G. Love: 15 Years of the Hip-Hop Blues

By: Stratton Lawrence

G. Love
Fame came quickly to Garrett Dutton. In 1993, at 20-years-old, he was playing random bar gigs in Boston and working for an anti nuclear weapons non-profit when he met drummer Jeffrey Clemens. A few months later they joined with bassist Jimi Prescott, and Garrett became G. Love to everyone but his closest friends and family. Within two years, college kids were hoisting beers to "I like cold beverages" toasts and boasting about their girlfriend's sauce. Having only released their self-titled debut in 1994, G. Love and Special Sauce already had a loyal following, and follow-up albums like Yeah, It's That Easy (1997) and Philadelphonic (1999) held their own on the charts.

But it wasn't quite enough for the band. Their fanbase wasn't exactly growing, and just as they introduced Jack Johnson to the world with his single "Rodeo Clowns" which G. Love put on 1999's Philadelphonic, they found themselves dropped by Sony, and then Universal soon thereafter. It's not that times were hard, just far from ideal. Since his childhood in the Philadelphia suburb of Society Hill, G. Love's enjoyed a privileged life. But, he'd tasted the big time and then seen his friends make it while he never quite broke into the amphitheatre bracket.

Then came a record deal with Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records which put out 2004's The Hustle and Lemonade, his 2006 solo release that featured friends like Ben Harper, Blackalicious and Lateef the Truth Speaker. Suddenly, G. Love was big time. Last month, he released his tenth album, Superhero Brother (Brushfire), with Special Sauce returning as his full-time band. He followed that up with a trip to Japan and a tour with Johnson in Europe. This August, he kicks off his first tour as the main act at some of the nation's largest and most notable venues.

JamBase caught up with G. Love on his way home to Boston from New York by train, fresh off his Japanese excursion. Clearly excited about the release of the new album, he talked enthusiastically about the joy of continuing to play music with his original core trio. From his buoyant attitude about performing and writing new songs, it certainly sounds like fifteen years of fame is just the start for this hip-hop bluesman.

JamBase: Some of your most famous songs are from your earliest albums, but you've enjoyed more commercial success in the last few years than ever before. From your own songwriting to the business side of things, what do you think has contributed to your career renaissance?

G. Love by Willa Stein
G. Love: It's definitely since we signed with Brushfire in 2002. That's when the momentum started swimming. For a while there, man, all my luck went away. When we put out Philadelphonic and introduced Jack [Johnson] on it, it was kind of a weird time for us. Jack started really taking off after that and it was like, "Goddamn, what the fuck happened?" We were kind of going down; the label didn't step up and make a video, and business stuff was slowing us down. We put out Electric Mile and were like, "Fuck this, let's just jam out." And you know what? It didn't do well and Sony dropped us.

I relate getting dropped by Sony to being in a bad relationship with a girl you love, but you can't get out of it because you're both afraid to leave. Finally you get dumped and you think it's really bad but it's the best thing that ever could happen to you.

JamBase: Was getting dumped by Sony really the lowest moment?

G. Love: Well, then we cut Hustle we thought it'd be this huge smash record, but it didn't do well and we got dropped again, by Universal. We were touring in Australia, playing a big show with Jack, Donavon Frankenreiter and Xavier Rudd. There's like 30,000 people at this show, and backstage Donavon finds out his record went gold. Jack had an album out that week that was already platinum, and then I get that call from Universal. So, that was a hard day for me.

So that's when the Brushfire connection came about?

Yeah, Emmett Malloy [Brushfire Records co-founder] pulled me aside and said, "Look, we're going to find a way to put out your records. Don't stress." I realized what a family this was, so I stuck with it. Then Lemonade came out and the vibes just swung. I have no fucking idea [why], but whatever happens with Superhero Brother, we earned that shit. When shit's going well, I just give thanks, man.

You're a blues artist, but even in the "off years" most of your songs are pretty feel good.

To me, the blues is half and half. I definitely have a lot of dark and angry stuff. My drummer really likes my salty shit. I dig albums like The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. It's got poignant political songs like "Masters of War" but it's also got laugh-out-loud talking blues songs. To me, that's what it's all about.

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