The Philadelphia native talks about collaborating with Jack Johnson, fake IDs, cooking beef stew for his YouTube videos and his Philly-inspired tunes that are making a difference for the soldiers abroad.
If Jazzy Jeff had a soulful musical lovechild with Philadelphia, his name would be Garrett Dutton III, otherwise known as G. Love. In real life, 37-year-old G. Love – who has collaborated with Jack Johnson, Slightly Stoopid and Ben Harper – is the Philly-raised occasionally solo front man of G. Love & Special Sauce, an 11-record band that released its first album when G. Love was just 21, too cool for school and itching to break into the music business.
Though the band’s earlier albums feature G. Love churning out raps to bluegrass beats, he now allows his creamy twang – say “Aww, yeah” – to come out and adds more guest appearances on tracks and at live shows. And while his quirky lyrics and the downright rhythmic sounds of his harmonica and guitar blare through your earphones and force you to walk with an upbeat happy swagger, the ex-troubadour (as a teenager, he frequented a corner on Second and Lombard streets) is a jokester with a heart.
From his home in Boston, G. Love talked to The Temple News about the role Philly plays in his music, the ways he gives back to his fans and a good cause and some of his special urban gardening skills.
The Temple News: How did growing up in Philly play a role in your development as a musician?
G. Love: I grew up near South Street, and it’s always had that street-musician culture. When I was in high school we just started messing around and playing on the streets, and we started making money doing it. I was like, “Oh, s—, I can make money playing music,” which for a 16-year-old kid is kind of like an epiphany. You make $20 on a weekend night when you’re 16, and that was in 1986, so I was like, “All right. Cool, man. I got some money.” (Laughs.) It kind of gave me a freedom to thinking, “Wow, I can do this.”
TTN: You left Skidmore College after a year. Was it because of music, or was there a different reason?
GL: I really did like the academics of college and everything, but there [were] a couple reasons – I had a really great high school experience in Philly, and I just felt like I could never make the same kind of connections at college. I thought I wanted to go to Skidmore because it was a small, country college, but when I got up there, I missed not being in the inner-city, and I was surprised by that. I realized that it was too close of corridors. Everyone was just up in each other’s business, and I was like, “F— this.” And I didn’t have a fake ID, so all the cool kids were going to bars, and all the hot chicks had fake IDs so I couldn’t really get a hot chick because I didn’t have a fake ID.
TTN: And were you playing music at the time?
GL: One really interesting thing is that in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Skidmore is, is that they will continuously run folk coffeehouses. They had been running since the ‘50s or early ‘60s, and everyone had played through there on the circuit – like [Bob] Dylan and Richie Haven and John Hammond and all the heroes of the early ‘60s folk movement. I was just a singer-songwriter so this was a place you could go for a pilgrimage if you were into that kind of thing. So I played there every Monday night when they had an open-mic night. Through playing there I was honing my skills razor sharp, and I realized that I wanted to play music. I realized, “I can do this,” so I decided to take a year off from college, and that year turned into my career.
TTN: You don’t live in Philly now, so is there something you miss about the city?
GL: I mean I love Philly. I love the rhythm of the city, and it’s kind of hard to put a finger on, but I think Philly is the kind of city where people are real, and it’s got a real rhythm to it, and it’s nitty-gritty. It can kind of be a little hard sometimes – its hard edge and rough around the edges. The way it’s integrated is interesting. Besides New York, I don’t see a lot of cities that are integrated like that, especially in the music scene. In Philadelphia, the whole thing was such a melting pot that musically, it didn’t matter what party you were or what neighborhood you were from. If you were doing your thing and doing it like you meant it, you could get respect. That was something that kind of empowered me as well when I was a kid. There were cool kids walking around the streets making music.
TTN: It seems like the different kinds of people in Philly really impacted you while growing up.
GL: Yeah, for sure – neighborhood kids and older kids. I’m talking about inner-city youth, the kind of kids that really grew up in the city. Everyone kind of went from skateboarding to graffiti writing, and then a lot of them went to music. It was interesting to see a lot of the kids you grew up with that went to the schools within Philadelphia, like Central [High School]. You’d run into these guys who were skateboarding at 15, and then you’d run into them again when they were 16 and they’d be writing graffiti. Then you’d run into them a couple of years later and everyone was like, “Yeah, I’m a DJ,” or “I’m a rapper.”
TTN: You’ve been really cracking me up with your YouTube videos of you doing random things. You’re really putting your personality out there for people to see. What’s the reasoning behind putting these videos out there?
GL: The 12:07 videos are basically just about making a connection with the fans that’s kind of non-music-related. I mean, everything is music-related, but just kind of giving them a glimpse into some of the stuff we do that doesn’t involve me being on stage. Sometimes it’s challenging to find cool or funny things to do every week, but most of the time we can come up with something good. Like yesterday I was at the park with my kid, and we were skateboarding so I set up an old-school skateboarding course, and that’s going to be the one of me going down and busting my ass.
TTN: How old is your son?
GL: He’s eight.
TTN: That’s when you have to start to get good.
GL: That’s when you have to start [doing] everything to get good. Actually, that’s when I started playing guitar. He plays drums so hopefully he’ll be in my band someday. That would be awesome.
TTN: You dedicate “Come Back 2 Me” to a friend who’s in Afghanistan.
GL: A friend of mine works doing projects with the Wounded Warriors [Project], which is basically helping the new wave of veterans with all their rights so they get everything they need when they come home. It’s to help them stay afloat because it’s a tremendous mental thing. A lot of people are coming back really injured and crippled. My friend had sent me that soldier so I put him up a YouTube video. I’d like to do more of that. I think he really appreciated it because he wrote me an e-mail and told me he actually got injured. He was deeply undercover on a mission for six weeks and had gotten hit by an IED [improvised explosive device]. He’s OK though, and he’s coming home now.
TTN: Would you ever consider going overseas to play a show for the men and women who are serving?
GL: I’d be honored to go over. I definitely marched in the peace rally and the anti-war rally, and I’d certainly like to continue serving the troops. I feel so bad for the kids who are over there. They’re just over there because they want to go to college, mostly. It’s just a very sad thing.
TTN: Some of your music really speaks worlds about treating the places we live in right and helping others out when we can, and you were working with Malaria No More at one point. What philanthropic work are you doing now?
GL: We’re still working with Malaria No More. That’s an ongoing thing. We’ll be working with them for a long time. Every time we can try to do a benefit, I always think it’s important to try to give back in any way you can. The best thing about playing music is it’s my job to basically inspire people and make people happy. That can go as deep or as shallow as you and your audience lets it. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but not everyone that comes to your show is looking for divine inspiration, but some people are. Some people are really looking to get lifted out of whatever kind of negative stuff is happening in their life. That’s a beautiful opportunity for me to be able to get up there and use my craft. So whenever you can raise awareness about certain things like that, it’s a good thing.
TTN: Since this is for our April 20 issue, I have to ask. In “Who’s Got the Weed,” off Superhero Brother, you croon that “it’s home grown from the backyard.” Is that true? Have you put your own spin on the urban-gardening trend?
GL: It’s funny, I used to live down in Fishtown, and my landlord went to Woodstock so he was cool. We had this backyard that was basically right beneath [Interstate] 95 so when we would play in Amsterdam, we would bring back all these seeds from the herb shop over there. So for many years, I was growing what we called “Fishtown’s Finest” right there by the banks of the Delaware River.
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.