G. Love & Special Sauce emerged in 1992 and stumbled upon a winning formula of blending traditional blues and hip-hop for a college audience. The move wasn’t necessarily intentional: G. (aka Garrett Dutton) and his band simply took the music that inspired them — the tunes and lyrics that had shaken them during their own journey of musical discovery — and did something a little different with it. Kids in dorms listening in on college radio lapped it up.
But what do you do when that college crowd is all grown up? It’s unlikely that a band is going to capture the imagination of the youth, generation after generation. That’s the dilemma that G. Love has had to face and, while he hasn’t found his Special Sauce at the top of any charts in some time, he's managed to sustain a respectable, even enviable career by staying true to the music that put him where he is to begin with.
Special Sauce turns 25 this year, and it has balanced an organic, natural evolution with a very real sense of identity. That original presentation of hip-hop blues and chill rap steered by the Delta blues is still evident in G. Love’s music. But there’s more to it now.
“I like to look at the music as a river that’s flowing along and we’re just going with it,” G. says. “Along the way, we’ve experimented with all different types of musical influences — everything from hip-hop and blues to rock and roll and reggae. Honky-tonk country. Thankfully, it just ended up being rock and roll. I feel like if you’re pushing the blues, you’re gonna end up in rock and roll. Certainly, if you’re interpreting hip-hop with live instruments, a guitar-driven band, you’re gonna end up with rock and rol,l too. I feel like that’s where we’re at — we’re a rock-and-roll band.”
Of course, G. Love isn’t the only contemporary musician to have taken raw blues and added new twists. Jack White is an example of someone who found a more lucrative way of reassembling old music into something the kids can relate to. It’s telling that White was an early G. Love fan.
“On our first tour in 1994, we played a show in Pontiac, Michigan,” G. Love says. “Years and years later, both Jack White and Kid Rock told me that they were at that show. That had a really profound effect on Jack White that led to their presentation with the White Stripes, which was old guitars, vintage clothes and this whole thrift-store vibe. We had an influence. Certainly, we’re not the first white kids to fuck with the blues, but at that time, it had an effect on some of the people that came up underneath us, like the Black Keys, the White Stripes, Kid Rock and everybody else. Like anybody else, we’re just continuing a great legacy of American music.”
Again, G. Love wasn’t the only muso playing the blues at the time; artists such as Beck and the Roots were, in their own way, taking the traditional and creating something fresh. The singer and guitarist is happy if he played any part in blurring what were once very rigid genre definitions.
“Everything is a big soup now,” he says. “You might work with a songwriter who has written a hit song for Rhianna and Toby Keith, or something like that. All the lines are crossed now, and we were early on it. That’s something that we can hang our hat on — being innovators. We’ve influenced a lot of people. Man, I wish I had as much money as those guys, but I’m happy that I’m part of the fabric that makes the music.”
G. Love & Special Sauce released the Love Saves the Day album in 2015, and Sugar the year before that, but the band is nowin the middle of a break from serious recording, allowing G. Love time to focus on his solo work and other projects like Jamtown (with Cisco Adler and Donavan Frankenreiter). That said, we might be seeing a Colorado-related live release of Special Sauce this year.
“It’s kind of the time that I probably won’t record with Special Sauce for a hot minute, just because we put out so much stuff recently,” G. Love says. “For the twentieth anniversary of the first record, we did a live tour, performing the whole first album. We recorded two nights of it at the Boulder Theater, and we're going to be releasing that, hopefully, this year as well — the live set of the whole first record.”
It’s not surprising that G. Love would choose the shows in our state to release as a live album; contemporary roots music has a large following in these parts, and the artist claims to feel like he’s at home when he’s here.
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“Since those first runs at the Fox in 1994, we've always had a really close relationship with Colorado,” he says. “It’s just a live-music mecca: the people, the community that supports live music, and the type of rootsy music that they tend to gravitate to. We’ve always fit into that family. It’s a constant thing with Colorado — because of the tremendous love that the fans give out, the bands tend to give a great performance. There are so many great venues, from Red Rocks down to the smallest corner bar. They’re all breeding grounds for great music, and it’s cool to be part of that tradition.”
This time around, with no new music to promote, G. Love & Special Sauce will be playing a set that mixes greatest hits with deep cuts, satisfying both the hard-core fan and the casual music enthusiast. We suggest that those attending sing full voice: You just might end up on a live album somewhere down the line.
G. Love & Special Sauce play at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 31, at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, 303-447-0095; at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at the Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, 303-832-1874; and at Belly up in Aspen, on Thursday, March 30, and Heritage Plaza, in Mountain Village, on April 2, 970-544-9800.