G. Love: A Case of the Blues
Photo by Noah Abrams
On New Year’s Eve, Dutton is back in his rehearsal room/NHL locker room. But this time, he’s warming up with “Drinkin’ Wine,” an old blues jam popularized by Lightnin’ Hopkins. The song has a nice, breezy feeling. Dutton explores his falsetto croon and it’s an ideal warm-up for a New Year’s Eve show.
“We’ve been off since October,” says Michael Hannigan, the band’s tour manager. “This trip is about reconnecting with each other before we really get going on the record.”
The record was born last September when Dutton spent nine days at Echo Mountain Recording Studio, a converted church in Asheville, N.C., with the Avett Brothers. He’d met the Avetts after the band’s 2009 show in Boston and they hung out again at moe.’s annual Summer Camp in Illinois last summer. The sessions were intensely collaborative with Scott Avett offering banjo and Seth Avett providing various accompaniment as the process unfolded.
The Avetts are old-school G. Love fans and Dutton is a fan of their unique blend of bluegrass and pop. The brothers’ recent popularity boom helps bolster the buzz behind Fixin’ to Die.
“The brothers have a lot of credibility right now,” says Dutton. “Those guys have a nice working relationship where they’ll talk shit out, even if they don’t agree on things. They both were coming up with ideas constantly and they added so much to the sessions by stepping up in different ways. It was a triumvirate where we were all letting it flow and encouraging each other and being honest about what was and what wasn’t working. The only thing I couldn’t get them to do was drink a lot.”
G. Love isn’t denying the rumors. Somehow, a bottle of homemade, Asheville moonshine found its way into the studio and Dutton couldn’t resist sampling it.
“Oh, that moonshine was so good,” he remembers. “Honestly, I’ve always felt like having a couple drinks or smoking a little herb can lead to a euphoric experience musically. Call it whatever you will, but it’s a treat to get in the studio and get a buzz on and cut a vocal or a guitar solo. It’s part of the whole process.”
The Avetts were impressed with Dutton’s ferocity in the studio—both his work ethic and his passion for the music.
“I’ve been a G. Love fan since I was 16 years old—five years before we started the Avett Brothers,” says Seth Avett, who brought the old blues track “You’ve Got to Die” to the sessions to Dutton’s delight. “He’s a true song man and he loves to play music. He’ll sit there and play music all day long. Our only job was the help make decisions on what to do next and how many times to do it.”
Sitting down with Dutton and a harmonica or acoustic guitar is a music lesson in and of itself, says Seth, noting that G. Love is an undervalued blues practitioner.
“His ability within the realm of blues music is highly underestimated,” he says. “I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. He is a modern equivalent to a lot of these great blues masters, in my mind…And, yet, there is a whole set of Americana-roots bands that are unaware of G. Love, which is a terrible thing. They should know about him and we hope this record will open some doors.”
Dutton says that his time in Asheville was the most inspired he’s ever felt in the studio.
“This record is real and honest,” Dutton says. “It’s the best thing we could have done at this point. Clearly, it’s not geared toward big commercial success. But maybe I’ve been going after a commercial success I’m not supposed to have. If I can sell a million records, let’s do it. But if not, I think there’s a good chance this record could get a Grammy—for contemporary blues or contemporary folk or the collaboration aspect.”
Whereas Dutton used to focus on the moment, he’s now looking to the future. He’s newly engaged and finally living in the same city as his 9-year-old son (the reason behind his move to Boston). And all of the energy he used to spend on “chasing girls”—which was a lot of energy, as he’ll tell you—now goes toward his family and music.
“We’re not kids anymore and not too many of the first-generation blues recording artists—our idols—are around anymore,” Dutton says. “People like John Hammond, Taj Mahal and B.B. King are getting up in their years. In 40 years, I’ll be one of the seniors carrying that torch and I’m really proud of that tradition. It feels great to prove myself in that genre—though it doesn’t mean I won’t keep putting hip-hop into what we do.”
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