Music News & Reviews

Just call him old-fashioned

You might catch G. Love playing at a local park or beach before his band’s concert this weekend.
You might catch G. Love playing at a local park or beach before his band’s concert this weekend. COURTESY PHOTO

W hile G. Love is usually associated with his home town, Philadelphia, he actually moved to Boston several years ago so he could hone his craft the old-fashioned way.

“I moved up here because it was legal to play on the street,” he said. “That was always the one gig that I thought was pretty powerful because it was one you could just do. You didn’t have to give a demo to anybody. You didn’t have to do anything

except get your guitar and have the balls to go out on the street and sing and play for nobody.”

Playing on the streets proved to be beneficial to G. Love, also known as Garrett Dutton. That’s where he met his band, Special Sauce, and that’s where he found his unique style, combining hip-hop, blues and folk.

“It was an empowering time because I’d sit out there for two to eight hours a day and just sing and work on all my repertoire,” he said.

Dutton and his band will perform locally at Downtown Brew on Sunday. But don’t be surprised if you see him playing in a park or on the beach while he’s in town.

“I play outside a lot,” he said. “If I’m in a different town, I’ll go sit in a park with my guitar.”

Given his affinity for street music, it’s no surprise that Dutton’s early influences included street entertainers.

“I grew up in a neighborhood in Philadelphia where there was a lot of street culture going on,” he said. “There were pup-

peteers, and there was a guy who would play the glasses — like he’d play Mozart on wine glasses — and there was an old hobo guy named Big Al, who would play the spoons and harmonica. He’d walk up to my parents, and my dad would give him a quarter, and he’d play me a song.”

Later, while playing the streets of Boston, Dutton would achieve a musical epiphany when he started rapping an Erik B. and Rakim song over a blues tune he’d written. From then on, his music would meld the two genres.

Before long, Mark Sandman, the late drummer with the band Morphine, helped him land a gig at an Irish pub called the Plough and Stars.

“It was kind of empty that first night,” Dutton recalled. “But by the end of nine months, we had a record deal with Epic Records, and we had a line down the block ... and we still only got paid 125 bucks every night.”

Dutton was just 21 when he landed a record deal. And his self-titled debut in 1994 nearly went gold, thanks in part to the exposure MTV gave his video for “Cold Beverage.” (Other popular songs included “Stepping Stone” and “Some People Like That.”) Critical acclaim and a spot on the H.O.R.D.E. tour would follow.

Five years later, Dutton helped launch the superstar career of Jack Johnson, whose music is noticeably inspired by G. Love. Dutton, who grew up surfing the Jersey Shore, was introduced to Johnson through a mutual surfing friend. After the two met and surfed Malibu, they took up their guitars and began jamming. At that time Johnson was an ex-surfer who made surf films.

Johnson had no plans for a music career. But as Dutton listened, he could tell Johnson had a knack for songwriting.

“One time I was like, ‘This kid’s pretty good,’ ” Dutton said. “And the other time I was like, ‘Wait—this guy is amazing!’ It was so effortless, these songs that were just pouring out of him.”

Eventually, Dutton asked Johnson if he could record his song “Rodeo Clowns” for his upcoming album, “Philadelphonic.” Johnson agreed to let him use it if he could perform on it. That track, which became a popular song for Dutton, paved the way for Johnson’s first album, which contained many of the songs he played on the beach in Malibu.

Dutton now records on Johnson’s Brushfire Records label, and the two often perform together. Dutton also performed on “Jungle Gym,” which is heard in the “Curious George” movie and on Johnson’s No. 1 soundtrack for the film.

“Jack and I really influenced each other over the years,” Dutton said. “I know that I influenced him early on, and I know that after we met, I took a lot from the way he uses melody and some of the songwriting techniques as well.”

And the two continue to surf together. Dutton said he hasn’t surfed San Luis Obispo County yet. But he has it in his sights.

“I’ve only tried one time, and that was actually with Jack,” he said. “I think that day was flat, and we didn’t surf—we played basketball.”

This time around, if he’s not playing guitar in a park, you might see him gearing up for a surf session.

“We have the boards in our trailer, so we’ll be ready to go.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.