Matthew Stubbs is a veteran of the Boston music scene and also a nationally touring musician; he has been playing guitar in Charlie Musselwhite’s live band for 14 years. But in 2018, he was temporarily out of a job when Musselwhite recorded a record with Ben Harper, then turned behind with Harper’s band. He needed something else that would pay his bills, so he and his friend and fellow guitarist Pat Faherty decided to start a band that would play traditional Chicago blues, evocatively named “GA-20,” from after the vintage Gibson amplifier. Stubbs and Faherty love music, and they thought there weren’t a lot of acts around this style.
In 2019, GA-20 released âLonely Soul,â a record that definitely recalls vintage Chicago electric blues. Follow-up “Try it… You might like!” came out in August, and that’s a bit of a change; it’s a tribute to one of perhaps lesser-known blues greats, Hound Dog Taylor. The GA-20’s lean setup – two guitars, drums, no bass – is what Hound Dog used, and over the course of the album‘s 10 songs, they capture the visceral, straightforward and unbalanced rawness of his music. âI wanted the production to represent what he did, but still sound like GA-20 doing it,â says Stubbs. The trio is successful on both counts.
After winning the Blues Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards, GA-20 performs Hound Dog at Brighton Music Hall on Friday. We spoke about the project with Stubbs in a recent Zoom conversation.
Q. What made you decide to do a Hound Dog Taylor tribute?
A. It sort of happened during the pandemic. We had already done a sequel to “Lonely Soul”. We delayed its release because we wanted to make sure we could turn behind. We were just sitting around doing nothing. We were compared to Hound Dog just because of our instrumentation, so I concocted the idea because I thought it would be a fun project.
Q. The record has another connection with Hound Dog besides the music; it was co-edited by your label and by Alligator Records, which was his label.
A. This year was the 50th anniversary of Hound Dog Taylor’s debut record on Alligator Records, and Alligator’s 50th anniversary; Bruce Iglauer, the owner, launched it to produce this record. I talked to Bruce about what it was like to be in the room with Hound Dog and his group, how they fell into place, what the energy was like. We tried to settle in the same way.
Q. Taylor only released two studio records, so you had a pretty limited repertoire of songs to choose from. How did you make your choices?
A. We were all pretty locked up, but we met once a week in a screened porch in front of my house. We just set up a little sound system and these little amps and a little drums and that would be, okay, let’s try these three. Each of us [Stubbs, Faherty, and drummer Tim Carman] pick the ones we love and perform them, trying to find what had a lot of energy and the spirit of the originals. From a production point of view, I was thinking about the sequence of the songs. I won’t do all the shuffles, I won’t do all the slows. We ended up settling for 10 – eight Hound Dog originals and two covers that he played a lot.
Q. Hound Dog Taylor is known, among other things, to have had a sixth finger on each hand (a photo of his left hand graces the cover of âTry It.. You Might Like It!â). Pat Faherty basically plays the role of Hound Dog on the record, singing and playing slide guitar. Did he somehow add another finger, or did he manage to do it with just five?
A. I don’t think you really need more than two fingers to do the Hound Dog style. It’s pretty raw and straight ahead. But the interesting fact is that Pat didn’t really play slide guitar until we came up with this idea. I called him up and said, ‘Look, I’m going to produce it and I have to do all these other things; you need to learn how to read a slide for recording. So he learned to slide in about four weeks.
Q. What is your response to those who say the GA-20 plays a style of music that few people care about?
A. I think the blues, in many ways, has a bad PR problem these days. The kind of blues we love is the traditional blues, and not just the Chicago blues – I mean we’re heavily in Chicago, but the blues of the 50s, 60s, early 70s is what I love. really. These days I feel like when you say ‘blues’ a lot of people think of a different kind of blues – they go for modern blues or blues rock. We’re doing a rock show, we’re noisy. you come to see us [and] it’s like a rock’n’roll show, but we play traditional blues.
I want to make records that are timeless, much like what happened with the revival of traditional country and the revival of soul and funk music. The Blues did not have that, unfortunately. We are trying to do it.
At Brighton Music Hall, December 17 at 8 p.m. $ 20, www.livenation.com
The interview has been edited and condensed. Stuart Munro can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.