Chubby plays music the way he wants
August 16, 2005
See a picture of Popa Chubby – a mammoth, bald, tattooed, frequently sneering singer and guitarist – and you expect a certain kind of sound and song: aggressive, loud, unforgiving. Indeed, on his recent live CD, appropriately titled “Big Man Big Guitar,” Chubby delivers full-throttle blues-rockers like “If the Diesel Don’t Get You Then the Jet Fuel Will” and “Dirty Lie,” and a cover of Billy Roberts’ “Hey Joe” on which Chubby doesn’t seem to be looking over his shoulder at Jimi Hendrix’s signature version.”There’s a certain amount of aggression to my playing,” said the 45-year-old, who plays the Belly Up Friday, Aug. 26, opening for reggae band Culture. “That’s rock ‘n’ roll. I want to kick ass and I want people to walk out with their asses kicked.”It’s little surprise to learn that Chubby is a New Yorker through and through, a native of the Bronx. It likewise figures that Chubby first arrived as a musician in the Manhattan punk scene of the ’70s. And that he happily adopted his current name and identity, assuming that “Popa Chubby can get away with a lot of things that Ted Horowitz” – the rather mild name his parents gave him – “can’t.”But that image – the big man with a big guitar sound, the ass-kicking punk – is only part of a complex picture. On his latest CD, Chubby sings versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and A.P. Carter’s “Keep on the Sunny Side,” both with butt-whacking sincerity rather than irony. His one big brush with mainstream attention came with “Sweet Goddess of Love & Beer,” a straightforward pledge of love. His previous CD was titled “Peace, Love & Respect,” whose cover sported Chubby, sticking out a menacing finger, poised in front of an American flag. (It is a different finger he uses for a photo inside the CD package.)And three years ago, Chubby left the city to move to the quiet, upstate village of Central Valley, not far from Woodstock. In fact, Chubby has settled into a relatively quiet family life with his wife – bassist Galea, who appears on “Big Man Big Guitar” – and their collection of four music-loving kids. It’s a sedate existence that is broken up only by the physical presence of Chubby, and the sound of his guitar and voice.”There’s a lot of facets to my personality. I like dynamics in music,” said Chubby. For instance, while his music can be seen as a defying stance toward proper society, he has utmost respect for his audience. “I have reverence for the fact that people pay money to see me.”
Those multiple facets have allowed Chubby to be the rare musician who qualifies as a songwriter as much as he does a bluesman. When the World Trade Center towers crashed down, within view of his Brooklyn home five miles away, Chubby didn’t just sing the blues. He wrote a song, “Somebody Let the Devil Out,” about the experience. “Peace, Love & Respect,” the 2004 album, was a protest against violence, war and fear-mongering that, apart from the typical volume of guitar and singing, seemed to come more from the ’60s folk world than from contemporary blues. “I think songs say everything. And there’s not a lot of songwriting in the blues world,” said Chubby, adding that he listens mostly to “outlaw country” these days – Hank III, Ray Wylie Hubbard – “because that’s where the guitar-playing is.” Even over the phone, I feel the warmth of his reaction when I tell Chubby that I used to sing a version of “Sweet Goddess of Love & Beer” in my band days. “Songs that people love to play; songs that people love to hear. That’s what life’s about.”It has always been that way for the former Ted Horowitz. After banging on the drums all day as a kid, at least when he wasn’t soaking up r & b on the radio, Chubby took up guitar. He played at the punk strongholds of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City in the ’70s, and freelanced on guitar through the ’80s. At a jam session, P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell started singing “Popa chubby, popa chubby” – and Horowitz had a name, an identity and a new career as a bandleader. In 1991, he formed the Popa Chubby Band.”As long as they call you something,” said Chubby, who agrees that the moniker fits. “I’ve grown into it nicely. I am he and he is me. Before that I was just plain old Ted Horowitz.”That hard-to-nail-down character that is Popa Chubby is not necessarily to the liking of the production-line music industry. In 1994, Chubby recorded “The Good, the Bad and the Chubby” for Sony’s Okeh label. It would be his only release for a major-affiliated label; ever since, he has recorded for the blues label Blind Pig. Chubby ultimately decided he didn’t fit into any of the big-label straitjackets. In fact, it’s hard to think of any category that would accommodate Chubby.”I’m adventurous. I play what I like to hear, and that’s blues and r & b and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “The process of doing that is difficult. The industry would like me to fit into a niche, whatever the flavor of the month is. There’s not a lot of individuality in popular music. If you want to do it your way, you’ve got to take the long road.” He means that last part quite literally. Half of his touring these days is done in Europe. Anything to keep on thrashing his guitar, shouting his views and kicking butts. Teddy Horowitz or Popa Chubby, the passion for rock is the same.”I was a child of the ’60s and the radio ruled. Music became my identity,” said Chubby. “And to this day, it’s the most positive force in my life. It’s my religion. Chuck Berry is my high priest.”
Chubby sees no paradox is employing volume, aggression and attitude as weapons in pleading for peace. “Nobody kills each other over music,” he said. “There ain’t no terrorism with guitars.”The two installments to date of Snowmass Village’s Massive Music & Movies series have brought blues, folk, jam-rock and boogie piano to Fanny Hill. Which means it must be time for reggae and Motown.The eclectic series concludes for the summer with a weekend of Jamaican reggae singer Barrington Levy, Friday, Aug. 26, and Motown session stars the Funk Brothers, Saturday, Aug. 27.Levy emerged as a star of dancehall reggae, a studio-based style analogous to hip-hop, in the early ’90s. He hit the peak of popularity on the back of 1996’s hit “Living Dangerously,” and has shown considerable staying power in the often fickle world of dancehall since.The Funk Brothers earned little attention during their most productive years. The Funk Brothers, the name given the collective of Detroit musicians who played the Motown studio sessions in the ’60s and ’70s, were practically anonymous as they backed the Temptations, Martha Reeves and Marvin Gaye. But the hit documentary film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” put them at least somewhat in the spotlight, and they capitalized on the attention by becoming a touring band.
Leading into the weekend, and closing the Snowmass Free Concert Series, is zydeco band Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, Thursday, Aug. 25.The cinematic portion of the weekend has Hitchcock’s “The Birds” Aug. 25; “Garfield, the Movie” Aug. 26; and, naturally, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” Aug. 27. As a bonus, the Blue Door will screen the rock-mock-documentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” also Aug. 26.A question surrounding Widespread Panic’s two-night stand to open Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival is, what happens to all those traveling Spreadheads once the band shuts down for the night?At least part of the answer is more music. A lot more music. Panic fans will even have the option of continuing the party in Snowmass Village or Aspen.The JAS After Dark series, like the Labor Day Festival itself, has expanded, with late-night shows in various Snowmass venues and at Belly Up in Aspen.In Snowmass, the series kicks off Friday night, Sept. 2, with New Orleans groove band Galactic at the Snowmass Conference Center; rocker Jerry Joseph & Friends at the Blue Door and an act to be announced at Mountain Dragon. Saturday, Sept. 3, has a double bill of California Afro-beat band Aphrodesia, and British quartet the New Mastersounds, an uncanny replica of the original New Orleans groove masters, the Meters, at the Conference Center; electronica band Pnuma at the Blue Door; and an act to be determined at Mountain Dragon. The action in Snowmass concludes Sunday, Sept. 4, with jazz jammers Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at the Conference Center; Colorado world-groove act the Motet at the Blue Door; and Shanti Groove at Mountain Dragon.Belly Up has California electro-jam band Particle, with guest vocalist Gabby La La, Sept. 1 and 2; and Vinyl on Sept. 4.What our guests do in the hours between last call and the next day’s festivities is anybody’s guess.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org