A couple of great bands are headed to the Narrows Center Saturday night October 2nd for an old-fashioned blues show. Boston-born GA-20, named after a revered Gibson guitar amp, will be joined by Nashville-based but Chicago-born, J.D. Simo for what will certainly be a high-energy gig.
I spoke to GA-20 co-founder Matthew Stubbs earlier this month as the band prepared for a massive 60+ date tour, one that will take them through January 2022.
“It’s gonna be a busy one,” remarked Stubbs. “Most weeks we’re doing six nights on, one night off. We start September 28th and go all the way to February.”
GA-20 was formed by Stubbs and Pat Faherty in Boston in 2018 with drummer Tim Carman joining a year later. The band came together to celebrate traditional blues, R&B, and the rock & roll of the late 50s and early 60s. Their sound, influenced by artists like Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells, offers a contemporary feel on traditional blues.
The band’s latest release, GA-20 does Hound Dog Taylor received glowing reviews and rose to the top of the blues charts, while gaining 4 stars from magazines like Rolling Stone, Mojo and American Songwriter. It’s an impressive accomplishment for the relatively new band.
How did it get to #1 on the Billboard Blues chart? Well, it’s a kick-ass blues tribute album that doesn’t slow down. But the band also had support from two record companies, the well-known Alligator label, and lesser-known Colemine Records.
Stubbs explains, “It was kind of a joint effort between record labels, the publicity, radio, and print folks and a good booking agent. A lot of times it can be hard to get press, you gotta just keep pushing, building, touring. Sometimes a new record comes out, it gets a lot of buzz for a few weeks, and then it kind of goes away. So we’re doing a lot of pounding the pavement.”
“Our first record, Lonely Soul was put out by Colemine in 2018 and then we did a live EP that came out during the pandemic,” continued Stubbs. “When the pandemic hit, we decided to hold off releasing anything, then in July 2020, Bruce from Alligator Records contacted me. It was the anniversary of Hound Dog (Taylor’s) first record. We brainstormed … and decided to do a co-release with Alligator and Colemine. We’re lucky it was able to come together.”
Although the band is relatively new, Stubbs is a veteran of the blues scene. He’s spent over a decade as guitarist for harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. He’s also toured and backed up blues greats John Hammond, James Cotton and Junior Watson.
So how do you put together a #1 record during a pandemic, I asked.
“We never really set out to do a tribute record, we write our own music for the most part … so it was a fun challenge in a challenging time. The band lives in Boston, I live in Providence, so they would come down. We worked up the songs we wanted to do outside on my deck all distanced for about three months. I also built a home studio during all of this … we actually recorded it in my house.”
“We were all fans of Hound Dog, but we didn’t know every song or every part inside and out. The idea was to capture the spirit of those first two Hound Dog records. To get that live party off-the-rails excitement that he has on all his records. We tried to re-create that feel in the studio, capture the spirit, we were all in one room, it was a very live-sounding thing. We did it all in a day and a half in the basement,” he added.
Stubbs shared some thoughts about the future of the blues genre, a style widely admired, but not as commercially successful as other forms of popular music.
“The PR behind the word blues has changed in the last 20-25 years … when people hear blues now, their mind goes to certain artists, what I would consider blues-rock, or even just classic rock but under the blues umbrella,” Stubbs explained. “A lot of people don’t know what traditional blues sounds like, they may hear it in a movie and not even know its blues.”
“My father played guitar and I was brought up listening to Chicago blues and early rock and roll. My mind doesn’t go to Clapton or Jimmy Page when I think blues, I think of Guitar Slim, early Ike Turner, Earl Hooker.”
“A lot of other genres like traditional country and soul music have had these revivals lately, blues really hasn’t had that in a long time. GA-20, we’re doing it by trying to put out records that we want to hear. There aren’t that many bands putting out records in this style anymore. At least, not a lot of younger bands are doing it.”
Stubbs is looking forward to the Narrows Center show Saturday … “we did some streaming at the Narrows during the pandemic,” he recalled. “It’s one of our favorite venues, we love the whole team over there.”