Written by Kevin Heffernan
All photos courtesy G Love & Special Sauce

“I’m getting Louie kid. Ya better get lost.”

We’re thrilled to chat with Garret Dutton of G Love & Special Sauce, Philadelphia roots and blues, soul, rock and hip-hop band ahead of their show in Buffalo at The Tralf on January 21. G has been altering our moods for the better every time we push play since the 1990s. Personally for me, it was a 2001 discovery through a friend that got me hooked. In fall 2003, I once listened to Philadelphonic 4x in a row on a Saturday afternoon in Delaware Park when time meant nothing and music was everything for a senior in high school.

“Sloppy Blues” is a common characterization of the trio’s music, but the music’s upbeat tone and lyrics are laden with loving references to special connections made on the road, cities visited, and a giant, bleeding heart for their hometown, Philadelphia. Whether you realized it or not, you’ve probably overheard “Baby’s Got Sauce” “Cold Beverage” “Milk & Cereal” “I-76” and other early feel-good hits on the radio or within your friend’s playlists through the 90s and 2000s. But like Spoon, another favorite band of mine that has proven its longevity, Garret Dutton on guitar/vocals/harmonica, Jeff Clemens on drums, and Jim Prescott on upright bass of G Love & Special Sauce have kept their original vibe the same while leveling up their music. For example, 2014’s LP Sugar was a masterful exercise in everything the band has done right over the last two and a half decades, complete with upgrades in collaboration and production in the studio.

(Every blog this week is presented by Friday night’s party at BPAC)


Blues and rock and hip-hop are America’s music, through and through. G Love is able to tap into that Americana soul with each new collaboration and recording. That’s enough from us, let’s hear it directly from G. Discover or relive this music online, on vinyl, or live on January 21 for a vibe and style that will melt winter away.

(Rise)
You’ve been recording music since cassettes were transitioning to CD’s. How have you navigated the transition from tangible media and its subsequent income to nearly everything on digital?

(G)
I gotta say it’s been a trip. Here’s a short story to answer your question – so around 1996-1998 we had our first little rockumentary in the can by my friend Karim. Karim hit me up to suggest that we put our video tape on a new format called DVD, he said we should press it on VHS and DVD. I said “That’s crazy, who would want that? Just put it on VHS so I can play it on my VCR.” To this day that’s not been re-released, and thanks to me it’s not in digital format. Like..wow I was a dumbass. I’m pretty much forward thinking now. Point of story – embrace new tech or get left behind.

(Rise)
You’ve said “There’s something happening there” about late 80s, early 90s Philadelphia in regards to a feeling, an electricity surrounding the creativity coming out of your hometown. We are finally (finally) experiencing a creative electricity in Buffalo, especially in our hip-hop scene. We remain a long way off from Philly, and we often fear in this town that if someone makes it big, we’ll never hear from them again. G Love and Philadelphia are synonymous, at least in our circles. In terms of your career, what has kept you and Philly so intertwined?

(G)
I was a complete product of the time I came of age and the city, Philadelphia, where I was born and raised. I think of it similar to the writings on Malcom Gladwell in his book “Outliers”. Twenty or forty blocks or so from where I grew up and graduated high school in 1991 there were Tariq and Ahmir – The Roots. Same class. Same city. Same era. We all grew up listening to Street Beat on Power 99 FM the golden age of emerging HipHop. These tracks were being made in our city. They found a niche playing with live instruments the Hip-Hop sound they loved when no one else was doing that. I was like a garage band rock and roller who grew up in Hip-Hop – graffiti, breakdancing, freestyling and hoops all finding it’s influence in my music. Pure Philly.

(Rise)
Collaboration has been a staple of your music, from Jack Johnson to Jamtown. While it may be obvious that these sessions pull new creativity out, can you describe for other artists reading this a time that collaboration helped your career? Or how you were able to help lift someone else up?

(G)
Well I guess that time would have to point back to my ongoing collaboration with Jack Johnson. I met Jack in 1998 when I was recording my fourth record Philadelphonic. My surfing bud Scott Soens from Avalon, NJ said, “Hey Garrett, I want you to meet my friend Jack Johnson. He’s got this killer song ‘Rodeo Clowns’ and I think you’ll like it.” They came by, we surfed, we jammed and two days later we cut what would be the single of Philadelphonic, Jack’s song “Rodeo Clowns.” The rest is history. Jack has become one of the biggest stars in the history of music.

So, collaborations are really a special coming together of creatives. I have found immense creative success in collaborations and my latest is with my old friend Keb’Mo’ who took me on a master class in music and the blues. We have the most added record at Triple A radio as I write this. Take your self out of your comfort zone and see what you can learn. Music is a journey and one is wise to remain the student and the teacher.

(Rise)
So many of your songs pull in geographic or personal references from cities you’ve frequented. Do you think you tour differently than other artists? What do you do while in a new city to get a feel for its scene – a feeling strong enough to write and sing about?

(G)
Well I think we tour pretty much nonstop, but I think a lot of bands do that. Thankfully, for the last 20 years we’ve toured in a bus, while it’s a huge expense it’s really an investment in longevity. When you ride in a bus you wake up in the town where you’re playing in as opposed to waking up and driving 6 hours. So we can get our exercise and maybe explore the town. I’ve been to every big city and many little towns in the USA. I really try to soak it in. I love all these little towns – the people and the places. I feel so lucky to see all these places and I truly have a hunger to see and experience them.

(Rise)
Last album you listened to in full?

(G)
Gary Clark Jr.’s latest release “This Land”

(Rise)
Collaboration you’d love to make happen that has not yet?

(G)
I would really like to work with Dan Auerbach and Jack White. I know both these cats were influenced by my sound and now I would like to learn from them.

(Rise)
What sort of elements do you put in place at home, the road, or in studio when writing and recording to allow your sound to evolve, your collaborations to continue, but your overall vibe to stay consistent over the years? How do Jeff and Jim contribute to that consistency?

(G)
Well, candles went out when we almost burned down The Studio, Larry Gold’s place in Philly, while producing Japanese Artist Leyona in the early 2000’s. So the vibe is within, Feel the Force, man. But it’s all about the practice and the work and the process. You just learn over time to turn it on when the red light goes on. You bring it. Bring the feeling and the performance and the vibe. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. There’s plenty of times when you don’t have it. Know when to pull the plug and hit it fresh. Know how to lead your team even if you’re not the “leader”. Jim and Jeff are tremendous musicians and true originals. Jeff basically discovered me off the street and we all put so much into this music we make.

G Love at the Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River State Park. Photo by Tony Vasquez.

(Rise)
Buffalo: Up the block from the Tralf where you’ll perform, there’s a 4-story mural that asks its readers to, “KEEP BUFFALO A SECRET.” It’s a new motto meant to shed our insecurities and on-our-knees begging for people to come here and like the place. So while we should be saying, “Hey it’s Buffalo in January, take it or leave it,” your fans in our audience still want to know what you think of our city and your favorite performance memories etc.

(G)
I love this! Yeah, we’ve played gorgeous spring days, hot as hell summer days and snow-storm-blizzard-outside-winter-freezers. It’s always so amazing to see the weather that music lovers in Buffalo will rally though to make a show. I guess we will hang on for the ride this time and pray for just cold and clear! But for real, we’ve had so many epic shows in your town and are stoked to bring some heat in January to the scene. I really love The Tralf and my voice is feeling great so game on, see y’all real soon!

Rock and roll.