I have long been a fan of Theodore Joseph “Ted” Horowitz; I admire his uncompromising approach to the guitar, the humour, the bite in his lyrics as well as his compositional nous. He has been playing blues-rock for more than 30 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 has always 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.
His latest masterpiece was conceived and recorded in lockdown… Popa explains:
” I was home in isolation with a bunch of guitars, drums, amps, microphones losing my mind.
I started writing songs. I wanted to make people feel better so the first was “Can I Call You My Friends?” No musicians in the studio so I had to use my skills, my balls and my soul. All I had! Luckily there was a never-ending flow of ideas that stemmed from what was going on in America and the world.
This record is as true as I have ever been in 60 years on the planet. It’s birthed from love, desperation, fear, frustration, pain, joy, sorrow, and resolution. Like you, I have been pushed to the limits of my humanity by the pandemic. But music sweet music has set me straight once again and I offer this work with humility and devotion to you all”.
I think we can all share in those sentiments even if we can’t emulate his creativity and, in typical Chubby fashion the messages are real, shot with humour (when appropriate) and also rarely seen tenderness: “This record is dedicated to the memories of all the souls who departed this mortal coil due to Coronavirus disease. May truth be our light to guide us through this dark night”.
Onto the music and the opening and title track, Tinfoil Hat…the cover picture explains better than I ever could and the video even more so; the song is “dedicated to all you crazy people” and sets the scene for the lyrics across the album that rail against the Trumpettes and suggest hope as the US moves into the Biden era. This one is backed by a heavied up rock’n’roll riff and he does a damn good job on bass and drums (not a machine thank heavens) and delivers his usual high standard, crafted guitar solo with as much bite as the lyrics.
Baby Put On Your Mask has an obvious message backed this time with a semi-pop feel (imagine Marc Bolan playing slide!) and a short slide solo that has a great tone. Next under the withering, but accurate, the pen of Popa is No Justice, No Peace is a slower, blues-based protest song that should be required listening for all of the naysayers in every country, not just the US…the message is sung really well across a strong bass and melody and catches fire with one of Popa’s best guitar solos…ever: I only wish it had lasted half an hour or more.
Someday Soon (A Change Is Gonna Come) carries another serious messages but, when it’s framed by genius slide, it becomes accessible and he even makes it sing-a-long before delivering a stinging slide solo that is glorious and also should have been had an hour longer! Can I Call You My Friends kicked the whole writing process of this album off (the video shows where his political colours lie) and may start like a Sweet single (sans Brian Connolly) and maintain the same repetitive phrasing, but after a few listens it is as irresistible as the rest…the solo is quality and fitting and woefully short.
You Ain’t Said Shit is the next track and leaves you in no doubt about how Popa feels! It is played out against a poppy late 50s/early 60s structure that quickly gets to you and (be careful who’s listening) you will be singing along…all together now, “you’re talking and you’re talking but we know you don’t know shit”! It shouldn’t work but it does so gloriously and the solo is magical.
Another Day In Hell is currently my favourite as a true blues, the mid-tempo song unfolds across six minutes of Free sparsity and Hendrix-y fret wizardry….the initial part of the solo lists who you’re likely to meet down below before the main course: this solo should have lasted two hours! Boogie For Tony is a delightful instrumental that certainly boogies and is sprinkled with so many examples of guitar excellence that I haven’t even picked up my Strat…no point trying to emulate, so I just sat back and soaked it all up.
Cognitive Dissonance has a reggae beat and his cod-Jamaican accent doesn’t offend because you just know it’s done with the best intentions and helps communicate the searing message that “makes me want to scream”…the guitar work over the basic rhythm is as biting as the lyrics and quite wonderful.
Embee’s Song shows Ted’s gentler side as he pours emotion into this pean to his wife with a soulful blues song that seems (almost) at odds with the rest but actually reaffirms the positivity underlying the whole album…and the solo is suitably empathetic. Final track 1968 Again hits out at past outrages, rather than current ones and shows that nothing much changes in politics…the fact that it’s all wrapped around and up with his delightful dobro slide makes it majestic whichever side of the fence you sit on. The solo this time should only have lasted three hours!
On first listen this album may not seem as immediate or as weighty as say, his Back to New York City or Catfish albums, but a few listens later and this is up there with the best of them. It happens to be a US-centric politically-charged protest album, but (most importantly) it is eleven songs of sheer quality and guitar playing that needs to be heard.
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a Stupendous album that repays repeated listens to fully appreciate the depth and quality that Popa Chubby has achieved.
1 Tinfoil Hat
2 Baby Put On Your Mask
3 No Justice No Peace
4 Someday Soon (Change Is Gonna Come)
5 Can I Call You My Friends?
6 You Ain’t Said Shit
7 Another Day In Hell
8 Boogie For Tony
9 Cognitive Dissonance
10 Embee’s Song
11 1968 Again
Musician(!): – Popa Chubby: All instruments and vocals
Written, recorded, produced and engineered by Ted Horowitz during the period March 16th to Sept 29th 2020
Recorded at Chubbyland Laboratories in the Hudson Valley, New York
(iTunes brought me a little known band from the 70s called Powerhouse that were active in the days of NWOBHM but combined punk attitudes effectively too…Feel The Steel indeed!)