Part blues and part rap, part rock and part soul, G. Love and Special Sauce have managed to nurture a truly unique sound in an era most notable for cookie-cutter grunge, rap metal, and boy bands. Always funky, and usually fun, their songs are marked with timelessness uncommon in modern popular music.
Formed in 1992, in Philadelphia, PA, the group was a combination of - surprisingly enough - G. Love (Garrett Dutton) on guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals and a rhythm section (aptly called Special Sauce) made up of Jimmy "Jazzman" Prescott on upright bass and Jeff Clemens on drums. Within two years, they managed to get signed by Okeh/Epic and in 1994, they put out their stellar self-titled debut.
The album (see below) was marked by several excellent blues/rap/rock tracks including the hit Cold Beverage, which gained airplay and was a hit video on MTV, almost pushing the album to Gold status. Other noteworthy tracks on the album include Baby's Got Sauce, The Things That I Used to Do, and my personal favorite, Shooting Hoops. I first heard this disc while sneaking out to my car for a cigarette in high school, and was instantly hooked.
G. and the boys followed up with Coast to Coast Motel in 1995 to mixed reviews. While many claimed the album was a masterpiece, many others like myself found that the "more mature" sound of this album detracted from the irresistible fun of their first release. Even the All Music Guide reviewer, who says CtCM is their best album, only manages to note one song, Small Fish, from it as indicative of their overall body of work.
In Fall of '96, shortly before I departed for my sophomore year of college, I happened to see them for the first time at Irving Plaza in New York City. After a superb opening set by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, G. and the Sauce came out and rocked for a solid two hours. And then came the encore. Seems that The Dirty Dozen had been touring with The Black Crowes. Well the Crowes were backstage and during the encore, Chris Robinson, Rich Robinson, and keyboard player Eddie Hersch came out and played a slow, nasty dirty blues rendition of The Beatles' Help with G. and the boys. Awesome.
After a short break-up over financial matters, their next album, Yeah, It's That Easy, was released, in 1997. Returning to many of the things that made their debut great, unfortunately this album never reached the critical or financial success of either previous album. Highlighted by the funky Stepping Stones, this album also showcases their more soulful roots. Also noteworthy is the appearance of the All Fellas Band one of Garrett's side projects, on the excellent I-76, more or less a travelogue of Philadelphia.
In October 1998, a classmate at University of Maryland needed a bass player for an upcoming gig and approached me. He explained that in less than two weeks, his band would be opening for G. Love. I jumped at the chance. After two weeks of hard rehearsal, the show came off without a hitch. As we were the first band of three, I had a chance to hang out with Garrett and the boys during the second band's set. This was particularly great, as Jimmy Prescott is one of my bass idols. After the show, we hung out for a while, and I can definitely say two things: 1) G. Love, while a little full of himself, is extremely cool, and 2) He has the best weed I have ever smoked.
In 1999, the group released their fourth album Philadelphonic. Between the Bone Thugs n Harmony-influenced Rodeo Clowns and the extremely funky Friday Night, this is an album to buy. In 2001, the group released their fifth album, The Electric Mile. Their sound has grown on this album to include reggae in Unified and more soul, the group got John Medeski of Medeski Martin and Wood to play keyboards on the album.
All in all, the band has a particular ease of listening and familiarity of sound that makes them great fun to groove to, without sounding trite. Perhaps one of the most fun bands I've ever listened to.
Discography (for easier consumption):
The album G. Love and Special Sauce, the self-titled debut discussed above, is probably my favorite. You should definitely have this one in you collection. The tracks are:
- The Things That I Used to Do
- Blues Music
- Garbage Man
- Eyes Have Miles
- Baby's Got Sauce
- Rhyme for the Summertime
- Cold Beverage
- This Ain't Living
- Walk to Slide
- Shooting Hoops
- Some Peoples Like That
- Town to Town
- I Love You