Interview with G. Love & Special Sauce + "20 Years On... And A Taste of Sugar"
20 years after releasing their self-titled debut album, hip-hop blues trio G. Love & Special Sauce are celebrating with a retrospective look back and a refreshing look ahead. Although it's been eight years since they last played together, the original line up of G. Love, "Jimi Jazz" Prescott, and Jeff Clemons have reunited to record a brand new album, Sugar, and they're currently on tour playing 1994's G. Love & Special Sauce in its entirety.
To add to the festivities, they're offering a cool EP titled 20 Years On... And A Taste of Sugar that includes three tracks off the new album and three live tracks form their ongoing tour. From Sugar, "One Night Romance" sizzles on the duet vocals of the legendary Merry Clayton, "Nothing Else Quite Like Home" gets a little help from Ben Harper and Marc Broussard, and the funky chug of "Cheating Heart" will have you moving in no time. The three debut album live tracks showcase the talented trio grooving through the laid-back chill of "Blues Music," the jazzy interplay of "Walk to Slide," and the sleazy slink of "Garbage Man."
NoiseTrade: It’s been eight years since the original G. Love & Special Sauce played together. What got you guys back in the same room and playing together again?
G. Love: I was down at my sound guy/tour manager/producer’s wedding two Septembers ago and Jim (Prescott, bass) was there. We hadn’t seen each other in about five years. I asked him if he ever wanted to come back out on the road. He wasn’t exactly interested in doing that, but he said he’d be down for doing some recording. Fast-forward a year and a half, and after doing a session for the Sugar record, we felt like we wanted to cut some more tunes. I said, let’s see if Jim’s available to do this next session. Sure enough, he said he was into it. It was the first time we had played together in about five or six years and we were able to pick back up right where we were at the best times we had ever had playing together. The instant chemistry and joy of playing together were still there.
After that session, I was helping him load up his car and I asked him again if he wanted to come back out on the road. This time, he was into it. It worked out pretty serendipitously with it being the 20-year anniversary of the first record. So it’s been great to put together the original line-up that made that record.
NT: What’s the experience been like to play your self-titled debut album in full each night?
G. Love: It’s been cool to play again as the original trio and play something that we’re all so endeared to and care so much about. It’s been just like getting back on the bike. We knew it would be since we had already done a successful recording session. We’re playing the whole first record and most of the new record with some other songs mixed in for fun. At soundcheck we try to work on other songs from our catalog to throw in.
NT: Are there any songs that have a taken on a different meaning for you now, 20 years later?
G. Love: Yeah, it’s funny… It’s almost like having a kid and watching them grow up. You love them as much now as you did when they were little, but you almost respect them more. Instead of just jamming on the songs like we do sometimes, we’re performing them pretty close to how they were first recorded and letting them stand on their own. We’re trying to respect and celebrate the original performances.
NT: Early in the tour you had back-to-back shows in Philly. How was the hometown crowd?
G. Love: It was really awesome. It was emotional to play the Boston show and the Philly shows because a lot of the old heads came out. A lot of people showed up that worked in the music business in Philly around the time that we recorded the first record. So it was nice to see everyone. We’ve never been part of a trend or a scene, but it’s still nice to feel that community.
NT: What drove the decision to record Sugar live with you guys playing in the same room at the same time?
G. Love: Of all the stuff I’ve put out over the years, it seems that the best stuff has been recorded like that. Where we’re just going for it and not trying to be too polished. I try to stay away from the three compound words that can destroy any recording session for me: sonically-correct, radio-friendly, and commercially-viable. Over the years I’ve sometimes tried to cater to one or more of those curse words, but it’s always been to limited success and it was always a let down. When you’re recording, oftentimes the producer will want to have complete control over the sonics of the tracks, so they’ll want isolation. They’ll start with the drums and build everything around that individually. However, since it takes a certain emotional vocal and guitar performance to get the right drum take you want, why wouldn’t you use that same vocal and guitar track that got the drummer there in the first place? That’s where the connection is. It may be a little more raw or unpolished, but it’s emotionally connected and that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make every time. Things go a lot faster that way as well (laughs).
NT: “One Night Romance,” your call-and-response duet with the legendary Merry Clayton, is downright incendiary. How’d that come about?
G. Love: That was a song that was written by a friend of mine named Kristy Lee, who sings background on that track. Emmitt Malloy at the label (Brushfire Records) saw that documentary 20 Feet from Stardom that had Merry in it. He thought it would be great to do a track with her and brought up “One Night Romance.” I asked Kristy about it, because we had initially sung it together, and she was really supportive and honored about it. So, Merry came in and she was so awesome. She told all these great stories about working with Mick Jagger and Ray Charles. We drank some wine, went in to sing for about an hour a half, and then we had it. She’s one of the greatest singers of all time and she really helped me a lot. It was a really special moment for me.
NT: Along with Merry, you pulled in some other amazing guests like David Hidalgo and Marc Broussard. What did they add to the overall experience?
G. Love: David Hidalgo was a really crucial part of the recording. Jeff (Clemens, drums) had the idea to take a couple days recording as a trio and then take a couple days to bring in some special guests. As it turned out, David was only available that first night, the first time that we would be playing together again after so long. Initially, I thought we should get into a groove, just the three of us, before bringing anybody in. But then I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? If we don’t get anything good tonight, we’ll just try again the next day. It ended up working out perfectly because it gave us a game plan. We picked the three tunes we wanted to have David on and prepared them for later when he arrived. When he showed up, we were ready and it was amazing. Jeff was so thrilled, he’s a huge fan of David’s, and he was like a kid in a candy shop.
We also had Ben Harper and Marc Broussard on “Nothing Quite Like Home.” That song started out as an instrumental. Then, I met Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons and it turns out he was a big fan when he was a kid. The first song he ever performed was “Baby’s Got Sauce” when he was 13 at a New Year’s Eve party. We talked about collaborating and I sent him that instrumental track to check out. Six hours later, he sent back a demo where he had written lyrics and recorded vocals over the groove. As it turns out, Dan couldn’t be on the final track, but I still wanted to do a collaboration because that’s how it started out. I called up Marc and he took a stab at it. Then I dragged Ben to the studio and he did his thing. I was really happy to get those guys on that track.
NT: There’s a song on Sugar called “Run for Me” that was originally written for your debut album and never got recorded until now. What’s the story behind that song?
G. Love: That was one of my original street-side blues tunes that I had written while I was a street performer back in 1992. There’s a version of it on my first solo record called Oh Yeah that I recorded when was 19. We had recorded it as a trio for our debut record, but it didn’t make the cut. It fit right in with this record, so we gave it another shot. We had played it live at various times over the years and if you’re still feeling a song 24 years after you wrote it, you know it’s got some merit. So I’m glad it’s got its place on a real release.