Popa Chubby is a native New York City blues guitarist/singer. He was born in the Bronx as Ted Horowitz and as a teenager, moved to Flushing where he started playing the guitar. His early influences were blues based rock artists such as: The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. After jamming around with local friends he landed a gig with punk rock poet Richard Hell. This was Popa's first road gig and he has never looked back. After reading liner notes and stories of musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King on records and magazines, he decided to look into these blues greats and started playing their songs. He built his blues career by relentless performing and touring. As the house band in "Manny's Car Wash" in New York City, he was approached by Sony Records and signed a record deal with them. On his album "Booty and the Beast" they brought in legendary producer Tom Dowd and Popa had himself a classic blues album. Through the years, he has made many albums and has toured the world at a pace that would humble even the most seasoned superstar. Popa has just released his latest album on Cleopatra Records called. "I'm Feeling Lucky" and guess what? He's going back out on the road to support it. Look for Popa Chubby in a fine venue in your town. I recently caught up with him.
R.V.B. - How are you doing today Mr. Popa?
P.C. - Good, I'm driving through Washington State.
R.V.B. - Really? You're on the west coast?
P.C. - I just finished my tour.
R.V.B. - I see. I understand you're from the Hudson Valley and the Bronx?
P.C. - I was originally from the Bronx but now I live in the Hudson Valley.
R.V.B. - What part of the Valley do you live in because it's a large area?
P.C. - I live near Harriman.
R.V.B. - Oh ok, I actually camped there once, way back in the day.
P.C. - There's a lot of good camping up there man.
R.V.B. - Did you grow up in the Bronx?
P.C. - When I was a kid my parents lived on 181st Street in the Bronx. In my teens I moved to Flushing, Queens and I grew up there for most of my teen years. That's when I started playing music and then I lived in Manhattan for a long time. Now I live upstate.
R.V.B. - So I gather you're a Mets fan.
P.C. - Yankees baby.
R.V.B. - Yankees?
P.C. - Yeah!
R.V.B. - I'll let you slide on that. How can a Flushing guy be a Yankee fan.
P.C. - Because I'm really a Bronx guy.
R.V.B. - Did you get to see Mickey Mantle?
P.C. - No, but I got to see the 69 Mets.
R.V.B. - That's cool. So how did you go about starting a band back in the day? Did you have neighborhood kids that you jammed around with?
P.C. - It always started with the kids in the neighborhood who you thought might be like you. It starts like this... in the beginning you have a bunch of kids who want to play music and every year some of them drop off. By the time you get to be in your late teens, you gotta look somewhere else for people to play with. By the time you're in your 20's most people drop off and only a few are left. If you're still doing this by the time your my age... you can't do anything else, you're a lifer.
R.V.B. - Who were your early influences... when you first picked up the guitar, what songs were you trying to tackle?
R.V.B. - How did you get so deeply involved with the blues.
P.C. - Well it's funny all the music I grew up with in the 70's was blues based rock. I used to see names like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. Kings, Willie Dixon on these records and I used to go who are these people? I started to seek it out and then I realized that all these rock guys like Led Zeppelin and the Stones were all just taking from the blues guys, you know. So I started getting into Freddie King, B.B. King and Albert King. That's kinda how it happened.
R.V.B. - So I understand you were initially involved with a couple of punk guys for a while. How did you enjoy that?
P.C. - Oh, I loved playing punk music man. It's still a big element. I love the energy man. You know what I love? The no bullshit attitude about it. It really got you going and made you excited.
R.V.B. - It is very high energy, that's for sure. I see that you played with Richard Hell. Did you do shows in the Village with him?
P.C. - Yeah, I played everywhere. I toured with him man. I toured both here and Europe. That was my first road gig.
R.V.B. - How crazy were the audiences?
P.C. - Oh it was nuts man. I saw a lot of crazy shit.
R.V.B. - Was that kinda like pre-mosh pit?
P.C. - It was barely mosh pit. It was the beginning of mosh pit.
R.V.B. - Did they Europeans appreciate it as same as the Americans?
P.C. - Pretty much the same. Some people identified with it The punk thing kinda spread and they made their decision of what it meant to be punk. Some people thought it meant to be extremely violent. Some people just didn't give a shit so it wa big everywhere.
R.V.B. - So after that stage, is that when you just concentrated on the blues?
P.C. - Yeah, it just kinda happened. It was an organic pleasure for me.
R.V.B. - In the early stages of your career you obviously played local clubs. Did you just start expanding by playing up in Boston and down in Philly? Did you just gradually spread out?
P.C. - Let me tell you. I became the house band at a very famous club in New York called "Manny's Car Wash" and before you knew it, I was getting offers for record deals. I signed with Sony records and made a record called "Booty and the Beast" which was produced by the legendary Tom Dowd. After that I went to Europe for a while and made records there. I came back here and Cleopatra released my 25th anniversary record and I'm still touring hard.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy working with Tom Dowd, with the history that he has?
P.C. - It was an amazing experience, amazing. A once in a lifetime experience.
R.V.B. - Where was that album recorded, in New York?
P.C. - In New York, we brought Todd up to New York. He was happy to come back to New York. This is where he was from originally.
R.V.B. - How did Todd interact with you? Did he suggest what guitars to use?
P.C. - He didn't get involved on the equipment end? He got involved on the music arrangement end. He did what made a hit record... arrangement, tempo and groove.
R.V.B. - I got you. then you just kept pumping them out... album after album.
P.C. - It was like an unwed mother. It was like an unwed teenage pregnant mother.
R.V.B. - Like a rabbit. hahaha
P.C. - Exactly.
R.V.B.- So about your new album... the musicians that you have on there, is that your touring band?
P.C. - Yes
R.V.B. - So obviously you guys know each other inside and out.
P.C. - Yeah, that's how it came about man. I picked who I knew I could work with closely and intimately with each instrument.
R.V.B. - What inspired you to come up with "I'm feeling Lucky" title for the new record?
P.C. - In all honesty... I'll be totally frank with you. I wrote that song about a good friend of mine Lucky Peterson... a great guitar player. I wanted to get Lucky to play on the record but he had some heart problems. But then... the overall concept man... you just said it bro. I'm still on the road going hard thirty five years later man. Kids, half my age can't keep up with me.
R.V.B. - Now you have a studio in your house?
P.C. - Yes it's in the Hudson Valley.
R.V.B. - Did you guys do this record together as a group or where there some tracks that were sent over the internet and overdubbed?
P.C. - There was only one on this record, and that was Mike Zito making his contribution to "Rock on Bluesman". He sent the track through the internet. Otherwise everything was done live.
P.C. - Absolutely, Dana's my girl man. I've known her since she first started.
R.V.B. - That's really cool. Now as far as your touring days... what are some of the shows that you really enjoyed in your lifetime?
P.C. - There was one show where I had a white limo and two black hookers.
R.V.B. - Hahahaha. So you were like an oreo.
P.C. - Exactly. I'm not about all that man. I just want to show up and play my guitar. I don't care where I am. I just go where they send me. To me they're all good. I'm just happy to be doing what I'm doing.
R.V.B. - Did you ever get teamed up on a bill with B.B. King or Johnny Winter or anyone like that?
P.C. - Yep, I've played with them all through the years. Everyone has been a great experience. Well I played with Johnny for his 70th birthday bash. It was amazing.
R.V.B. - So you're just coming back from tour, and you're gonna come back and release the album and go right back out?
P.C. - Exactly, we're going to Europe on the 30th of October.
R.V.B. - Where is your release party?
P.C. - It's in New York City at the Waterfront Ale House. It's a free show and everyone's invited.
R.V.B. - Nice. So I understand that you have a pit-bull doggie?
P.C. - I do.
R.V.B. - What's his name?
P.C. - His name is Timba, Timba Dog
R.V.B. - Was he a rescue dog? because I see that you're involved with that.
P.C. - Yeah, he was a rescue. He was rescued from a house where they were breeding Pit-bulls. I got him when he was a little puppy.
R.V.B. - How do you help out with helping the breed? Do you donate proceeds? How do you go about helping out with that?
P.C. - Well we help where we can. I have a friend back east in Gunnar Carlson who does rescue and re-trains pit-bulls as service dogs for Vets. A lot of Vets that are coming back from battle, are very damaged and the dogs really help them.
R.V.B. - That's really a nice thing that you do. Are you feeling good these days? Are you in good health?
P.C. - Yeah, I'm in good health man... thank God. I had a car accident in 2000 and it messed up my ankles real bad but besides that, everything's great. I took off about a hundred pounds and take the right vitamins and that's it.
R.V.B. - Well congratulations on your new album and have a great tour.
P.C. - Thanks
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permission.
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