G. Love describes the first time he heard a Delta Blues record as a musical epiphany.
He remembers it was by John Hammond, and he was about 17 at the time. Having played guitar since he was 8 years old, G. Love said until then he had only learned from the standard acoustic repertoire - The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other folk artists.
"But when I heard the Delta Blues, that's when I really realized this was what I'd been searching for - this raw sound of just one man and a guitar," said G. Love, a Philadelphia native born as Garrett Dutton. "That was, for me, the first step of just setting down this journey."
G. Love will bring his band Special Sauce to the State Theatre on Monday.
And what a journey it's been for G. Love - from that first spark of inspiration to a career spanning almost 20 years and more than a dozen releases. G. Love and his band, Special Sauce, will perform at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the State Theatre in State College. Nashville-based folk rock band The Apache Relay will open the show.
From the very beginning of his long career, G. Love said he's felt good about being able to "carry the torch" of those Delta Blues flames to a younger generation. But that first spin of the Hammond record also made him realize he could never emulate the greats exactly.
"I [was] a 17-year-old white kid from Philly trying to sound like a 60-year-old black man from Mississippi," G. Love said. "I could never be Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters. I had to be myself."
If you go
What: G. Love & Special Sauce, with special guests The Apache Relay
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
Details: Tickets are $29.50 and are available online at www.statetickets.org, at the theater box office or by calling 272-0606
Born from that realization was G. Love's brand of "hip-hop blues," as he calls it, in which he melds the blues guitar with hip-hop vocals and other pop and rock influences.
"Lyrically, I would write about the streets of Philadelphia and the vibrations of that city and everything I would see along those streets," he said. "Through that came my own style of music."
From solo releases like "The Hustle" and "Lemonade" to those with Special Sauce musicians Jeffery Clemens on drums, Mark Boyce on keyboards and Timo Shanko on bass, G. Love has made his hip-hop blues into a household name. But for his latest record, "Fixin' to Die," released earlier this year, G. Love said he looked straight at the blues and folk roots that first inspired him.
"It's kind of taking it to the place in my music before I discovered putting hip-hop and blues together. When I was, you know, an aspiring blues player and singer/songwriter and folk musician, but I was a kid," he said. "This is 20 years later, and I've been on the road doing my craft 200 nights a year for the last 20 years, so I've been marinated and steeped into the lifestyle of all this music that has inspired me.
"Now I feel like, when I come back and play that kind of music, it sounds pretty authentic. ... Whereas when I was 16 and doing it, I sounded like a student of it."
"The album is also the first of G. Love's to feature covers, though songs like Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die" and the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" have been in his repertoire for a while.
"After you interpret or cover a song for so many years, and especially if it's an obscure song. It just kind of becomes you," G. Love said.
"Fixin' to Die" was released on acoustic surf rocker Jack Johnson's label, Brushfire Records. The two musicians have been friends for years and often tour together.
"When I met him, he was just a regular kid out of college who wrote some pretty cool songs," G. Love said. "Now he's one of the biggest rock stars.
"My whole thing with music was anybody can do it, you know? All you need to do is have a lot of love, and something to say, and put some time into getting good at your craft, and anybody can do it."
The buzz about a G. Love & Special Sauce live show signifies how much the musicians have taken their own words about honing your craft to heart. G. Love said all members of the band started off as street musicians or bar performers, so they're used to working to connect to an audience and win over a room.
"I mean, I think for everybody in the band, there's nothing more exciting than having the opportunity to get out there every night and have a chance," G. Love said. "You get out there, you have your band, you have a microphone, you've got your guitar and you've got a group of people who are there. Nowadays, they know who you are and they want to hear certain stuff.
"But whether it's the upcoming gig in State College or it's one of our first gigs we ever played, where no one knew who it was, the goal is still the same: to go out there and turn everybody on and make everybody forget about everything else except for the music for just a little bit of time."
Kellen Wenrich, fiddler and auxiliary instrumentalist for The Apache Relay, said his band shares that same goal of connecting with an audience, whether it's during a show or by talking to people after. And by joining G. Love & Special Sauce on multiple tours, Wenrich added that his fanbase has made this easy for them, despite the two bands' musical differences.
"In terms of the music itself, we don't sound anything like him and he doesn't sound anything like us," Wenrich said. "But I think what's cool is like, his crowd and his fans appear to be really devoted to him. He's been around for a long time now, and he's still doing it and still having tons of people coming out.
"His fans really like music. They're not really stuck up about anything, and they're not too cool to get into something."
By bringing high energy and a rock edge to acoustic music, Wenrich added he hopes the Apache Relay can add to the party atmosphere of any G. Love show.
"It's definitely a party, for sure," he said. "There's nothing too tame about our live show."
With an eclectic bill and the intimacy of a venue like the State Theatre, G. Love hopes to show every member of his State College audience that they're part of what makes the "Sauce" so special.
"There's nothing we like more than playing an intimate venue and really getting down and dirty with our peeps," G. Love said. "So I think that's what makes the 'sauce' so special.
"And you know what else makes the 'Sauce' so special? It's not just the [band] that are the ingredients, it's everybody in that room."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.