Chubby-Less

electric_chubbylandPopa Chubby: Electric Chubbyland, vols 1&2 (Blind Pig)

Let me continue the tradition of virtually every reviewer feeling compelled to mention that Popa Chubby began life as one Ted Horowitz in The Bronx, in the neighborhood, as the promo material points out, “immortalized in Robert DiNiro’s film A Bronx Tale. So, Popa and I actually share the same childhood neighborhood, except I was born almost 20 years earlier than him and actually in the time the movie was set in. Maybe I should include that tidbit in my promotional material, except I don’t have any.

So, Ted gets bitten by the blues, rock, soul music, and jukeboxes, and develops an aptitude for music as a kid. As a budding teen guitarist he was exposed to one of the Holy Grails of blues guitar, Freddy King’s “Just Pickin’,” and his path was revealed to him. He got some good early breaks along the way including touring with Richard Hell as a Voidoid. Today he’s 300 pounds of tattooed, shaven-headed guitar fury, and over a decade into relentlessly nurturing and self-promoting the Popa Chubby (a name bestowed by none other than P-Funk’s Bernie Worell) legacy as the keeper and bringer of “New York blues.”

The Jimi Hendrix legacy has rightly proven a perpetual inspiration to listeners and players alike. Popa has seen fit to issue not one but two live discs of Hendrix covers. Over twenty tunes are covered. Popa bulldozes, shreds, and wanks his way through many of the big ones. From “Axis: Bold as Love” to “Voodoo Chile,” he leaves no third stone uncovered. But for all the thrashing and gnashing of guitar, all the tectonic rumbling the rhythm section generates, nothing is brought to this music that inspires repeat listening. Vocally coming across like Leslie West with a sore throat, Popa’s intentions are good, it’s a ‘this one’s for the fans’ sort of thing (I’m damn sure it was fun to be at the gigs), but the music is flogged and riffed to an annoying yet excited tedium.

Time would be far better consumed listening to the wealth of the original material by Hendrix himself. I mean, who better to go to for a Hendrix hit than JH? For creative interpretation one can look as far back as 1974’s masterpiece Gil Evans Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix. One can also turn to the sublime ’95/’96 two discs by the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio, Foxy Lady and Purple Haze, for amazing interpretations that will permanently command re-visits. B-3 genius Smith, guitar avatar John Abercrombie, and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith soar to elevating spiritual heights and take the music somewhere inspired and creative and visceral without sledge-hammering it. One can ferret out the remarkable jam-fested Rest in P from the late P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel and discover what other Hendrix-style players were up to. Speaking of which, the other too underrated guitar wonderman of P-Funk, BlackByrd McKnight, can be found on YouTube blowing out an incredible jam live in Japan, “BlackByrd McKnight Flys On,” that suggests what Hendrix might be up to today. And finally, one in need of a Hendrix vibe could check out another too-underrated guitarist, Jean-Paul Bourelly, who perhaps better than any other has a grasp and feeling for not only what Hendrix did but might have done. For those who need to keep it simpler, even John Mayer’s Hendrix musings bring more satisfaction than Popa Chubby’s ham-fisted approach. Aside from hard-core Chubby-ites, shame on you if you don’t go to the above-mentioned resources first. - Tali Madden

Popa Chubby

tmadden.jpg

Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.

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