels of Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side, New York from 1991 to 1996 was my very own Rotten Apple!" Living Blues offered, "Batten down the hatch before putting this on the stereo - this ain't your granddaddy's blues."
In the election year of 2004, Popa Chubby came up with his lyrically edgiest record yet, one of the most topical and important records of the year - Peace, Love, and Respect. Twelve tracks of hard-hitting, politically inspired songs that run from upholding First Amendment rights in the hard-thumping shuffle “Un-American Blues," to protesting the plight of young people dying for the lust of oil and power in “Young Men.”
2005 saw the release of a live CD and a DVD, Big Man, Big Guitar. As Popa described it, "I basically gave Blind Pig free rein to choose the material for Big Man, Big Guitar and was very pleased with their choices. They really put the focus on my guitar work, the roots of my music and the energy we generate on stage. I think they not only captured the best of me as a guitar player and performer today but also included some of those seminal selections that influenced my career from the very beginning."
Stealing the Devil's Guitar arrived the following year, and was Popa Chubby's most guitar-centric studio album to date. As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it, "Truly a bluesman for the new millennium, Popa Chubby has an abiding affection for the tradition but uses it only as a springboard for his distinctive style."
In 2007, Popa unleashed Electric Chubbyland, a live collection celebrating the work of Jimi Hendrix. Relix magazine said “Chubby’s searing guitar work is exceptional, and his vocals evoke the spirit of Jimi. Chubby unleashes some of the fiercest string bending this side of Electric Ladyland. Tribute albums are a dangerous lot, but Electric Chubbyland is a safe, enjoyable, mesmerizing listen.” Long requested by Chubby’s rabid fan base, the albums managed to capture, as Chubby put it, “that special spark of energy that only happens between the audience and performer. I love playing Hendrix with my own spin. Loud and proud for all the people!"
Those same fans will undoubtedly welcome Deliveries After Dark, Chubby’s latest collection of jet-fueled originals. “I have gotten back to why I started playing music to begin with,” says the masterful guitarist. “The excitement and the feeling of raw power. All I can tell you is you need rock and roll in your soul and I am the man in control. The Blues are alive and well and Rock and Roll will never die! Are you ready to rock?
More info at http://www.popachubby.com
More info at http://www.myspace.com/popachubbyband
From 7pm in The Ballroom. Advance tickets £14 stbf available from Ticketweb, Ripping Records, Tickets Scotland (Edinburgh). Over 18 only