Interview: Blues Guitarist Popa Chubby Discusses His New Album, 'Universal Breakdown Blues'
Popa Chubby, a larger-than-life figure on the blues scene, has built a rabid following around the world through his relentless touring schedule and ever-expanding discography. His latest album, Universal Breakdown Blues, will be released May 28 via Provogue Records.
Chubby describes his performance style as, “the Stooges meet Buddy Guy, Motörhead meet Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson." His eclectic tastes and approach brings with it a straight-ahead, no-BS attitude — and lots of passion.
We recently sat down to talk touring (His current dates are available here) and to hear all about his new album.
GUITAR WORLD: You've been in this business for a few decades. Does Universal Breakdown Blues bear witness to your finding your voice and place in the blues?
It's been an organic progression of owning who I am. The music comes and instructs the soul. Life’s lessons add to the mix. Pain is a factor. Carlos Santana used to say he took LSD to suffer. I don’t need the substance. Life provides enough opportunity. The blues becomes a conduit. One day you wake up and you get what all the old cats were saying. It's like standing on at the crossroads, and as the devil hands you the contract to sign, he says, "Son, if there is anything else you can do, do it." You sign 'cause you have no choice, that’s the blues.
I love the lead-off track, “I Don’t Want Nobody,” in particular. Which songs are your favorites on the new album?
A new CD is like having multiple births. You can't really play favorites, but I hit some highs on this one, guitar-wise! Check out the solo work on “Rock Me Baby.”
You're known for your relentless touring schedule. How many days out of the year are you on the road? Also, please talk a bit about your “road warrior” lifestyle. How do you unwind when not touring?
I’m a single dad of 17-year-old twin girls who are about to enter college. I tour constantly because if I stop for a month, I'm broke! Welcome to the blues. Europe is big for me. I sell out 3,000-plus in France. We are taking America by storm on this record! Unwind? What is that? Hookers and Champagne, of course [laughs]! Just joking! Tai Chi and green tea. I’m looking for a mama to rub my feet [laughs].
If you could play a song with three other blues greats, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
Jimi Hendrix because he was God! Freddie King because he was the second coming, and Hubert Sumlin, just to do it one more time. I miss you, Hubert.
What do you want to say with this album?
The message of this album is hope. Don't give up. Let the blues flow through you and give you solace in a broken-down, broke-ass universe.
What's your writing process like?
Live, suffer, inspire, catalog, hammer out, demo and record. Usually a lyric first.
Here's a reader question from George Longhurst, who asks, "What do you do to keep the blues fresh and new?"
You can only play the blues in the moment. If you rely on yesterday or think of tomorrow, you miss the point.
You've said, "Rock and roll and the blues should be dangerous." How do you mix the "poetry," as you have put it, with the danger in your music?
I'm a Cadillac with a power pack. I'm the man of steel with killer feel. I'm your Kundalini — be my Lil Queenie. Who uses Kundalini in a blues song besides me? I'm the danger man! I'm glorious, laborious, calculated, elevated, updated, majestic and domestic.
Are there any new artists out there that you really dig?
Brand new? Alabama Shakes. I'm in love with that girl, Brittany Howard. The Black Keys. I wish Jack White would cut the crap and just sing the blues. Lots of good stuff out there.
Here's a reader question from Alexander Caraballo: "I'm a huge believer that learning to play the blues is essential for all guitar players. Do you agree, and if so, why?"
Alexander, you must feel the blues. Like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars! Feel the force! You can learn all the technique, but you must feel what you play. May the blues be with you!
What would you like to say to your fans out there reading this?
If nobody told you they love you today, Popa Chubby loves you!
For more about Popa Chubby, check out his official website.
Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.