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Arts and Culture

GA-20 breaks mission for a send-up to blues legend Hound Dog Taylor

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GA-20 plays The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in Bloomington Friday night.
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Matt Stubbs of the Boston-based GA-20 said the band broke from its mission of creating original blues-rock to honor Hound Dog Taylor, the first artist signed to Chicago’s legendary blues label Alligator Records.

Ahead of their show at the newly opened The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in downtown Bloomington Friday night, Stubbs told WGLT that as a young blues fan, Taylor's sound was unique among blues artists he was listening to.

“Not just him, but the band. The three guys … the way they played together was pretty raw and exciting. Since GA-20 has been a band, we've been compared to Hound Dog a lot because again, we have two guitars and drums, no bass, same as Hound Dog. So, it's always been kind of an inspiration with GA-20,” said Stubbs.

GA-20 was birthed as a blues-rock vehicle for original music. But for this album, Stubbs, fellow guitarist and vocalist Pat Faherty and drummer Tim Carman altered that mission during the pandemic by recording "Try It...You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor."

“I got an email from Bruce Iglauer, the owner of Alligator Records. Last time we were in Chicago, he came out saw us and liked the band. He reached out and was interested in working with us. But we are already signed to a great label called Colemine Records out of Loveland, Ohio. So, I let him know that we're already committed, and we already have two records done and we're just waiting to figure out when we're going to release them because of the pandemic,” said Stubbs.

But before he hit “send,” Stubbs mind sparked when he realized that 2021 was the 50th anniversary of Hound Dog Taylor’s first album and the founding of Alligator Records.

“So, we're sitting on these two records that we can't release, and we got nothing but time,” recalled Stubbs of how he and his bandmates were thinking at the time.

“It'd be kind of cool to do a tribute record to Hound Dog. I pitched it to Bruce and pitched it to Terry Cole, the guy that owns Colemine. We had a few meetings and figured out how it makes sense for everybody to be involved. Bruce had never done a co-release … you know … two labels working together.”

Approaching a tribute album where you're covering some of your favorite artists songs can be tricky. Do you stay true to your own sound or mimic what Hound Dog was doing on his recordings? Or somewhere in between? Stubbs believes GA-20 can’t help being what they are: a blues-rock band that in this case already has a sound similar to what Hound Dog Taylor was doing in the early 1970s.

“Pat, our singer, has his own voice. He is not an imitator. You can't just sound like any singer. He sounds like him when he sings. And I feel that same way with our guitar playing. I wanted to capture the spirit of those first two Hound Dog records. That was the most important thing to me. Just the excitement and the off-the-rails crazy playing like during a live show. After that, well let's get in the ballpark with the sounds of the instruments and stuff like that. So, Pat bought a few guitars like the one that Hound Dog used, and I researched and talked to Bruce a lot about what amps they were using. And that was it. I mean, I knew it wasn't going to be exactly like Hound Dog, but I just wanted to kind of get in the ballpark,” said Stubbs.

Hound Dog’s bandmates, drummer Ted Harvey and second guitarist Brewer Phillips, sometimes get lost when talking about the impact Hound Dog Taylor had for Alligator Records and the entire house rocking blues style. Stubbs said he took on Phillips’ role in this project and conceded those guitar parts were a bit trickier than anticipated.

“It sounds simple, but a lot of these turnarounds he was playing took me a minute to dial it in and figure out how he was doing it. And there's a bunch of songs where he's playing lead where it's not slide and he's a great soloist … equally as good as Hound Dog in my mind … but it was his role to mostly play the low end bass parts,” said Stubbs.

Drummer Tim Carman picked up Harvey’s drum work.

“I know Tim spent a lot of time working on different little things that Ted would do. He has this really cool ride pattern. You hear it once and it sounds like maybe he's making a mistake, but he does it all the time. One thing I remember when in the studio … I thought Tim was messing up once in a while, ‘you're doing it wrong’ and Tim said ‘no no, Ted does this all the time.’ I went back and listen to it. He was right. Also, they were great ensemble they played off of each other,” said Stubbs.

Bruce Iglauer once told a story on WGLT about being on tour with Hound Dog. He said he and Hound Dog would share a room on the road, but Hound Dog had such a traumatic upbringing in the south as a black man that whenever they stayed in a hotel, Iglauer said they had to leave the lights on, as Taylor didn’t like being in the dark. Stubbs said the stories he got from Iglauer were mostly technical questions about the studio sessions and what it was like seeing Hound Dog’s band play live.

“Basically, just studio talk about how they set up and he just basically said they set up like it was a nightclub … like they went in, set up and played like their (live) set that they would play. No overdubs or anything like that. It was just a live set that he recorded to a two-track,” said Stubbs, adding that is how GA-20 recorded this tribute album.

“We actually ended up building a studio in my house,” said Stubbs. “We brought in an engineer and used minimal miking. We all set up in one room depending on the song … six to eight microphones … no more than eight ever … and tried to get all this. I don't think there was one song on the record that took more than two or three takes. We did the whole record in like a day and a half.”

GA-20 plays The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in downtown Bloomington Friday night. JD Simo will open.

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