Garrett Dutton—better known as G. Love—knows he’s lucky to still be making music. His band, G. Love and Special Sauce, which plays Greenfield Lake Amphitheater Friday, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its debut album this year. But Dutton—whose contemporaries include hard-touring singer-songwriters Dave Matthews, Ben Harper and Michael Franti—also knows the effort it took to get here.
“There has to be real passion and work ethic and originality to keep things going,” he says. “If you don’t keep creating new stuff, you’re basically going to die.”
Dutton grew up in Philadelphia at a time when rock music and hip-hop were just beginning to coexist. He idolized The Beatles and Delta blues singer John Hammond. His neighbors were The Roots. During an unusually productive night of busking—“I made $60, two beers, one joint and two cigarettes,” Dutton recalls fondly—he had an epiphany. While strumming his guitar, he began to rap Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” over an original blues song. Just like that, the G. Love sound was born.
Eventually, Dutton moved to Boston and formed G. Love and Special Sauce with drummer Jeffrey Clemons and bassist Jim Prescott. He didn’t have many expectations, but knew his musical heroes Hammond and Bob Dylan had both released their first albums at age 20.
“I got hip to John Hammond when I was 17, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got three years to make a record,’” he says. G. Love and Special Sauce signed with Okeh/Epic Records in 1993, just months before Dutton’s 21st birthday.
Now 46, Dutton appears at ease with his elder statesman status. He’s moved to Cape Cod and speaks glowingly about his kids. He still plays between 150 and 200 shows a year but has begun going onstage earlier (Clemons and Prescott, both 10 years his senior, have been with him since the beginning). He’s happy to play his hits, which include the surprisingly chaste day-drinking anthem “Cold Beverage” (written when Dutton was still underage) and “Rodeo Clowns,” featuring then unknown protégé Jack Johnson. He’s about to get married.
In conversation, Dutton is predictably laid-back, speaking with a slackerish drawl and punctuating points with the word “man.” Until he’s asked about the president.
“Can you imagine what the last three years would have been like with Hillary Clinton in office?” Dutton says, sounding weary. “Like, whether you loved her or not, you wouldn’t wake up every day and be like, ‘Oh, there’s fucking babies in cages at the border and our president is hobnobbing with dictators and insulting the prime minister of Canada,’ or whatever.”
The singer admits a wariness about overgeneralizing (“I’m not the smartest guy about politics”), but sees our current political divide as a clear choice between right and wrong.
“I’m not saying one group is made up of good people and one group is bad, but it’s almost to the point right now where it’s like ‘Star Wars,’” Dutton says. “You’re either a rebel with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, or you’re a storm trooper with fucking Darth Vader. So what is it going to be?”
He’s frustrated, too, by what he perceives as the indifference of musicians more concerned with selling tickets than speaking their mind. Dutton learned this the hard way. In 2015, when Clinton announced her candidacy for president, Dutton posted a screenshot to Instagram along with the Grateful Dead lyric, “The women are smarter.” The blowback from fans was immediate. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Wow, holy shit. People fucking hate her!’”
Now, he says, he hardly bats an eye when fans tell him to stick to music. “The most obnoxious thing the trolls—or maybe even people that are real fans—like to do is say, ‘I like you for your music, stay away from politics,’ or, ‘You’re supposed to be an entertainer, I don’t want to hear about this stuff.’ It’s like, if you’re saying that to me, you obviously missed the message of what I’ve been saying the whole time.”
He sought to address these concerns on the band’s 12th album, “The Juice,” expected next year. The title track is a protest song about standing up to a regressive regime. Another, “Go Crazy,” Dutton describes as “a party tune for our frustrated, anxiety-ridden times.”
There’s also more traditional G. Love fare, like “Soul B Que” (“It’s a barbecue for your soul,” Dutton explains), as well as songs about Dutton’s soon-to-be wife. The singer welcomes the changeup from his somewhat bleaker relationship songs of yesterday.
“When Jack [Johnson] plays he always says, ‘The love songs are about my wife, the breakup songs are about my friends,’” Dutton recalls. “That’s kind of where I’m at now.”
Still, he admits producing hits isn’t as easy as it used to be. “I’ll say that after you’ve been in the game for a while, it’s harder and harder to get people to be interested in your new material. Even if you’re someone on our level.” Whether it’s the talk of Trump or simply the weathering effects of a long career, the topic makes him wistful, but the mood doesn’t last long. “I don’t know, if you come up with some dope shit, then people are going to love it.”
G. Love and Special Sauce
with Kristy Lee
Friday, September 20, 7 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.
$25-$30 • philadelphonic.com