Down and Dirty with G. Love: Acoustic Roots
Alternative hip-hop bluesman G. Love discusses the sink-or-swim aspect of performing solo acoustic.
Since I picked up the acoustic guitar at a young age, I've always been an acoustic player and performer. There's always been something profound about one man and one guitar. I've always thought that to have that type of capability, to be able to hold it down and get your song and performance across, solo acoustic, is the sign of a true musician. When you're up there all by yourself, you have nothing to hide behind.
You can win or lose, sink or swim, and how it goes is completely on you. My friend Miles from Slightly Stoopid calls it acoustic roots. All the great performers start here. Whether it's Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Hammond or Paul McCartney, the ability to perform solo acoustic will make you great when you have a band or are performing by yourself.
For me, it started in junior high. By then I could already play and sing a lot of Beatles and Dylan tunes. Around that time, I noticed a bunch of other kids picking up guitar -- electric guitar. I always thought they did that to be cool. Electric guitar was cool, acoustic guitar was, well, not cool?
When I saw John Hammond perform solo acoustic in Philly in the late '80s, I felt like I'd witnessed a human tornado. With his guitar, harp and foot stomping, he was a true one-man force. He was like a hurricane on acoustic guitar. I was completely blown away, and to this day, every time I see John play, I am completely moved by his attack, passion and technique.
After watching John and listening to his records, I found a true idol and musical path. I knew then I didn't want to be a mere strumming singer/songwriter. I wanted to play lead and rhythm, stomp the shit out of my foot, wail on the harp and sing with passion. If you ever get a chance to see John Hammond perform, don't miss his amazing show. You'll be blown away.
As I think about other soloists, two Australian musicians who have blown me away with their solo sets have been Xavier Rudd and John Butler. Both use a stomp box that sounds like a kick drum, and a variety of acoustic guitars. I think they both use an 11-string guitar, unique open tunings as well as lap steel guitars and Weisenborns.
Ben Harper has always been an amazing soloist, and his huge success in Australia over the years has influenced a whole stable of younger musicians like Xav and John who have developed highly innovative musical styles. Again, all of these musicians are acoustic performers and started as solo performers. Get it?
I started my career as a solo artist, and although since the formation of the band in 1993 I have performed predominately with Special Sauce, I always reserve part of my set for at least a couple of solo acoustic performances. I always find when it's just me out there on my lonesome, my vibe immediately shifts. I am more relaxed for some reason and more in tune with the crowd.
When it's all on your shoulders, you can't get mad at the drummer or blame someone else for the energy dragging down; you can take the set and the song wherever it wants to go. Complete freedom. The one thing you miss sometimes is the beat, the thickness of a full band sound. The raw power and chemistry of a great band is irreplaceable, but, lucky for me I have the best of both worlds. In our show, I find the power with the band and the intimacy with the solo set. It's a good balance.
Last summer Jack Johnson asked me to come out and open his tour solo acoustic, and for me it was a tremendous artistic opportunity and challenge. Usually, when I perform solo, I play smaller rooms, 500 to 800 people. On the Jack Johnson tour, I would be performing for 5,000 to 20,000 people nightly -- just my guitar, harmonicas and me. It was a unique challenge. How was I going to get my intimate coffee shop/corner bar show to translate to the masses?
Even though I have always been a purist with my solo show, I decided to soup up my rig for the bigger shows. I got in touch with a guy named Pete Farmer who owns a company called Farmer Foot Drums. Pete makes a variety of foot drums geared up for the solo performer and one-man band. He makes a variety of smaller kick drums and percussion pedals. Out of his arsenal, I've added a stomp box to turn my foot stomp into a low kick sound as well as a tambourine pedal. I can get a real rhythmic train going and it's effective, especially with the faster-tempo songs.
To me there's nothing better than a wood soled shoe stomping on a hard wood floor but for the big stage, these Farmer Foot Drums will have you sounding big.
So, the moral of the story is, whether you've got a slamming band or not, hone that craft of performing solo, it will show you're the real deal.
Keep on jamming and keep your acoustic roots alive!
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.
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