How Philly Helped Shaped My Sound. With: G.Love from G.Love & the Special Sauce
Earliest Philadelphia Inspirations
I grew up right in center city in the 70’s. There were a lot of street performers at the time; jugglers, mimes, folk singers, drum circles, puppeteers, magic shows, an old guy named Big Al who performed on a milk crate — you name it, we had it. I vividly remember watching Big Al standing on that milk crate, playing the spoons and the harmonica. It had a lasting impression on me. I actually now play the spoons and harmonica (laughs).
Being a street performer is where I first got a taste for performing in public. My first gig was right down the street from my house — South Street in Philly. It took a certain amount of courage and confidence to do that. It was something that I found exciting. You could also make some money. A few hours of performing on the street in Philly, you can make $20 in change. For a kid at 16 years-old, that was pretty good.
The radio in Philadelphia was also very influential. There was a hip hop station, Power 99 fm. They had street beat on Friday night, before hip hop was really on the radio. It was the first time I truly heard artists like Public Enemy, Steady B, Fresh Prince and all this old school stuff from West Philadelphia. You would have your cassette tape ready to press record every Friday night.
Philadelphia also has a folk society and the Philadelphia Folk Fest. Later on in high school, when I was getting into the blues, there was a lot of blues artists that were coming through town. Namely, John Hammond, who was a huge influence on me. Just getting to go the Philadelphia Folk Festival and seeing all the bluegrass pickers and folks singers had such a big impact on me.
All of these things combined happened right in Philadelphia. And that’s what led to G.Love.
I was a city kid. It was funny though, a lot of the songs I was writing were about getting out of the city, like “Coming Home” and “Get Goin’.” These are songs I had written in high school and were about me planning to leave, get out in the country and see the world. I went to Skidmore College for a year in Saratoga Springs, NY, which is a beautiful place, but when I got up there, I really missed the diversity of Philadelphia. Growing up by South Street, I saw all different people — the richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor, all different races and ethnicities, punk rockers, skateboarders, you name it. At that point, I really started writing songs about Philadelphia. Specifically, the G.Love Oh Yeah record. “Writing on the Wall” is about graffiti writing, “Rhyme for the Summertime” is about being a bike courier and “Shootin’ Hoops” is about the basketball courts. I was really cognizant of social dynamics between different types of people growing up. Philly was rough. I had to watch my back. Sometimes you always felt on your toes, trying to get away from a certain gang coming after you. So I wrote about it. The good and the bad are deep in my lyrics if you really check it out.
Finding My Sound:
In addition to playing on the street, I had a couple coffee house gigs and went to open mics at the Sam Adams Brew Pub and the Barbary. Then I decided to move to Boston to get away from my distractions. New York was so big that it was almost daunting. I had a friend of a friend of a friend that needed a roommate in Boston. I knew Boston was also a very friendly place for creative people. Street musicians in particular have always been supported and you can get a permit. You can play along the T or Harvard Square by simply getting a permit. It made it a haven for street performers. In Philly, street performing was illegal. A cop could come along at any time and tell you to kick rocks.
So I put together my band and we sent our demo to the Philadelphia Music Conference. It was only around for a couple years, but was super important to us because that’s where we met our producer, Dave Johnson. We got an opportunity to record at Studio Four. The first time we came back to Philly was huge for us. We ran into the Roots who were also trying to get a record deal and the Goats who were the kings of the scene. It was a really exciting time to come back. It was interesting because it was like I had to leave Philly to capture my sound and then come back for it to be discovered in Philly where I think people just go it. The thing about Philadelphia that is unique on a musical and cultural level is that it’s a very integrated city. You never want to walk too far in one direction because you can end up in a neighborhood where you are not supposed to be. That being said, music was bridging all those gaps. I have a line in one of my songs, “White kids rapping, black kids playing rock, cheese steak hoagie,s fried onions on the block.” When we were coming up, what the Roots and my band were doing, were serious boundaries being crossed. Hip hop was not a live band, it was a turntable and a microphone. And rock n’ rollers didn’t hip hop. We both really snuck in the backdoor of both genres and turned it upside down.
On 25 Years of G.Love & the Special Sauce:
We’re coming up on 25 years, this is our 24th year on the road. It’s an honor. You have to kick yourself sometimes. You think, “Wow, it really has been some ride.” You blink your eyes and it seems like yesterday that we put the band together. It’s a testament to the love that the three of us individually put into our craft and the love that we have for each other and the music we have created. There’s also a love that we get from the fans — people loving, supporting and respecting what we do. That’s really why we have been able to keep it going. We’ve had a couple breaks, but it’s also been a ton of hard work and grinding it out on the road. You get on stage, see the smiling faces and have a euphoric night, it makes it all worth it. Each night is a chance to go have your greatest show ever. That’s always been our mindset.
Catch G.Love on tour now
For more information including news on Jamtown, featuring: G.Love, Cisco Adler and Donovan Frankenreiter visit Philadelphonic.com
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~Feature in collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra