There are few acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, the genre-bridging Philadelphia alt-hip-hop trio that's been at it for two decades now, and there are even fewer frontmen quite like Garrett Dutton. Best known for his rapping approach within G. Love & Special Sauce, Dutson isn't afraid to display his long-established blues proclivities as well.
Even at his set at the Fender MLB Stratocaster event last week at the W Hotel in Scottsdale, Dutton pulled out a Bukka White cover in addition to his own blues tunes. He's not shy about his love for the Delta blues, however -- his chops, from playing to knowledge about the genre's legends, stem back to his childhood and run up through his work today.
"The people that know it find out about those old records, and there's no way to not find something in there to really latch onto," he says. "I think a lot of people don't search back far enough. Once I heard that sound, I was like 'Oh, this is what I want to do,' and then it was just like a whole world was opened up once you knew about it. Every one of those old records is like an old book to read and a new style to learn."
Absorbing such material for so long, and at such a young age, lends a sense of validation to Dutton's body of work, as he often works in medium where anyone else's authenticity might be questioned.
With the release of 2011's Fixin' To Die, one of four solo releases by Dutton, he was able to manifest the blues affinity of his youth and filter it through 20 years worth of experience. While he feels that age isn't necessarily a disbarring factor from creating true blues music, time does add something that can't be taught.
"When I was a teenager learning all those records, there was such a raw passion and excitement and energy that I was getting out of it and putting right into it that was powerful in its own way," he says. "I felt like because I had to wait 20 years to record a lot of this stuff, it really had a lot more depth, just kind of soaked in a lot of years of playing and sounded a lot more authentic."
The lessons that come with such a degree of playing, whether it's bedroom woodshedding sessions or countless hours onstage, have seemed to help Dutton develop a writing style that the Delta greats would likely approve of, whether he's applying it to his solo work or his material with G. Love & Special Sauce. It's an approach that's based around feeling rather than technicalities, on rhythm versus melody.
"I have a lot of notes written, then when I sit down with a guitar and I start going on a groove or whatever, whatever that groove makes me feel like it should be about, I'll look through all those lyrical snippets," he explains. "Some ideas can just put you in a certain spot, and from there you just smoke a little joint, get loose and start jammin' and let your fingers stumble upon something. Once you free up your mind and you get that whole groove, you're home free."
Dutton's methodology could be seen a luxury -- after all, he's been with his band for over 20 years, spanning eight records, lived through the departure and reuniting of members and survived a couple of full-blown near-breakups.
When put in perspective however, you seen that the luxury is earned, and Dutton is keenly aware of this. If you want to make something stand on its own, it's not going to be easy. For G. Love, the effort is sure as hell worth it.
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"However you find it, whether it's natural ability or whatever, you gotta put the work in to get out there -- if you want to sell it, you need someone to buy, or you do it for yourself," he says. "It's not a one-time burst, it's a consistent thing that you constantly need to work at, constantly trying to grow and overcome the ups and downs."