"When rock 'n' roll first happened it was a threat to the mainstream. When Chuck Berry happened it was a threats white America. When the bad brains happened it was a threat to rock 'n' roll."
Popa Chubby: It's A Mighty Hard Road
His career has always been about moving forward and carving a place for himself in the imposing terrain of the music business, overcoming odds to continue growing and maturing as a creative force. Popa Chubby has built a constantly increasing base of fans across the world, where in many territories he is a star. A native New Yorker, Ted Horowitz's first gigs were in the NYC punk scene as a guitarist for what he reflects was a "crazy Japanese special effects performance artist in a kimono called Screaming Mad George who had a horror-movie inspired show." Right from the start he was immersed in rock ‘n’ roll as theater, and learned from George and others playing CBGB’s at the time that included the Ramones, the Cramps, Richard Hell, whose band, the Voidoids he joined that rock ‘n’ roll should be dangerous. He reflects, "Musicians like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols weren’t just bands. They were a threat to society."
The Blues however was the foundation of his playing style. He recalls, "Since I’d grown up on Hendrix, Cream and Zeppelin, when I started playing blues in New York clubs I understood that the blues should be dangerous, too. It wasn’t just from playing in punk bands. Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were dangerous men. They’d cut or shoot you if they thought it was necessary, and Little Walter packed a gun and wouldn’t hesitate to use it. That danger is a real part of the Blues and I keep it alive in my music.” On "The Catfish" (2016), Popa offers up 12 tunes that embody the badass attitude that defines the self-proclaimed “King Of The New York City Blues”. Prolific blues-rocker Popa Chubby released "Two Dogs" (2017). Popa started work on “Two Dogs” with a lot of amazing sounds in his head and powerful feelings in his heart. In 2018 released "Prime Cuts: The Very Best of the Beast from the East". Popa marks thirty years of bringing blues, rock and soul with an awesome new album "It's a Mighty Hard Road - More Than 30 Years Of Blues Rock And Soul" (Dixiefrog / Release date: 14 February 2020). New York City blues inventor is back in force to celebrate his career of 30 years. 15 titles: tender and bestial Popa, full of rage and love, electricity and emotion.
Interview by Michael Limnios All Photos © by Cristina Arrigoni
What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture and what does the blues mean to you?
The main thing I learned is that to me rock 'n' roll stands for integrity individuality in the big middle finger to the system just like it always has the blues is about truth she can say this is a journey of altruism In a way.
How has the 30th anniversary on the road influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Man, the world gets smaller, the media lies about what’s really going in, we are truly one people.
How do you describe "It's a Mighty Hard Road" sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?
It’s a collection of songs each one created as a single to express my love wants hopes and passions. My energy is a blessing.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Oh man so many! Playing with Johnny Winter for sure! Playing with Hubert Sumlin! Playing Le Olympia in Paris and my birthday show last year at Bataclan to name a few.
"I always listen to music from other decades especially from the 30s - 40s and even 50s and think man these guys were such amazing musicians they could read and play anything and they could play. What’s missing more than anything now is the ability for people to play music together. It's become such a solitary experience." (Popa Chubby, 2019 / Photo © by Cristina Arrigoni)
What was the hardest part of your 30 years career? How do you want your music to affect people?
The hardest part has been missing home and my kids. This is never easy. My music brings hope to the disenfranchised I’m grateful for that.
What would you say characterizes New York scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?
It’s changed so much but coming up it was the volume and diversity of music.
What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?
Watching my twin daughters being born 24 years ago. Otherwise I’m always looking ahead.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
That’s easy. Always be authentic. It’s all your obliged to be.
How do you describe previous album "Beast from the East" songbook? where does your creative drive come from?
I am your friendly neighborhood beast! I rip the neck off the guitar, satisfy the crowd and make love to the women!
What would you tell a newcomer who asks you for advice? What do you miss most nowadays from Hendrix and Cohen’s music?
In all honesty I would tell the younger generation to get another job. too many damn 12-yearolds thinking they can play the blues. You need 2 divorces and a bad liver to really play the blues! Jimi? Man, nobody like Jimi. All the guys now are shredders. Jimi played soul!!! Cohen? The greatest lyricist and most gracious performer.
"When I was a punk rocker saying was anarchy rules that was definitely a cut off from the mainstream I try to maintain that attitude of individualism and taking a prisoners and all I do." (Popa Chubby, 2019 / Photo © by Cristina Arrigoni)
What were the reasons that you started the Blues and Rock researches? How do you describe "Two Dogs" (2017) songbook and sound?
Blues is the most honest music there is you can't hide in the blues. I grew up in the 70's when Hendrix, Zepplin, Johnny Winter, Foghat etc... ruled the day! Not to mention the Stones, Taj, Léon Russell etc...
Two Dogs is a wakeup call. The title track is about choosing the right way! I'm really proud of the writing on the record. I made social commentary regarding Preexisting Conditions to hard Boogie! Songs like "it's Alright" and Shakedown are pure Memphis Rock n' R&B. I drew on my roots and influences from Motown to STAX. "Meaner Than Sam Lay's Pistol'" tells the story of the legendary Chess records drummer who played with Howling Wolf and so many others. The title track "Two Dogs " and "Me Won't Back Down" draw from the P. Funk, James Brown school of funk! I wrote "Clayophus D upree" as a tribute to both Albert King and Booker T! The bonus tracks are The Rolling Stones’ Classic “Sympathy for the Devil” and a duet with pianist Dave Keyes on the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah”. The record tells stories I am proud of that.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Speaking of Tom Dowd he was a mentor he gave me the advice to go to Europe. He let me know what I was doing was right. Coming from him that was everything! With me he was just kind and encouraging. I heard with some other artists he could be cross but not with me. The result was Booty and The Beast a record that stands up 21 years later. People like Johnny Winter, Hubert Sumlin, Magic Slim etc... all were good to me.
Working with Tom Down which is actually your next question was one of the pivotal experiences of my life and mostly Tom just told me to be myself he taught me so much in such little time also people like Hubert Sumlin and Johnny Winter. The best advice I ever got was the play what I feel. It sounds simple but it's true.
Do you consider the blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
B.B. said it: The blues is a feeling. An abused and over extended genre. Most people who play blues now can’t write songs.
"The main thing I learned is that to me rock 'n' roll stands for integrity individuality in the big middle finger to the system just like it always has the blues is about truth she can say this is a journey of altruism In a way." Popa marks thirty years of bringing blues, rock and soul with an awesome new album "It's a Mighty Hard Road - More Than 30 Years Of Blues Rock And Soul".
Are there any memories from gigs which you’d like to share? What touched (emotionally) you from Tom Dowd?
I remember playing the blues challenge at KLON radio in 1991 and people standing to their feet when I had a note that was something else. Remember when I got signed to Sony and when I heard my record played on the radio for the first time and also seeing my picture in the window at tower records on Broadway.
Are there any memories from Tom Dowd, Hubert Sumlin and Johnny Winter which you’d like to share with us?
The stories Dowd would tell we're amazing working with Cream he told me the cross roads guitar solo was overdubbed. He would tell stories about Clapton, Rod Stewart, everybody. it was like hanging out with your cool Grandpa.
Hubert Sumlin phoned me from Keith Richards house when he Won a Grammy! I loved Hubert dearly he was the sweetest guy ever. He deserved more respect. On Johnny Winter's 70th. Birthday I played Mojo with him at BB Kings in NYC it was a crown moment in my life. Johnny smiled at me! It's on YouTube.
How has the Blues and Punk counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
When I was a punk rocker saying was anarchy rules that was definitely a cut off from the mainstream I try to maintain that attitude of individualism and taking a prisoners and all I do.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
To play music for free and not for money. Money causes problems. I ask myself sometimes what is free music? That's what I want to play. Music for the sake of music. Like Sun Ra or Monk.
"Blues is the most honest music there is you can't hide in the blues. I grew up in the 70's when Hendrix, Zepplin, Johnny Winter, Foghat etc... ruled the day! Not to mention the Stones, Taj, Léon Russell etc..." Native New Yorker Popa Chubby has built a constantly increasing base of fans across the world, where in many territories he is a star." (Popa Chubby, 2019 / Photo © by Cristina Arrigoni)
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from studio sessions with your daughter, Theodora?
I’m in awe of her. Her talent and professionalism. She gave me what I wanted before I even asked for it. I love this kid madly!!
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from studio sessions with your daughter, Tipitina?
Tipi is a really talented girl and a total perfectionist like me. In those sessions she would not accept second best and she did a great job. I have been grooming both my daughters since they began. They are mostly classical musicians but they know the blues.
You spend a lot time around the Europe, do you find any difference between European and US scene?
It's really both different and the same ultimately, it's just folks wanting to have a good time. Every country in Europe is slightly different. France is my biggest market. The French really get Popa Chubby and it's a love affair. The Italians call me Grande. The German audiences rock the hardest. The U.K. Is an interesting market the have a million guitarists there and they all seem to be the best.
What do you miss most nowadays from the New York punk scene and the glory days of CBGB’s?
Really the Comradery. There was a community everyone were friends. The best thing about it was that anyone could be in a band. Everyone was friends on the scene no one was better than anyone else. I wish the blues scene was more like that. Also, if you were in a band that played at CB's you were allowed into any show. I saw everyone from The Ramones to Spinal Tap! That was a special time in history. I don't think it could happen again.
What is the impact of Blues and Rock Punk music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
Dude I'm just a guitar player seriously!!! When rock 'n' roll first happened it was a threat to the mainstream. When Chuck Berry happened it was a threats white America. When the bad brains happened it was a threat to rock 'n' roll. What is there to threaten the mainstream now?
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from Muddy, Cream and Hendrix to Ramones and the Cramps?
Man it's all in there just ask Iggy Pop!!!
How do you describe Popa Chubby sound and songbook? What characterized your previous 2016 album “The Catfish” philosophy?
The catfish is the king of the river everything that happens in the river goes to him Popa Chubby sound it's a melting pot of influences just like New York City.
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I always listen to music from other decades especially from the 30s - 40s and even 50s and think man these guys were such amazing musicians they could read and play anything and they could play. What’s missing more than anything now is the ability for people to play music together. It's become such a solitary experience.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in blues world?
Be honest, pay your bills, protect yourself, do what’s in front of you, sweat!!
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
What were the reasons that you started collaboration with Greek guitars "Olympus"? How will be your custom "Popa Chubby"?
We have not yet begun. Johnny Pappas is a great guy! Right now, I have only a signature model with Eagletone custom from France. They did a replica of my 66. very nice. I look forward to havin’ an Olympus.
(Popa Chubby, 2019 / Photo © by Cristina Arrigoni)
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