“John Lee Hooker and Eddie Taylor, the Myers Brothers, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers – that lowdown, funky two-guitar thing that you hear on so many classic blues records of the late '50s is what we were most inspired by in putting this band together.”
Guitarist Matthew Stubbs is talking about the Boston-based retro/blues band GA-20 (named after the highly collectable Gibson GA-20 amplifier introduced in 1950 and heard on many classic blues recordings) that features himself, guitarist Pat Faherty and drummer Tim Carman.
Formed in 2018, the project was born out of Stubbs’ and Faherty’s mutual love of late-'50s/early-'60s blues and rock ‘n’ roll such as Lazy Lester, J.B. Lenoir, Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and Junior Wells.
Stubbs has backed and toured with blues giants such as John Hammond, James Cotton, Junior Watson and James Harman, while also leading his own original instrumental psych-rock band, the Antiguas. Prior to forming GA-20, Stubbs’ main gig has been as guitarist for legendary blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite.
“I’ve been playing with Charlie for about 12 years now and still tour with him,” Stubbs says. “About two years ago, Charlie was going out on tour with Ben Harper, so for the first time in years, I was looking at a long period of downtime off the road.
“Pat [Faherty] had begun coming to my local gigs for years, and we decided to work on a stripped-down blues format, just two guitars and harmonica, playing very low volume, '50s Chicago blues along the lines of Hound Dog Taylor and Little Walter. In time, we brought in some drums and, over time, the sound shifted organically into what you hear in GA-20.
“We got a little wine-bar gig on Wednesday nights in Boston, and within a few months we’d written a bunch of songs. We went into the studio and I produced it, initially planning just an EP that we’d put out ourselves.
“But it came out so well, I decided to send it to a bunch of labels, and Colemine Records in Ohio got back to us right away and were super into it, but they wanted a full-length album. So we went back in and cut enough tracks to round it out.”
The trio’s first album, Lonely Soul [Karma Chief/Colemine Records], debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard blues charts and is exemplified by raw, powerful tracks such as My Soul, One Night Man and Naggin’ on My Mind.
“I started on guitar at age 13 loving Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and other Sixties bands, but I very quickly got into traditional Chicago and Texas blues,” Stubbs says. “By 16, I was only listening to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Earl Hooker, and I really had the blinders on for that early electric blues sound, like Albert, Freddie and B.B. King.
“My dad was a guitar player and began bringing me out to see local club blues acts like Roomful of Blues, Duke Robillard and Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson. Seeing blues live in those situations is what really hooked me – I’d get goose bumps from all the great players and great bands. I knew I wanted to zero in on playing Chicago and West Coast-style blues.”
Another aspect of GA-20’s sound is the swamp blues greasiness of Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo and Lonesome Sundown.
“I was definitely influenced by the first few Fabulous Thunderbirds records, featuring Jimmie Vaughan, where they covered a bunch of the tunes originally recorded by all of those guys I love,” Stubbs says. “Jimmie Vaughan is one of my favorite living guitar players, and right before COVID hit, I was out on tour with Charlie, Jimmie and Buddy Guy. I got to hang out with Jimmie every night, and he’s the greatest.”
That Jimmie Vaughan influence is clear in Stubbs’ overall playing style; he favors tight, melodic solos delivered with an aggressive edge that’s deep down in the groove. The album’s title track, Lonely Soul, is a perfect example of how Stubbs has taken from the influence of all of these great players and woven together a sound that’s all his own.
- GA-20's new album, Lonely Soul, is out now via Colemine Records.