meta-scriptG. Love On 'G. Love & Special Sauce' At 30: Revisiting A Classic Document Of The Hip-Hop Blues |
G. Love
Garrett Dutton a.k.a. G. Love

Photo: Joe Navas


G. Love On 'G. Love & Special Sauce' At 30: Revisiting A Classic Document Of The Hip-Hop Blues

G. Love and Special Sauce's self-titled debut hit the college charts hard with a dyad of party anthems, but there was so much more to it. Days before a reissue and supporting tour, G. Love revisits the band's origins, and how the album captured an era.

GRAMMYs/Jan 9, 2024 - 09:21 pm

It's been decades since G. Love was a hip-hop-loving kid living with his parents in Philadelphia. But he kept their breakfast table.

Today, at his cozy-looking Cape Cod home, the artist born Garrett Dutton sits at that very table. Over Zoom, one also notices his conspicuous tattoos. Emblazoned on his left forearm is his seven-year-old's name and birthday; on his right, his three-year-old's. (His eldest is near the crook of his elbow; his two-year-old is pending.

The table and tats make this conversation about his debut album rather poignant. "These songs have given me everything that I love in life," he says of G. Love and Special Sauce's self-titled 1994 debut. "I wouldn't have met my wife if I wasn't a musician; I wouldn't have had my kids.

"Music has really given me everything in my life. In particular, this record," he continues. "So, I'm happy to have this milestone."

Naturally so: G. Love and Special Sauce kicked off a fruitful career in what he calls "the hip-hop blues." While both genres are offshoots of Black American music, with a plethora of common DNA, nobody combined them as Dutton did; strictly speaking, he might be the sole occupant of this lane.

At times, it's been a turbulent ride. Over the ensuing three decades, the music industry's fluctuated, and so have the college rock favorites' cachet — despite releasing albums easily of G. Love and Special Sauce's quality, like 1999's Philadelphonic and 2022's Philadelphia Mississippi. Recently, their drummer, Jeff "Houseman" Clemens, retired from the road.

But the genial, gracious Dutton stayed steady on the wheel. Sure, they're nothing if not idiosyncratic; Google their name and "laid-back" and see how many hits you get. But G. Love   has managed to do what numberless acts can't: last.

Happily, in 2024, G. Love and Special Sauce are on an upswing. They remain a live favorite; the thirst for "Cold Beverage" and the rest is unabated. They've signed with new management, in Regime Music; perhaps that nudged them to put some muscle into G. Love and Special Sauce's 30th anniversary.

Indeed, a remastered G. Love and Special Sauce will be digitally re-released Jan. 12, with 11 intriguing live recordings from New York's Knitting Factory in 1994. The day before, the band will kick off a 41-date tour of North America, mostly playing cuts from the album. (Chuck Treece — who Dutton says has been a "ghost member" from the jump — will be behind the kit.)

G. Love and Special Sauce sneakily resonates in 2024 — and not just because it kicked off a career. The refrigerator-ready singles "Cold Beverage" and "Baby's Got Sauce" ruled the roost of college radio, but they're outliers, as hits tend to be: its spirit runs much deeper.

G. Love and Special Sauce is also something of a nexus: from here, you can go in so many directions — from alternative hip-hop to crackly Delta blues to peak 2000s sandals-core, like his longtime colleague Jack Johnson. Could this aesthetic resurge, like shoegaze or indie sleaze or Myspace emo? Revisit G. Love and Special Sauce, and you be the judge.

Back when Dutton's breakfast table sat in Philadelphia, the sounds of the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J, Boogie Down Productions, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest lit up Dutton's dome.

"My generation was the first generation of kids to grow up as fans of hip-hop," Dutton explains. But being a practitioner seemed to be off the table.

"I definitely never thought about trying to be a rapper, because at that time, except for the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice, and 3rd Base, there were really not many white people rapping," he continues. "Because it was Black music that was coming out of the Black community, and it was so great that it took over the whole world, to where it is now — where it's part of the production on most records, of every genre."

Instead of rocking the mic, Dutton opted to strum an acoustic guitar, and be a folkie a la Bob Dylan. But then he discovered John Hammond, and that was his portal into the blues: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, other foundational figures.

As a street musician, Dutton rapped Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full" over a blues riff. Eureka. "It was like the whole sky opened up and the light shined down on me and it was like, 'Oh, this is it,'" he recalls, still seeming in awe."

The band grew from there: at a solo performance in Boston, Dutton met Clemens, and later, bassist Jim "Jimi Jazz" Prescott. Their aesthetic developed around thrift-store polyester leisure suits, pawn-shopped guitars, and an antiquated, oversized kick drum.

"And I know that's where Jack White got his whole aesthetic," Dutton claims. "From seeing me play that pawn shop guitar — except he really dialed it in." (He remembers White rolling up to a Pontiac show that Kid Rock and the Black Crowes' late keyboardist, Eddie Harsch, attended.

Despite being signed to OKeh Records — a subsidiary of Epic — as a "developing artist," G. Love and Special Sauce seemed to arrive fully formed. With Boston as a new base, they caught flame instantly: Dutton describes their Monday night gigs at Irish pub the Plough and Stars as "euphoric… we were kind of blowing up on a local level in Boston."

When it came time to record their self-titled debut, the mission was simple: "We were trying to capture what we were doing live, which we were automatically addicted to."

The album's boomy, organic sound owes itself to minimal isolation, with bleed aplenty: Dutton sang and rapped into "some Italian funky mic I got at the cool music store, because I liked vintage-looking s—." (It's in the ballpark of a bullet mic, which harmonica players use; he fed it into an amplifier.)

"We were trying to capture the essence of the people that we loved, like John Lee Hooker, and Bob Dylan, and all the records that were made from the '40s through the '70s," Dutton says. "Performance records, capturing this amazing magic."

Other than "This Ain't Living," which features piano by mega-producer Scott Storch, and a guest appearance by the rapper Jasper, every note on G. Love and Special Sauce is by the core trio.

Despite its minimalism, G. Love and Special Sauce features a multiplicity of moods and shades. The hypnotic "Blues Music" is a mission statement; you want that mellow, loop-like groove to unspool for miles. "Garbage Man" features a stony Bonham-esque groove, with a gigantic kick drum sound and one of Dutton's darkest and most steely-eyed flows.

Highlights are all over the place: the grimy garage rock of "Fatman," the shimmering comedown that is "Some Peoples Like That," the solo valentine "I Love You." But, understandably, the label pushed the kegger-ready "Cold Beverage" and besotted brag "Baby's Got Sauce" first and foremost.

"Some of our more fun stuff," is how G. Love characterizes them. But that tune with Storch and Jasper comes to mind: "We should have come back for 'This Ain't Living,' which was a more social song about homelessness and steady living. It had more merit, maybe."

"Cold Beverage" and "Baby's Got Sauce" put G. Love and Special Sauce on the map, and also carved out their demographic. "We did get adopted by more of a party crowd," he says. "A lot of hipsters that would come to our shows kind of got turned off, maybe, by the college people."

As usual, Dutton flips a potential negative into a resounding positive. "You can't control your audience, and now our audience has kind of grown up with us," he says, noting that listeners who were kids in the mid-'90s are now bringing their kids to shows.

"That's what happens, and that's what you hope for," Dutton continues. "That your audience kind of stays with you, and you're part of their culture and their life."

As G. Love and Special Sauce gained steam on the live circuit, they also got pushback.

"People would ask, 'How can you be a white kid from Philadelphia and play the blues?'," he says. "But artists would never say that. Especially the first couple of years, we were doing shows with all my influences: Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, De La Soul, f***ing Cypress Hill. No rappers were ever like, 'Oh, you suck,' or 'You can't do this.' Music was just music."

But by Dutton's telling, the live rap circuit ate the band alive. As he explains, G. Love and Special Sauce got thrown onto hip-hop bills with abandon, "even though we're more like a garage band that has hip-hop in our music."

When he was thrown on massive rap bills, "The crowds were really tough," he says. 

"We're a three-piece garage band playing on either side of MC's rocking to decks. So they sound like they're at a club, just blasting, and we sound like this little rinky-dink unit."

Dutton was fed up with rap — so much so that he briefly threw it out. "I was like, "This is not what I'm trying to do. I want to play the blues.' Then that's why our second record was blues," he says. That album was 1995's Coast to Coast Motel; due to financial differences, the band reportedly almost broke up on its tour.

"I'd be the first to admit that it came in fully formed and it kind of unraveled as our influences diversified, and what we wanted to do artistically diversified, kind of lost the core of what we did," Dutton says. "But we came back to it; we came back to it."

G. Love

If G. Love and Special Sauce come caked with unpleasant associations with frat parties and hackysack in the quad, give them another chance: G. Love's catalog with and without Special Sauce is mightily rewarding, as well as comforting.

One solo album from the aughts is called Lemonade, which leads us to one last tattoo.

"This is a funny story: I said, 'If I ever get a record deal, I'm going to get lemonade tattooed on my arm," he says, sans explanation. "The day that I got that, Jeff got a tattoo. We were staying at my parents' house in Philadelphia, and we came back to this kitchen table right here. We're looking sheepishly at each other, and we were like, 'I got a tattoo.' 'So did I!'"

Dutton has other musical outlets outside of Special Sauce, like his band, the Juice; his label, Philadelphonic Records; and his Outermost Roots & Blues Festival in Orleans, Massachusetts, on October 12. But with his long-running band, he just wants to keep going.

"Just to put on great shows and be happy," he says. "We have our health, and we have this great legacy of songs and albums, and we continue to make more." That is living.

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Press Play At Home: G. Love

G. Love


Press Play At Home: Watch G. Love Perform A Charming Version Of "She's The Rock"

In the newest episode of Press Play At Home, watch G. Love (of Special Sauce and the Juice fame) perform "She's the Rock" while surrounded by greenery

GRAMMYs/Aug 5, 2021 - 09:11 pm

Last time heard from G. Love, he was joyously paying homage to Brittany Howard under a clear blue sky for the ReImagined At Home series.

And while any cover from the Special Sauce leader and the Juice frontman is bound to be interesting, the world originally fell in love with G. Love for his original tunes, like the ones on G. Love and Special Sauce (1994), Philadelphonic (1999) and The Juice (2020).

In the newest episode of Press Play At Home, watch a chilled-out G. Love strum and sing his rootsy 2020 track "She's the Rock," off The Juice, with a Gretsch and a harmonica on a similar patch of terra firma.

Check out G. Love's infectious performance above and enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.

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Photo of G. Love

G. Love


Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Watch G. Love Lay Out His Craft-Beer-Filled Tour Rider

In the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, watch G. Love (of Special Sauce and the Juice fame) explain his tour rider—and why you can't leave him with a package of Nutter Butter backstage

GRAMMYs/Jul 14, 2021 - 08:53 pm

As one of the world's foremost purveyors of the hip-hop blues, G. Love has many world-renowned abilities. Staying away from an available package of sandwich cookies is not one of them.

"I've come close to forbidding the peanut butter Nutter Butters," the Philly leader of Special Sauce and the Juice tells, with a laugh, in the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas. What he will abide, however, is local craft beer to support whatever city he's touring.

In the clip above, watch as G. Love explains his tour rider and tells how he and his band stay mentally centered before the stage lights flare up.

Check out the quirky clip above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

ReImagined At Home: G. Love Performs A Joyous Version Of Brittany Howard's "Stay High"

G. Love

G. Love


ReImagined At Home: G. Love Performs A Joyous Version Of Brittany Howard's "Stay High"

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, G. Love (of Special Sauce fame) performs a soulful version of Brittany Howard's "Stay High," which won the 2020 GRAMMY for Best Rock Song

GRAMMYs/May 5, 2021 - 12:42 am

G. Love and Brittany Howard are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but they've contributed to American roots music in similar ways. While G. Love did so via his Philly junkyard-rap-blues aesthetic, Howard carved her place in the canon as part of the rock-and-soul band, Alabama Shakes.

Love and Howard now converge in the latest episode of ReImagined At Home. Under a clear blue sky, G. Love joyfully strums and wails Howard's hit, "Stay High," which won the 2020 GRAMMY for Best Rock Song. (It was also nominated for Best Rock Performance; in total, Howard has won five GRAMMYs and counts 16 total nominations.)

Watch the soulful and charmingly scrappy performance above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home. Will Howard return the favor with a cover of "This Ain't Livin'" or "Milk and Cereal"? If so, will be here for it.

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Queer country feature hero
(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach


How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

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"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots as well: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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