My Page: Twenty Years Down the Line with G. Love
I was working in a basement office in Harvard Square, phone canvassing for Peace Action, when I got a call from another street musician buddy of mine. It was Fordham Murdy, who I’d met in the Park Street stop in downtown Boston. His band, BananaFish, was playing a Sunday night gig at the Tam O’Shanter in Brookline, Mass., and their opening act had just canceled. He asked if I could fill the slot. I asked my boss if I could head out early and take the gig. She said yes, and it changed my life.
I showed up at the empty Tam on my skateboard with my axe and a bag of harps on my back and played for about eight people— BananaFish, the sound guy, the bartender, the cocktail waitress and her boyfriend, who was looking through the help wanted section of The Boston Globe.
I did my thing, shut my eyes and wailed the blues. When my time was done, the waitress’ boyfriend congratulated me on my set. I said thanks and, as I was walking away, he said he was a drummer. I stopped in my tracks. We talked for the next two hours and I missed my train home so he gave me a lift. I told him I had just moved up to Boston from Philly to be a street busker and was going to make the big time. He said I was crazy for trying. He’d been burned by the labels and the music game. His band, Who Be Dat, could’ve been the next Chili Peppers but even after all the showcases and making the cover of CMJ, they still didn’t get signed. He said I was crazy but if I liked what I heard, then he would play drums for me.
His name was Jeffrey Clemens, aka Thunderhouse. We had a rehearsal later that week and the following week, we started gigging. We did the first shows as a duo and then, Jeff suggested we add an upright bass to the mix. Jeff ran a Monday night jazz jam at the Tam, and he knew all the upright players in town. We jammed with some of the best cats in town but they just didn’t get it. We even jammed with a tuba player but it still wasn’t right. Finally, Jeff hit up Jim Prescott and we had our bassist.
Jim showed up at my apartment in Jamaica Plains in his ‘79 burnt-orange Dodge Challenger and pulled this big old bass out of the passenger’s seat of the two-door hatchback. I remember thinking, “Who the fuck is this guy?!” We got down to jamming in the basement. I was on the 1939 Dobro, Jim was on the ‘50s Kay bass and Jeff was using brushes on an empty case of beer. Jeff had a little old-school cassette recorder, like the ones they had in the school library in the ‘80s. It was probably lifted from his school library!
Listening back to that old cassette, we knew we had just stumbled onto something heavy. The sound of the wood, the resonator, the sliding fingers on the upright, the brushes. The hip-hop blues was born.
We started gigging around town. One gig led to another. We played Philly and New York City, and nine months later, we inked a deal with Epic Records. We were just three hopefuls from Boston and Philly with a pipe dream and a lot of soul making the big time.
In the spring of 1994, our debut record dropped and we jumped in our maroon Ford Econoline 150 van and hit the road— and we are still riding, coast to coast to coast.
Twenty years—it’s hard to believe. It all went so fast. You blink your eyes and you have a 12-year-old kid, a house, a mortgage, a couple more scars, a couple of gray hairs making the scene and still 150 shows on the road coming your way. What a life.
And we still make it fresh every night. There are times when you just want to sleep and the last thing you want to do is get on that stage. But I swear, when I hit that stage and grab my guitar and blow a couple licks on the Marine Band, the biggest shit-eating grin just comes right across my face and I can’t help thinking, “Here we go.” Everything we got, coming at you like that Econoline van barreling down I-95 at 2 a.m. on the way to the next gig.
I’ve learned a lot, forgotten a lot, written a lot, loved a lot and played a ton of gigs. It’s always seemed like we were swimming upstream. Shoot, even when we were getting breaks out there, I never realized how we’ve always been so hard on ourselves. Maybe we are here to fill in the gaps. We fill in the gaps between Delta blues and hip-hop, between New Orleans funk and Memphis soul, between bebop jazz and honky-tonk country, between Bob Dylan and KRS-One.
So, here we are 20 years later, and I’m sitting on the bus, driving from Reno, Nev., to Sacramento, Calif. The original trio is back in action, and we are actually following a setlist as we play our debut record from start to finish. It’s a pretty epic first set, if you know that record. There’s no hoopla, no flashing lights, some sellouts, some close. But I think everyone who sees this show really cares to be there and is invested in this music just like we are. It’s something else when people bring you home—they bring your chords and words and grooves home, and feed it to their loved ones. Soul food, right?! No one ever got force- fed some G. Love shit. I think most people like things better that way. They stumble across it and they take it or leave it, but if they take it, then you’ve got a fan for life. I see that there’s been a lot of inspiration and hard work that keeps us going, but mostly, it’s the fans.
I’m sure a lot of musicians kick themselves when they see people out there smiling and jamming to their songs— getting off on the old tunes and going crazy for the new songs they’re just hearing for the first time. It’s the same for me. I often ask my tour manager if anyone’s coming to the show tonight. “It’s sold out?! Really?!” Holy shit, it’s a sure-fire blessing, man, every time. And all you gotta do is bring the good stuff, night after night after night.
Twenty years on and I’ve still got something tasty for you tonight. Give me that Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar.