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Ted Horowitz aka Popa Chubby is a survivor. His father died when he was seven. He was abandoned and raised himself. He moved to New York City when he was 18 and started playing music. He developed a huge drug habit and ended up strung out on the streets until he was in his early twenties. He started playing music again and got away from drugs and never went back, and then he got into the New York City blues scene of the early 90s, and is rocking with us today…continually touring all over the world.
Here is at the forefront of modern blues-rock, where the mix of intensity and integrity captured on Popa Chubby’s Back To New York City has made him one of the genres most popular figures. And he’s an imposing figure at that, weighing more than 300 pounds with a shaven head, tattooed arms, a goatee and a performing style he describes as the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson.
You get the picture. And if you don’t, Back To New York City paints it vividly. On the discs 11 nasty cuts Popa Chubby has flipped the blues-rock label around, putting rock at the fore and the pedal to the metal with fat, scalding guitar sounds and stories plucked from true life. Some, like the rubber-burning title track and the pleading A Love That Will Never Die, are autobiographical tales that channel whats deep in his blood as well as the fevered pulse of the city Popa Chubby has called home for 30 years.
Others, like Stand Before the Sun and his sweet ‘n sizzling take on Johan Sebastian Bachs instrumental Jesus Joy of Mans Desiring, chronicle his search for spiritual enlightenment, which has led Popa Chubby to practice Tai Chi and Chi Kung before his sweat-soaked concerts. And then there’s pure shots of fun like the chest-thumping Warrior Gods, which thunders along like a long-lost Motörhead gem, and She Loves Everybody But Me, a tongue-in-cheek hard-core Texas shuffle that purposefully nods to Stevie Ray Vaughan in its skyrocketing leads and solos.
For the prolific Popa Chubby, Back To New York City doesn’t simply capture the fire and energy of his live shows better than the previous 20 albums he’s made since 1994 which is an impressive accomplishment given his history of house-rocking discs. It represents an entirely new level of his tempestuous, soulful playing.
Before he adopted the name Popa Chubby, Ted Horowitz’s first gigs were in the New York City punk scene starting when he answered an ad in The Village Voice in 1977 for a guitarist and was hired by this crazy Japanese special effects performance artist in a kimono called Screaming Mad George who had a horror-movie inspired show. So right from the start he was taught about rock ‘n roll as theater, and he learned from George and the other bands who were playing CBGBs at the time: the Ramones, the Cramps, Richard Hell, whose band, the Voidoids, he joined, that rock ‘n roll should be dangerous. Musicians like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols weren’t just bands. They were a threat to society.
The blues was always the foundation of Popa Chubby’s playing style, since he had grown up on Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin, but when he started playing blues in New York City clubs, he understood that the blues should be dangerous, too, he explains. “It wasn’t just from playing in punk bands…Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters were dangerous men. They’d cut or shoot you out of necessity if they had to, and Little Walter packed a gun and wouldn’t hesitate to use it. That danger is a real part of the blues and I keep it alive in my music.” Horowitz adopted the name Popa Chubby in 1990 during a jam with Parliament-Funkadelics Bernie Worrell. “He was singing a song called Popa Chubby and he pointed at me” Ted says. Given Horowitz’s dimensions and his proclivity for getting audiences excited, the tag fit.
Following two initial albums on his own Laughing Bear label, he was signed to Sony’s briefly revived O-Keh Records, the one-time imprint of Mamie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other influential blues and jazz artists.
Popa Chubby came into his own as a songwriter with 2002′s The Good, The Bad & the Chubby with the affectingly sincere post-9/11 testimonial Somebody Let the Devil Out. His next album, 2004′s inspired Peace, Love, and Respect upped the ante as an election year protest album with hard-cutting tunes about First Amendment rights (Un-American Blues) and corporate war-mongering (Young Men). After tipping his hat to Hendrix with the three-disc Electric Chubbyland set and tour in 2006 and 2007, Popa Chubby’s subsequent three albums including 2010′s The Fight Is On have chronicled his desire to reconnect with his rock and blues roots while pushing both genres boldly into the future a task expertly accomplished by an extraordinary blend of song craft, musicianship and personality in Back To New York City that telegraphs the message what you hear is what you get.
“People look at me and expect a certain thing”, Popa Chubby reflects, “and don’t realize theres more behind the picture. They see a big, burly guy with tattoos, and they expect to get beat over the head. And you will get beat over the head, but you will also get rocked to sleep, and there’ll be poetry in there too.”
Popa Chubby started out with two independent releases and then had a major label release which was produced by Tom Dowd for Sony/O-keh. Popa enjoyed a long association with the French Dixiefrog label, and is now on Provogue out of Holland, and Blind Pig Records in the U.S. Popa is currently in the studio working on some fresh tracks. If you’ve seen the Popa Chubby Band live lately, then you know that they have added a dreamy and devastating instrumental version of the Wizard of Oz classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow to their repertoire. This clip, shot in Germany by Chris Pizzolo, Popa’s videographer extraordinaire and all around right-hand man, is particularly powerful. Don’t miss it!
Image Courtesy : T.klick