Popa Chubby chats with Kevin Cooper about where the name Popa Chubby originated from, his tiff with Walter Trout, his latest album The Catfish and his first tour of the UK since 2011
Popa Chubby, real name Theodore Horowitz, is an American rock and electric blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. In his early twenties, as well as playing the blues he also worked as backing guitarist for punk rock poet Richard Hell in The Voidoids.
In 1994, he released several albums on his own Laughing Bear label, including It’s Chubby Time and Gas Money, before he obtained a recording contract with Sony Music and Okeh Records for Booty And The Beast, his first major-label album, which was released in 1995. In 1996, he released a live recording of his hit The High Hard One. Two years later, One Million Broken Guitars was released on Lightyear Records; Brooklyn Basement Blues followed in 1999.
Several albums followed including How’d A White Boy Get The Blues? The Good The Bad And The Chubby, The Hungry Years and The Fight Is On.
About to embark upon a tour of the UK for the first time in six years to promote his latest album, The Catfish, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Popa, how are you?
Hi Kevin, I’m very well thank you how are you?
I’m doing great thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure man. Thanks for taking the time to see what we are up to.
And just how is life treating Popa Chubby today?
Life is treating me very well and I am treating life even better.
The last time that I saw you here in the UK was five years ago now in Wolverhampton with Walter Trout.
That was 2011 and I have to tell you that I am so looking forward to being back there in the UK man.
No doubt you get asked this question many, many times but I have got to ask you, where did the name Popa Chubby come from?
Do you want me to be totally honest with you?
Of course (laughter).
Right here goes and remember, I have never told anyone this story (laughter). The name actually comes from a song by George Bernard “Bernie” Worrell, Jr. who was the keyboard player with Parliament-Funkadelic. I was in a jam with Bernie once and he was singing a song called Popa Chubby and I immediately thought that it would be a great name for a band. So I took the name from the song and it actually means to get excited (laughter).
Well, I’m glad that we have cleared that up (laughter). Back in the day you worked with one of the innovators of punk music and fashion, Richard Hell and played in his backing band The Voidoids.
Yes that’s right. Back in the day I played with Richard Hell and a later version of The Voidoids which included Anton Fier and Jody Harris. They were great times. It was quite an experience as it was my first touring gig back in the early eighties. That experience opened my eyes forever.
So how did the leap from punk rock to the blues come about; what drew you to the blues?
I will be honest with you and say that what drew me to the blues was that I had always wanted to play the guitar man and when I played in rock bands I got to play like one forty-five minute set but then when I started playing in blues bands I could play all night long. And that was primarily it. Back in the early sixties my parents owned a candy store in The Bronx, New York City with a jukebox so from a very early age I was always surrounded by the blues. So for me it was a natural progression and the blues gave me the outlet for what I wanted to do.
I have been playing your latest album, The Catfish, for a couple of weeks now and I think that it is great. The songs are so diverse that there is something on there for everyone.
Thank you sir, I am so pleased that you are enjoying what we are doing. I love music, I am a big fan of music and as you know I am from New York City which is a melting pot. Unlike a lot of other artists I am not trying to prove anything; I just play the music that I love and also make music that I love. I am pretty sure in what I do and when you get to that stage as an artist you can really start making some good work.
Are you happy with the way the album has been received?
Yes, I have to say that I am very happy. In fact I would go as far to say that this has been my most well received record of my career so far.
Again on the subject of titles, where did the title The Catfish come from?
The whole concept for the album came from a TV show man. I don’t know if you are familiar with the TV show called The River Monsters?
Yes I am. I know the show that you are talking about.
Good, so you will also be familiar with the presenter of the show Jeremy Wade. He was in the Himalayas trying to catch a man-eating catfish called the Goonch and when he pulled this fish out of the water I thought ‘oh man, that fish is a legend, look at him man, he owns the river’, everything that happens in that river goes through the fish. Anyway, I was in the studio working on the album, I was playing this beautiful track and I just threw The Catfish in there and it just worked. After that I was approached by a company in France who were interested in making a video for one of my songs, so I sent over The Catfish and they loved it. From that came the graphic, the video and the title of the record and the song.
I have to say that I really do like what you have done with Bye Bye Love, playing it in a reggae stylee. Whose idea was that?
That was my idea. I have always been a big reggae fan and there has always been a history of reggae and Ska bands taking traditional numbers and making them their own. There is a great record out there where a Ska band has done a reggae stylee version of Take Five the old Dave Brubeck number. Track it down Kevin, you will love it. Stuff like that really turns me on man. Also a classic tune and a classic melody turn me on so for me, putting the two together was quite natural.
What’s the story behind Motorhead Save My Life?
That’s easy, in my opinion there has never been a better band than Motorhead. They were the most honest band in rock and roll. They really were; it is such a great loss. Motorhead were a force to be reckoned with. They were a great rock and roll band and at the end of the day Lemmy was a true gentleman who is sadly missed. When I saw the movie about Lemmy he said that when he passed away he wanted to be remembered as an honourable man. If there was ever an honourable man playing rock and roll, it was Lemmy.
If we include The Catfish you have released an album per year for the last four years. Can you keep that level of output up or do you need a break?
Believe this or not I have actually slowed down. Whenever I record a new album I don’t really think about how long it has been since the last album. So to answer your question I really do hope so, I hope to keep it up for as long as I can.
You are a couple of dates into the latest tour, just how is it going?
Things are going awesome man. Having said that, there wasn’t really a break from the last tour to this tour. We finished a seven week European tour in November, came home for the holidays and now we are back out on the road.
Is being out there on the road the thing that gives you the most pleasure?
I love playing on the stage, I love the actual performing but to be honest, I don’t like travelling anymore. However, it is a necessary evil. The problem is that we spend more time travelling than we do playing. The travelling sucks all of the fun out of what we do.
Having said that I am pleased to say that you are coming back over to see us here in the UK. Do you enjoy your time spent here with us?
Yes I am, I will be back in the UK next week and yes, I enjoy every minute that I get to spend over there in the UK, I love it. It’s been a while man, but yes I always love being over there and playing for the fans. I am getting excited now at the thought of being back.
Do the UK audiences appreciate just what it is that you are doing?
I believe they do. We get loads of mail from the fans over there in the UK asking us when were are going to be touring. We have played Europe many times but for some reason we haven’t made it over to the UK, but now it has all come together I am excited to be coming back for the first time since 2011.
Is the blues currently in a good place?
To be totally honest with you, I have no idea (laughter). I don’t know man, obviously at the moment I am in a good place, I play the blues so I think that it is a pretty healthy market man. There are a lot of artists out there man and what I will say is that the cream rises to the top always.
When I spoke to Walter (Trout) I asked him that very question and he said that as long as there were people like Eric Sardinas and Popa Chubby out there playing and singing the blues, then the blues is most definitely in a good place.
Really, well that was very nice of Walter to say that. I have to tell you that Walter got angry with me recently. We had a tiff about Buddy Rich as I am a massive fan of his. I had posted a Buddy Rich quote on my Facebook page which Walter had seen and at that point he informed me that he hated Buddy Rich. Walter told me that when he was a child Buddy Rich had actually knocked him over. But I am pleased to say that Walter is over it now. Walter is a great guy. We did a few shows together over in Germany and I have to say that he is sounding better than ever. I wish him all the longevity with what he is doing.
Is there anyone in particular who you think that we should be looking out for?
Oh man, that’s a hard question. Again, I have to say that there is so much out there, so much and you guys over there in the UK, in your own market, have so many great guitar players. So what I will say is that there are a lot of great bands out there and some great guitar players too. So without singling anybody out, there are a lot of young guys coming up who are really hot and the old guys are still playing as sweet as ever. Unfortunately, we are losing some of the great players, who when I was growing up I could go out and see them play. Most of those guys have gone now so I advise young musicians to go out and see the old guys play whenever they get the chance.
Was it always going to be a career in music for you?
Oh absolutely. From my very early days I was musically inclined. Nothing else ever interested me, it is what I do man. I was lucky in that sense because nowadays if you don’t have a path to follow then you tend to have a really bad time.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Woo, that’s a hard one buddy. I will be honest with you and this tells you exactly where I am at. I have sold-out huge venues all over the world and played in front of hundreds of thousands of people. Every New Year’s Day in Brooklyn, New York, myself, Steve Holley who is an English drummer who played with Sir Elton John, The Ian Hunter Band and Paul McCartney’s Wings, Arthur Neilson who has played in simply dozens of bands including playing with Big Ed Sullivan, and our buddy Dimitri all get together and play at a little bar in Brooklyn every New Year’s Day. That to me is the best gig that I do all year.
What was the first single that you bought?
(Laughter) well ,here’s the thing, because my parents owned the jukebox in their store, every week the guy would come and change the top forty singles and when he did I would get all of the old singles. He would give me all of the old Motown records, The Temptations, The Four Tops people like that. However, the first record that made a lasting impression on me was Chain Of Fools by Aretha Franklin.
What was the first album that you bought?
That’s easy, that was The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
That would have been Beethoven’s 9th Symphony 1st Movement. That piece of music is wonderful and it always gets to me. My daughter is a classical violinist and when I heard her playing the piece, it totally shut me down man.
Who has musically inspired you?
That’s a big question man. There have been so many people man. If we are talking about the blues then definitely B.B. King, Freddie King and Albert King. The list just goes on and on and on. Everything inspires me, that is one of the reasons why I am so prolific. For an artist to be prolific then they have to be inspired.
When you have any downtime who do you listen to?
Well, today for instance, we started off listening to Miles Davis, then we switched over to Barry White, The Chambers Brothers and some classic R&B, and then we switched to some 90’s West Coast style Hip Hop with Snoop Dog so as you see I go all over the map man.
On that note Popa, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I will see you in Milton Keynes. Bye for now.
Okay Kevin, you have a good one. Bye for now.
|Wed 18th||The London 100 Club London|
|Fri 20th||The Stables Milton Keynes|
|Sat 21st||Barnoldswick Arts Centre||Wavendon|
|Sun 22nd||Rock And Blues Festival Skegness|
|Tue 24th||Beaverwood Club Kent|
|Thu 26th||The Flowerpot Derby|
|Fri 27th||The Tolbooh Stirling|
|Sat 28th||Southport Arts Centre|
|Sun 29th||Giants Of Rock Festival Somerset|