Imposing, multi-tattooed guitarist Popa Chubby lit up the contemporary blues scene some years back with an explosive major label debut album, "Beauty and the Beast," which had his audiences and critics raving.
Describing his rocking style as "The Stooges meet Buddy Guy, Motorhead meets Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson," Chubby returns to Maui with his trio for three show dates, Wednesday through May 11.
Born Ted Horowitz in 1960 in New York, he adopted his Chubby moniker after jamming with Parliament-Funkadelic's keyboard legend Bernie Worrell.
“Before I was listening to blues bands I was listening to Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and Cream,” says Popa Chubby. “It wasn’t until later that I figured all these guys were blues bands, they were just taking it somewhere else.”
Photo courtesy the artist
Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei keeps on truckin’ with JGB this weekend. Melvin Seals, seated, was the longtime keyboardist in Jerry Garcia’s band. The restaurant’s founder, the late Ray Ennis, named Stella Blues after a Grateful Dead song. He would have approved of JBG gracing the stage there.
Photo courtesy STELLA BLUES CAFE
His musical imagination was first stirred at the age of 7 attending a Chuck Berry concert with his father. Taking up drums at 13, he soaked up the music of British-blues-influenced rockers like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and honed his guitar chops playing raw, Texas-style blues.
"I didn't wake up one morning and say I'm going to play the blues," Chubby says.
"It was always there. Before I was listening to blues bands I was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and Cream. It wasn't until later that I figured all these guys were blues bands, they were just taking it somewhere else."
Popa Chubby plays Longhi's Lahaina at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $25. He plays Charley's in Paia at 8:30 p.m. on May 10. Tickets are $25. And he plays Iao Theatre in Wailuku at 7:30 p.m. on May 11. Tickets are $25 and $45.
Other forces that influenced him included playing primal punk with Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and for a while he tried his hand as a busker on New York's subway.
Chubby's ability to absorb a wide range of influences while shaping an original voice has been widely praised. Reviewing his first album, "It's Chubby Time," Guitar Player noted, "The Chubbster's debut delivers a hungry-man sized portion of inspired blues, funk, boogie, and more." And the San Francisco Chronicle raved, "Chubby could be the blues guitar discovery of the year."
"I take my influences from a lot of different places because I want to be myself," he says. "I think the way to be yourself is to be influenced by everything. I never sit down and copy somebody else's lick. I like to think of myself as being open to everything."
A prolific artist, Chubby has recorded the triple-disc "Electric Chubbyland" tribute to Jimi Hendrix, covering classics and rare tracks and a 16-minute original instrumental; and the "Peace, Love, and Respect" protest album of hard-hitting tunes about First Amendment rights ("Un-American Blues") and corporate war-mongering ("Young Men").
On his latest album, "Back to New York City," Chubby unleashes a bunch of pile-driving blues-rockers infused with fierce passion. Mostly set on ignite, he tempers things for a couple of mellower tracks like a reworking of Leonard Cohen's apocalyptic "The Future." Spotlighted by Classic Rock magazine as its Record of the Month, Chubby closes the CD in classical territory with a rocking take on Bach's "Jesus Joy of Man's Desiring."
His gift for covering a wide spectrum was reflected in a concert review in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which noted, "The genius of Popa Chubby is how he can move from Hendrix's 'Manic Depression' straight into an instrumental version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and make it seem like a perfectly natural development." The review also said he "reinvigorated Leonard Cohen's modern classic 'Hallelujah,' with passionate intensity and sizzling blues fretwork."
"I have the same philosophy with my live show as I do when I make a record," says Chubby. "I want to give people more than their money's worth. I want them to feel good about coming to the show. People can expect the best time."
Chamber music lovers can rejoice at the return of the annual Maui Classical Music Festival featuring performances ranging from Beethoven to Bernstein between Friday and May 11.
The Amernet String Quartet, praised for their "high-voltage brilliance," will join the festival this year. "We are introducing a new dynamic and acclaimed group to the festival, first prize winner of the prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition," reports pianist Katherine Collier, who with husband, violist Yizhak Schotten, have been the festival's directors since it began in 1982.
Formed in 1991 while its founding members were students at the Juilliard School, the quartet comprises violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Jason Calloway. They've performed at major festivals around the world, including San Miguel de Allende, Great Lakes, Morelia, and Bowdoin.
Opening at Makawao Union Church, the festival concerts will also be presented at Keawala'i Congregational Church in Makena and at Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana.
"Also joining us are a past favorite, clarinetist Daniel Gilbert, and his brilliant pianist wife, Donna Lee, who will debut in the festival," says Collier. A special guest is Joan Canfield, host of Hawaii Public Radio's "Evening Concert."
The opening "Blockbuster Beethoven" concert in Makawao on Friday includes Beethoven's String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 and Trio in E Flat for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 38.
In Makena on Monday, Canfield will narrate a program based on the musical love triangle between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, with works by all three composers. The community concert in Hana on Wednesday is built around a Beethoven quartet and Dvorak quintet.
And Bernstein, Gershwin and Dvorak are the featured composers at the closing "American Rhapsody" concert at the Makena church on May 11.
"It is always a thrill and honor to return to Maui each year and present great classical music to the wonderful Maui audiences," says Collier. "What a pleasure it is to perform around the island in historical churches with their warm acoustics and glorious settings."
* Maui Classical Music Festival: All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Enjoy a pre-concert conversation with HPR's Joan Canfield at 6 p.m. Cost is $25 adults; $10 students. For tickets, visit www.mauiclassicalmusicfestival.org, or call, 878-2312.
George Kahumoku Jr. will host a concert on May 10 in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater in Kahului, featuring students from the UH Maui College's Institute of Hawaiian Music.
Through mentoring with many of our leading musicians this innovative program provides students with all the skills needed to create Hawaiian music today, including theory, composition, stagecraft, mythology and language, recording technology and marketing. "It's exciting for students with a love for Hawaiian music and for the artist mentors passing down the tradition," says George.
* UH-MC Institute of Hawaiian Music Showcase: $20 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and free to kids 12 years and younger (must be ticketed).
When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Melvin Seals, the longtime keyboardist with the Jerry Garcia Band, decided to keep the iconic musician's legacy alive by fronting the JGB band. Seals had played with the Grateful Dead's guitarist since 1980.
Beginning his career playing church organ, Seals backed Chuck Berry, Buddy Miles and Elvin Bishop, before he was invited to play with Garcia's band.
He recalled the audition in a Rolling Stone profile. "After running through a couple numbers, he told Garcia, 'Hey man, you play great guitar.' Garcia and other musicians laughed. 'They knew that I didn't have a clue who he was or what was going on,' " says Seals.
With roots seeped in gospel soil, Seals strives for merging music with spirit, what he calls, "the church vibe."
Besides Seals, JGB features Dave Hebert on guitar, Jimmy Tebeau on bass, Pete Lavezzoli on drums, and Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker on vocals. Their repertoire includes such classic tunes as "Sugaree," "Sitting in Limbo," "Mystery Train," "Shakedown Street" and "Deal."
* JGB plays Stella Blues Caf at 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Visit www.brownpapertickets.com or call 874-3779.