Interview: Popa Chubby – Go for the Raw Sound and Crank It Up

Popa Chubby, the long-time stage name for Ted Horowitz, has been playing a mean guitar for over 25 years. Fresh off of playing shows in Europe this past month, he returns state side starting off a winter tour this Friday Nov. 13 at 8pm at The Hangar in Troy with several other New York appearances on the schedule. Tickets for his show at The Hangar are on sale here.

His other New York shows include: Nov, 28 at Daryl’s House (Pawling), Dec. 12 (Christmas Concert) at Roulette Theater (Brooklyn), Dec. 31 at The Turning Point (Piermont), and Jan. 16 at Treme Blues & Jazz (Islip). Check out his full tour schedule here.

In anticipation for his appearance at The Hangar on Friday, Popa Chubby chatted with NYS Music about his music, playing guitar and his new double-live album, Big, Bad and Beautiful.

Steve Malinski: You’ve got a sound that’s quite your own, sort of a cross roads of blues, rock and roll with quite a level of musicianship.

Popa Chubby: Yeah man, I appreciate that. I started off playing rock and roll, metal, punk rock and speed metal before I got into the blues.

SM: And I’m sure growing up in New York City had and impact on your sound –

PC: – NY Hardcore! –

SM: – So what lead you to find the groove you have today?

PC: It was like 1980 – no, the late 1980’s and the hardcore scene had kind of dried up by that point. There was a lot going on and I just wanted to play. Somebody gave me a Muddy Waters record and I heard it and was like holy cow this is awesome. So I put a little band together. We started playing in bars around NY and it just took off. A couple of years later I had a big record deal with Sony/Okeh, made a record with Tom Dowd, then went to Europe and it’s just been going on ever since, for 25 years.

SM: I’ve kind of pinned your sound as a version of Blue Cheer with a big guitar sound.

PC: Well, I will take that as a huge compliment. I like to rock, man, you know. I like to crank it up. I’m into the raw sound so it’s definitely got a healthy aspect of rock and roll and punk in it for sure.

SM: Kind of like how Ted Nugent plugs directly into his amps and rips from there.

PC: (laughter) Yeah, the Nuge! Luckily he and I are nothing alike politically.

SM: I recently came across a video of you jamming out with Johnny Winter at his 70th birthday celebration at B.B. King’s in NYC last year. How awesome was that for you?

PC: That was just a legendary night. Johnny’s 70th birthday. He asked me to play with him. Ironically the first concert I ever saw was Johnny Winter. So it was a real monumental night for me.

SM: Was that the big highlight of your career so far?

One of Popa Chubby’s idols, Leslie West, at Bethel Woods (Woodstock 40th Anniversay) Aug. 15, 2009. photo: Steve Malinski/The Polytechnic

PC: One of them. There have been a lot of high points and that’s definitely one of them, on stage with one of my idols. I was really lucky too because he passed away shortly after that. It’s been quite a year. I’ve gotten to play with a lot of the guys I grew up listening to. Johnny Winter, Leslie West, just great stuff. It’s been awesome.

SM: You just returned from a Eurpoean tour that spanned five countries. What was that experience like?

PC: We did a month long European tour, myself and a band I’m working with called the Balkun Brothers out of Hartford, CT, a duo along the lines of the Black Keys…Blue Cheer, MC5, like the heavier side of blues rock. So we just killed it in Europe and now we’re coming back. It starts this weekend in Troy and I’m really psyched to be up there, I love the area. I’ve played I the Albany area for a long time and it’s gonna be great.

SM: Are the crowds over there in Europe much different than what they are like here?

PC: I wouldn’t say they’re different. It’s just… it’s just been awesome, so great. I’m just so lucky to be doing what I’m doing, man. I’m sitting in my studio right now and I’m looking at my wall with poster of a lot of my heroes. People like Hubert Humlin, and Leslie West is up there, and of course Johhny’s up there, Jimi Hendrix. I’m just so lucky to be doing what I’m doing. Really just happy to be playing music and guitar.

SM: So I’ve counted 24 releases that you’ve had in your career and you’ll soon be adding a 25th – a live album. What can you tell us about that?

PC: A double live record, Big, Bad and Beautiful. I think in a large sense this is a career-defining record for me. It really sums up 25 years of work and it really came together, man. We recorded it last spring in France when we were on tour and I’m really proud of it. It’s 27 songs and it reflects a lot of my stuff  – old, new, and in between. So I’m really happy about this record and it’s been great. It’s coming out on Cleopatra in January.

SM: I’ve never had a chance yet to see you live but from what I’ve heard of you since I first stumbled on you music at my college radio station
back in 2007 and from videos I’ve seen it seems like you have a deep passion for music. What’s so special about the blues and rock and roll to you?

PC: You know what, I can’t really speak for the blues and rock and roll, but I can speak about my music. It’s hard and it’s raw. It’s like…my music reflects what I grew up listening to. For me, like when punk rock came around, seeing bands like The Ramones and Richard Hell & The Voidoids, The Damned, and The Deadboys and stuff like that. There was an immediacy, that and the guitars would just rip your face off. And even seeing bands like Motörhead, Metallica and Black Sabbath, then going back to listen to people like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, it’s all got the same element to it. It’s like, no bullshit, man. It’s like, straight up.

SM: You’ve got a lot of shows coming up, including the one this Friday at The Hangar in Troy, Daryl’s House, Roulette Theater –

PC: – Yeah we do, man, it’s non-stop. We’ve got a lot, and in January we’re going back to Europe again. Business is just really kickin’ for me. We just got an offer for a festival in Juno, AK, then back to the west coast in the summer.

SM: With all these shows in your home state, do you have anything special lined up?

PC: I’m always happy to play in New York, man. Especially this time of the year – November, December – is when I’m local and get to play all my favorite shows. And definitely Troy/Albany is a hotspot for me. I’ve recorded a lot of records there, also in Saratoga back in the 90’s…oh man, I can’t even remember the name of the club! It might have been Metronome or something like that [The Metro]. But anyway we recorded Hit the High Hard One up there. So that region has always been really great for me and I’m really excited to get back up there to play. So it’s gonna be a great show. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, I really appreciate it.

SM: Same to you, it’s been a pleasure.