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July 16, 2008

Still Feelin' The Love



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G. Love performed in Montauk recently. (click for larger version)
Poverty. Soda. Girlfriends. The garbage man. G. Love and Special Sauce have written songs about almost everything, each one accompanied by their signature funky backbeat.

Fusing blues, hip-hop and R&B, G. Love, and his two-man Cajun-inspired band, Special Sauce, hit the music scene in the mid-'90s with a fresh sound that instantly put them on the map.

Their feel good, carefree, sloppy white boy blues sound carved out a new, sophisticated genre of music with which listeners easily connected.

Born Garrett Dutton III in Philadelphia, G. Love has said the "G" stands for Good and Love was added because it simply sounded right. He is the front man (vocals, guitar, harmonica), with Special Sauce featuring Jeff Clemens on drums and Jim Prescott on upright bass. They came together 16 years ago and have been generating hit albums ever since, including G. Love and Special Sauce, Yeah, It's That Easy and Philadelphonic.

Love recently visited the East End, sans Special Sauce, for a beach cleanup event organized by Barefoot Wine and Surfrider Foundation. He, along with singer-songwriter Tristan Prettyman, joined a group of volunteers in picking up debris on a popular surfing beach, Ditch Plains in Montauk, making it "barefoot friendly."

"It was a good match because Tristan and I are surfers, so we were excited about it," said Love.

A casual and fairly intimate celebration with the volunteers and some press followed at Second House Tavern, where the two musicians played songs off their respective albums.

Prettyman opened with a laid-back, acoustic set, finger picking her guitar while belting out some beautiful melodies. Then, tall and lanky, Love took to the modest stage, looking cool even while sitting on a chair seemingly too small for his gangly legs. He addressed a few brief words to the audience and without missing a beat, guitar and harmonica in tow, he sprang right into a cut off his band's new album, their tenth, Superhero Brother. He also squeezed in some old favorites, including "Baby's Got Sauce."

Later, Prettyman and Love played together – their soulful, bluesy duet "Beautiful" winning the crowd over. They're performing it every night on tour this summer. Also on the bill is the John Butler Trio.

"John Butler is someone that I've known over the years from playing in Australia, at a lot of festivals. He's a huge superstar in Australia, like one of the biggest live acts, and record selling acts," said Love. "He's a tremendous guitar player, vocalist, and songwriter and I just really admired him over the years."

While picking a tour line up is partly about who musicians want to work with, it's also about finding the right people who will complement each other and complete the overall performance.

"You're trying to make a vibe, my vibe is my own music," Love said. "We feel like when we're doing shows, something that Jason, my manager, and I started doing, probably around the last five or eight years, is focusing not just on our show but the whole experience of the night."

Love has toured with a score of big names, including Dr. John, Bonnie Rait, Run DMC, Tribe Called Quest, Wide Spread Panic, the Black Crowes, Blues Traveler and Dave Matthews, to name a few.

Touring with this caliber of rock star generally means a band has found the right balance between pleasing the crowds and gaining the respect of peers. That kind of fame and fortune can easily lure some bands away from their original intention – making music. But Love says dollar signs pale in comparison to establishing a bond with listeners.

"At the end of the day, sell a million records, sell zero records, if you get out in front of people that's what really counts, to be able to connect with people," he said. "I think that our band has always been lucky and put a lot of effort in trying to do that."

As a result, G. Love and Special Sauce has tremendous staying power, even when suffering the release of an occasional flat album – Electric Mile, which came out in 2001, was generally considered by critics as scattered and jumpy, combining too many sounds.

The key to a musician's staying power, says the band's front man, is simply loving the work.

"It's music, and the love of music," said Love. "When I go out to play I get kind of nervous before I go on" but can break through that. "It's just about going out and feeling the music, and I think as a musician [if] you can feel your music, and connect with that, then connecting with the crowd just comes second nature."

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