Let it be known that G. Love’s answering machine is a blues harp solo. Garrett Dutton—the man known as G. Love—lets out an exaggerated, ““well yeahhh!” when I ask if he recorded it himself. Of course he did, because so much of G. Love & Special Sauce’s career in funky folk-hop is rooted in Dutton’s commitment to doing his own thing, often independently. For more than 20 years, G. Love & Special Sauce have recorded and toured and grown its legions of fans who dig getting down at their energetic live shows. So after a bit of phone-tag, Paste checked in with Dutton to talk about his new album Love Saves The Day, longevity, and a love of puppies.
: Where are you and what are you up to right now?
Garrett Dutton: I am in Boston and I’m just hitting the road here to New York City. We’ve been fostering some puppies. They’re getting adopted so we’re taking them down.
: Oh my gosh! Is this a charitable community thing you and the band are doing?
Dutton: No. My girlfriend started doing it. She loves dogs and she works with this group Social Tees NYC. We fostered a puppy last February and then we had two back to back fosters. We had this Chihuahua-dachshund mix that was super cute and then we just got two sibling puppies from a litter of nine that had been abandoned and left in a box on the side of the highway in Texas. All the puppies have names with a “P.” And there’s nine of them! We have Patty and Paige.
Dutton: Yeah, we’ve had these dogs for a month and we’re super in love with them. We probably would keep them, but it’s just that I’m always traveling for gigs and it’s just tough for us to have a dog right now. So it’s a nice way for us to be able to help out.
: That’s so great! Tell me about the new record Love Saves The Day, though. I heard and read about a number of modern blues influences.
Dutton: This record’s really cool because I think it’s our most rock and roll record, but I feel like it’s in the best way. If you think about all the greatest rock bands—from Led Zeppelin to the Stones to Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan—they learned rock and roll because they’re bluesmen. They kept pushing the blues and they ended up with the sound that those bands got. That’s kinda how we came about it. We are basically like a blues band, a trashcan blues band. I think the last three records, we’ve really reconnected with the roots of the blues that we love and have spent a lot of time trying to be a part of and just keep pushing it. I really think that Love Saves The Day is a real realization of the sound that we’ve been trying to achieve for so many years.
: Totally! I’m a big fan of the Delta Blues and Hill Country Blues. Who are some of your old blues inspirations?
Dutton: “My biggest blues inspiration is John Hammond Jr. and he’s about 75. He’s a white guy, second-generation blues revival from the ‘60s. He continues to be a blues legend. I kind of stumbled upon him….I was trying to find somebody else other than Bob Dylan or Neil Young who play guitar and harmonica at the same time. John Hammond does do original songs, but many of his records and famous recordings are interpretations of old blues songs. So through his records, I’ve been able to go back and trace the roots and that’s really what I did. Some of my favorites are Lightnin’ Hopkins, Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and Mississippi John Hurt. When you think about all these different blues artists, it’s almost hard to say that they’re playing the same type of music.
: How did you choose your collaborators for this record?
Dutton: They’re the only people who called us back! [laughs]
: Well I thought it was an interesting mix of artists and contemporaries!
Dutton: They must have been really bored because we reached out to a lot of people! [laughs]
: Come on! Who doesn’t love the blues?!
Dutton: No, but Ozomatli we’ve toured around the world with those guys for years. Robert Carranza, who was our producer for the last two records, he actually kind of discovered those guys and has been producing them and working with them since the very beginning of the formation of their band. We love those guys, so that was a real sure shot. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos joined us on our last record Sugar, as well. We started the session off with him on our last record and we did it again on this record because he’s so intense and everything he plays, it’s so off-the-cuff, but so perfect in the pocket and everything. It’s just profound. That set the bar really high. That first night we cut the first three tunes of the record—“Love Saves The Day,” “Dis Song,” and “That Girl.” Citizen Cope and I, it’s funny, we overlap a lot. We never really met until about five years ago on the Rombello Cruise. My cabin was right next door to his cabin and we ended up really hanging out a lot and partying a lot on that trip. We became really good friends and over the past couple years, we have been writing some tunes sometimes when we get together. I think finally we really came up with something that was really special. For Lucinda Williams, we approached her and she said she wanted to do the Leadbelly. That was kind of a cold call. And actually, that came from Josh Nicotra at Brushfire Records. He made that happen and I think that her approach to music is to keep it loose and off-the-cuff and emotional and to just go for it and that’s the way we are. We really hit it off right away with her.
: Hers was one of the craziest interpretations on the record!
Dutton: Oh yeah, it’s a cool tune. That Leadbelly tune, I’d missed that one somehow. When I found it, I was like, “This is great!”
So who else? Kristy Lee is a Southern blue-eyed soul singer from Mobile, Ala. Actually, I met her on the same cruise as I met Cope on years ago and we’ve been touring a lot since then. I had her on the last record and this one. DJ Logic is an old friend, so I asked him to do some cuts. Then we had Zach Gill from Jack Johnson’s band, Adam Topol from Jack’s band on percussion, and our old organ player Mark Boyce. There’s a lot of people who came through and it really helped to elevate all the sessions. The energy was amazing.
: I just wouldn’t necessarily associate all those collaborators and friends and people who’d be digging the trashcan blues.
Dutton: Yeah, I think it just comes down to a certain overlap in everybody’s style. Everybody can find a place in it.
: I think in some ways your sound has stayed pretty consistent since you started in the late ‘90s, but in other ways, it’s drastically different. How have you managed to maintain your identity, while still evolving?
Dutton: I think over the years we’ve played with a lot of different styles because we have a broad base of influences, everything from Johnny Cash to Jimmy Cliff to AC/DC to KRS-One and Robert Johnson and everything in between! Peter, Paul, and Mary to Cypress Hill! I learned this on this record The Hustle, which was back in 2002, which I thought was going to be a really huge record for us. It was a good record for us, but we did get this review on Rolling Stone that was like—and I’ll never forget it—“the record is utterly sincere and completely unfocused.” It really made sense to me because it was utterly sincere in that we were approaching every song putting ourselves into it and the writing is coming from a real place, but there were too many different styles on the record. So now when I make a record, I really try to keep it stylistically a certain thing. I think that’s something that the last three records especially have honed in on, and I think that’s really been helping us to make greater and greater records.
: That totally makes sense. But then when you make studio records, how do you capture your live sound that’s so iconic in its grooviness and it jams where everyone can get down?
Dutton: We’re a live band. We’ve been on the road for 20 years. When you’re on the road, you’ve got the euphoria of the crowd and the lights and the smoke machine and the venue and everything is flying by so fast it’s like a whirlwind. When you get in the studio, all that is gone. And then you’re faced with the three of us looking at each other. It can sometimes be a daunting task and we really have to dig deep. I think we’ve gotten a lot better and we’re almost relieved sometimes to just get to play and have nobody be there except for us and the producer
On this record because we had the special guests, as well, that’s the kind of thing where if you have guests over for dinner, everybody’s on their best behavior. You’re making funny jokes and telling good stories; it’s not like a boring family dinner! It’s the same thing in the studio! So when you have David Hidalgo and Citizen Cope in there, you’re not going to bring your B game. You’re gonna bring your A game and everybody’s gonna push each other!
I think not having a crowd there is something really special for us these days because we don’t get to do it a lot. We never get to do that! So now, I think really cherish the studio these days. There’s a different kind of magic.