In an often incomprehensible world like the music business, many artists have been forced, especially in the last decade, to work even harder to maintain their presence in a constantly changing (and, at the same time, challenging) art form that is music.
Then, there is the issue about music genres. Like the Blues, for example, that is not considered, most times, "hip" enough to get airplay time on radios or media in general. As a consequence, Blues artists have to make their marks and try to sell as many records as they can by touring the world incessantly, often self-funding themselves because their record labels wouldn't be able to provide them even with a minimal financial platform to sustain the costs of touring.
Somebody that knows all about this is singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Popa Chubby. The artist born Theodore Joseph Horowitz, with a career spanning almost 30 years, has been long enough in the business to know the pros and cons of making music and how hard it is to ensure that fans would be always provided with records of very high standards, just like Popa Chubby has been doing since the day started his career in 1992.
Popa Chubby, who has released an anthology of his finest songs in 2018 called Prime Cuts, released his latest studio album in 2017 called Two Dogs, a record that made a strong impact with both fans and critics, including our website.
With somebody like Popa Chubby, always on the move around the world for touring purposes, it's almost impossible to find the time to speak to the press. Finally, though, Bluebird Reviews has the opportunity to talk on the phone with the New York artist about his career, focusing especially on the strong impact that an album like Two Dogs had, lyrically and musically. "Man, you know, working on a new record it's like being consumed, like being possessed. It's something so big that becomes even bigger than I am. My whole life gets so involved into the project, to the point that I want to make it sounds as good as I possibly can and I don't know whether I failed or succeeded until so much later, once the album comes out".
When our website reviewed Two Dogs, we mentioned that the beauty and the intensity of the album felt like a gigantic kick in the teeth to all those people in the music industry that seemed to have forgotten the enormous talent possessed by this amazing guitarist and singer/songwriter. With this in mind, Bluebird Reviews wondered whether Chubby felt almost a sense of vengeance towards the aforementioned people, when he saw all the numerous accolades coming from the music press for that record. "No, I never read my own press, Man. I gotta be very honest with you. The truth is that I don't think that I am very good in what I do. But if my music reaches anybody, anywhere in the world, then I feel very blessed, otherwise I am just a guy that is doing the best he can. I feel like I am a constant student of music, therefore, all I can tell you is that I am just trying constantly to squeeze out of my guitar and my voice the best that I can do".
Popa Chubby is somebody that, on each passing record, always seems to up his game, just when we thought that a record like the 2013's Universal Breakdown Blues was the pinnacle of the artist's career. Besides making a record completely by himself, we ask Chubby what has been the most challenging aspect in the building up of the Two Dogs album. "I don't feel that the album was very challenging in the making, I felt that the whole process was very organic. The album you mentioned, Universal Breakdown Blues, that one was certainly more challenging, in comparison to Two Dogs, on so many levels. When I started working on Universal Breakdown Blues, I was a point of my life and career that I felt I was competing against everybody else but, with Two Dogs, I felt that I was not competing at all with anybody. I had given up that mentality completely, by the time I started working on Two Dogs. I arrived to the conclusion that, as a guitar player, i just push myself to the best I can, because, with so many great guitar players better than me out there, there is no point about competing. All I can do is to try and create the best songs, with the best production and the most interesting groove I can possibly come up with. Moreover, together with working my socks off, I always try to say something meaningful that carries a message and I really think that Two Dogs definitely carries within a good message".
From a vocal perspective, Chubby certainly stretched himself even further on Two Dogs, showing the strength of his vocal range on songs like Rescue Me or Sam Lay's Pistol, among others. The two aforementioned songs had a particularly inspired songwriting too and we wish to ask to the American artist how much, in his opinion, does the emotional aspect of songs like those influence, unconsciously, the intensity of his vocal delivery. "That's interesting, because Rescue Me, for instance, has three-part harmonies and it's something that you don't hear very often on Blues records. I think that my influences are vast and they certainly emerge into my music. Something that I really like to do in a song is to do more than one vocal part, as lead vocal, something that, in my mind, just a great Maestro like Prince was able to get spot on every time, on each of his records and make them every time very interesting. Man, when I think about Music Masters, talking about brilliancy on many levels, together with Prince I like also to think of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis or Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter and the list goes on and on and on".
Bluebird Reviews highlighted, while reviewing Two Dogs, one of the common denominators present in the album's lyrics, which seemed to be the eternal conflict between good and evil. Our website is wondering whether Chubby realized that Two Dogs was almost becoming a Concept Album about this subject, when the guitarist was writing the songs. "Yes, very much so. Nowadays, I would say globally but especially in America, we live our lives suspended in a constant conflict between light and dark, fear and love and overall moments of highs and lows. I do believe that pretty much everybody is experiencing that, in their own lives and certainly Two Dogs was an album that focused on those aspects of our society".
In a previous statement to the press, Horowitz, aka Popa Chubby, discussing the music genre he so much loves, stated that "You don't find the blues, the blues finds you". Something that leads to the question on when exactly, in Popa Chubby's life, the blues found him. "That's a big question, Man. You know, when you read about people like Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon or any of the greatest of the Blues scene, you will always notice that common denominator, which is that early in their lives, about them suffering great hardship. Both Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon went to prison and you can imagine what kind of impact that experience brought to their lives. At an early age, I dealt with a lot of hardship too and I really think that such hardship brings you, through times, to an appreciation for music of the soul, because that's where you find that comfort you are searching for. As a player, music is something able to comfort your soul like nothing else can do. At a very young age, I found music to be a real comfort for me. When I discovered the Blues, that was a time when I was looking for my life and that was the moment when the Blues found me".
The born and bred New York artist has got a large fan base in many parts of the world, but in Europe, the number of fans is even bigger and, somehow, they seem to be able to perceive Popa Chubby's talent and musicianship more than in other countries, including the States. "Well, I would say that what you mentioned used to be true but, in the last five-six years, I am touring Europe and America evenly so I feel the equal amount of love from both sides. It's a big world, Man, and, as a musician, you are lucky enough to travel and that is such a big bonus. Like, for instance, right now, I am talking to you from South Dakota, which is a place where I have never been before and I never thought I would be. Then, the day after tomorrow, I shall be in Norway, then I shall be in Canada next. Y'know, people from all around the world's got a different perspective on what they think but, fundamentally, everyone has got the same perspective about what is right and what is wrong, Man. There is a really interesting concept about that, which is this; it's easy to heed an ideology and it's difficult to heed a human being".
New York has always been a very inspiring city for any sort of artists, from painters to musicians and, in that respect, we ask Chubby how much does living in a city like New York affects his songwriting style. "Oh, I have to say less than it used to do, you know, because I travel so much now and I have more of a global vision of the world surrounding me than I had before. I feel that the big problem with America, is that most people there has never traveled out of the States. All that they can see, is their own backyard. As a consequence, most times, they don't know what they are talking about, Man. It's just when you get the opportunity to experience the culture, the traditions and the lifestyle of other countries that you realize that people is pretty much the same, wherever you go".
Popa Chubby is and has always been a very prolific artist. As it happens to some fellow artists, Bluebird Reviews wonders whether when touring a new record, the guitarist solely concentrates his performances mostly on playing the songs of the new album and some other songs off his catalogues or he also like to test new material he has written on stage with his audiences. "I always try to play most of the latest album, however, sometimes it depends by the place where I am playing. There is certain material that the people in America wants to hear, which may be different from others that people in Europe want to hear, therefore it is always a tight balance. If they don't hear that specific song they are waiting for, sometimes they may even walk away from the concert, almost feeling cheated and that is the last thing that I wanna do. I have no problem at all in doing so, always happy to oblige to their requests, even when sometimes they can be covers, like Hey Joe or Hallelujah, for example. I always keep an open mind about what people want to hear at concerts and do new things, constantly trying to keep it interesting, for myself and the fans and that is one of the reasons why many of them keep coming back to see me playing. I heard some people saying that they have already seen me playing ten times and I am always flattered when I hear that. But I also do write new stuff, while I am on Tour, which works perfectly, for me, because I can test the new material with the fans while on stage and get a direct feedback from them. Plus, by the time I then hit the studio and record the new material, I've got the advantage to know already what I want the new material to sound like, because I had already played several times that new tune while on Tour".
Photo By Rick Booth
Music runs deep into the Horowitz Family's DNA. Chubby's daughter, Tipitina, is a highly skilled musician and she certainly did a great job, working with her father on the songs included in Two Dogs. "Well, she started out playing drums and she was so good that she was able to play like Charlie Watts! I remember her mother coming downstairs, when we were jamming and asking "Who's playing drums and who's playing guitars?" and I would have said "Tipi is!". But, at one point, Tipi came to me and said "Dad, I don't wanna ever play drums again". And she never did. Then she picked up the trumpet, because she had heard Chet Baker playing and she suddenly discovered a new world, Man. To me, trumpet is one of the most difficult instruments to play and I give a lot of credit to Tipi for being able to play it like she does. She's very good and she did a remarkable work on the horns, on Two Dogs".
The recently released Greatest Hits Prime Cuts is a fabulous statement of Chubby's immense artistry. In all these years in the music business, we are curious to know what is the biggest realization that he has found out about being an artist and what advice would he be able to give to a young musician starting his career right now. "Well, I would be certainly able to answer the second part of your question about giving advice. There are a few I can give them. The first, is to draw on as many different influences as possible, don't just draw on one influence, especially if you are a guitar player. The best guitar players are always influenced by different types of music. The second piece of advice would be about songs. You have to have songs, Man. Last, but not least, stand up to what you believe in your music. It's important, for an artist, to have an opinion. Art, by definition, is political. So, when an artist says that he is not political, he is totally full of crap, Man".
It is time for Popa Chubby to get on the road for his next concert, therefore there is just time for a very last question to ask to this splendid artist and human being. Our website has always loved and will always love the fact that he has nothing to prove to anybody and he will be always who he is, no matter what, as a human being and, most importantly, as a musician. How hard does it get to maintain such incredible integrity and tenacity, as the years go by, Popa? "It gets easier, Man, not harder (laughs). As I get older, I've got less to lose. You know, there was an instance, some time ago, when Robert De Niro got up in front of a large audience and said loudly: "F**k Trump!". So, for somebody like De Niro to do that, it could have been a big problem for his career. But he didn't give a f**k. Me, I don't give no f**ks, but maybe I've got one last f**k to give! (laughs) Hey, maybe that will be the title of my next record, "One last f**k to give!"