I have long been a fan of Theodore Joseph “Ted” Horowitz; I admire his uncompromising approach to the guitar, the bite in his lyrics as well as his compositional nous. He has been playing blues-rock for more than 25 years and across more than twenty studio albums. His image is as uncompromising as his playing with an imposing figure, a shaven head, tattooed arms, a goatee and a performance style he describes as “the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson” …fortunately, he plays as well as that curious mix sounds.
A native New Yorker, Popa Chubby‘s first gigs were in the local punk scene as a guitarist for what he calls a “crazy Japanese special effects performance artist in a kimono called Screaming Mad George who had a horror-movie inspired show.”
The blues however formed the base of his playing style due in part to his early influences such as Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin but with an astute awareness of their forebears; Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter were as significant.
For his latest release, Prime Cuts, Chubby has delved into his catalogue and assembled 15 tracks with only two cover versions, reflecting his style and changing outlook across the years. It also serves up a new track of his inimitable social commentary on the previously unreleased Go Fuck Yourself, featuring the violin playing of his daughter Theodora Horowitz. The record ends with the other new track, a Christmas song…more of which later.
Beginning with Life Is A Beat Down, we are immediately reminded how good he is on guitar; the riffing is light and not that bluesy, but the solo is stunning and the clever lyrics allow me to forgive the rap approach, although it does mean they are understandable. Angel On My Shoulder is more traditional in the blues build and brings a Free feel to the overall composition and it’s expanded by the keyboards…also, if you don’t know Popa then this proves he can sing too and not just talk. This is a familiar and yet different, strong blues-rock number. Next up is a cover of Hey Joe…a song written by Billy Roberts but most famously covered by Hendrix. If Roberts’ original is on one end of the scale, Deep Purple’s version in the middle and Hendrix at the other extreme, then Popa’s version fits neatly between them as, to my ears, the guitar sound blends Blackmore and Hendrix superbly but keeps a part of the original the others missed. His interpretation of the riff is so subtly different that you have to listen closely to appreciate the brilliant nuances. The solos are pure Popa in the way he fits the melody into every note while making it refreshingly different. Stoop Down Baby is next and hits with a funky riff and organ that is damnably catchy and develops into another familiar, yet new, funk blues number of quality with some sax thrown in too. The organ solo is great and the guitar follows with a really well judged mix of stinging attacks and bends that bring lyricism to the playing. I can only hope that Popa knows something I don’t and that there really is a Sweet Goddess of Love And Beer…add on the later track about Caffeine and Nicotine and I have a full house of my favourite vices! This particular Sweet Goddess is a sax intro led blues with a hefty bit of soul injected in his gentle vocal. Although the lyrics seem at odds with the Motown harmony chorus, it still works courtesy of the sense of humour Popa is famous for. The next track, San Catri, is Popa at his best…the delicate Hendrix guitar opening leads to a slow blues that is a tribute to Jimi (as hinted at from the title of its source…Electric Chubbyland which appended “(for Jimi)” to the title); a great album on its own. This instrumental is entrancing throughout as he travels across the whole neck to bring us careful picking, hammering, chords and flourishes to paint a lovely landscape with sound…if you don’t own his previous works then buy this compilation for this instrumental if nothing else. Now, on to my next ‘favourite vices’ song with the rapid shuffle of Caffeine and Nicotine. A southern flavor mixed with some true rhythm and blues seeps into the beat of this live recording and the solo is sublime. Grown Man Crying Blues takes a standard approach with lyrics that show Popa has a sensitive side too with the guitar providing some delightful punctuation and an inspired use of the tremolo arm as well as another great solo. Vocally and structure wise it is, in my mind, like Leslie West on top form. The new, extremely sweary track, Go Fuck Yourself, is again pure Popa in that he pulls no punches in his opinions of what is happening in his town these days. It is a swear fest from the outset over an actually exquisite piece of bass, drums and guitar…but the f-word in every line means you won’t be playing this at your next party! It’s a shame as the quirky, Zappa like composition has a lot going for it. The next track has me getting a razor blade ready because when I see Leonard Cohen as the composer I just know I am going to be depressed! Popa’s cover of Hallelujah blunts the blade a little as the guitar solo in the middle is exceptional… thankfully! Somebody Let The Devil Out brings Popa’s slide prowess (at last) into the picture with a gloriously dirty intro. More satire in the lyrics and the harmonica and slide add the necessary sleaze to the overall picture. Light Of Day is Popa again channeling his inner Hendrix with a slow blues that would sit comfortably on Electric Ladyland or Bridge of Sighs…except for a short and sweet organ solo that heralds a Chubby solo that is, literally, music to the ears. Dirty Lie starts with neat shuffle provided by a drum, guitar and organ combination that work together to give us a funk infused blues incised with a great solo. Daddy Played Guitar brings acoustic and electric together with a bottleneck giving the depth to the story; a surprise awaits when the riff heavies up and, unfortunately, the vocals take on a rap style and yet more swearing. Otherwise it is a biographical blues of quality spoiled by the unnecessary rapping especially when the slide solo is so superb. The album, bearing in mind it was released late November, finishes with an “unreleased holiday treasure“ (not my words) called There On Christmas. A Chubby original that makes me think of Phil Spector. As Christmas is anathema to my Grinch like demeanor, I will say only that the incorporation of some ‘classic’ carol melodies is clever…
To a Chubby fan, this newest release provides little in the way of new…I already have the other non-new tracks. If however you do not know and love the larger than life persona of Ted Horowitz, then it is simple…buy it!
Popa Chubby – Prime Cuts
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Life Is A Beat Down
- Angel On My Shoulder
- Hey Joe
- Stoop Down Baby
- Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer
- San Catri
- Caffeine and Nicotine
- Grown Man Crying Blues
- Go Fuck Yourself
- Somebody Let the Devil Out
- Light Of Day
- Dirty Lie
- Daddy Played the Guitar
- There On Christmas
All songs written by T. Horowitz except track 3 by Billy Roberts; track 10 by Leonard Cohen
Musicians:Popa Chubby: Guitars and vocals on all tracks
Track 1 drums: Steve Holley, bass: Nicholas Damato 2 drums: Sean Pelton, bass: Mike Leslie, organ: Mitch Margol 3 drums: Larry Crockett, bass: Kris Jefferson 4 drums: Don Castagno, bass: Mike Merritt, organ: Seth Farber 5 drums: Don Castagno, bass: Mike Merritt, tenor sax: Anders Garman 6 drums: Tom Major, bass: Mike Leslie 7 drums: Rich Monica, bass: Dean Zucchero 8 drums: Chris Reddan, bass: A.J. Pappas 9 drums: Popa Chubby, fretless bass: Popa Chubby, violins: Theodora Horowitz 10 drums: Steve Holley, bass: Nicholas Damato, keys: Mike Latrell 11 drums: Steve bass: Kris Jefferson, keys: Mike Latrell 12 drums: Steve Holley, bass: Kris Jefferson, keys: Mike Latrell 13 drums: Steve Holley, bass: Kris Jefferson 14 drums: Steve Holley, bass: Kris Jefferson, keys: Mike Latrell, bkgnd vox: Galea 15 drums & percussion: Popa Chubby, bass: Popa Chubby, keys: Dave Keyes