Inside the cover of his latest album, Vicious Country, Popa Chubby tells us how both he and Galea felt when standing on the very spot where Elvis stood in the legendary Sun Studios. He then goes on to explain his aims for the album. “Vicious Country is born and you are welcome to come visit. This is music to listen to, and enjoy, so sit back, light up, and rock out to Vicious Country.”
Well Popa, I’m afraid I can only do four out of five of those things. Sit back? Are you crazy? Sitting back is the one thing you can’t do to a Popa Chubby album. Suddenly your feet become possessed with the spirit of dead tap dancers, and before you know it, you are jiving around like that sad uncle at a wedding.
Ted Horoeitz was born in 1960 and brought up in the Bronx. He spent most of that time listening to the juke box playing the hits from the late fifties. It clearly left a lasting impression on him. When he was seven, his dad took him to Madison Square Garden where he saw an oldies show, the star of which was Chuck Berry. That was the defining moment.
Many years later, after working with several groups, the Popa Chubby Band was formed. He took the title from the song of the same name. He says, on his Myspace page, “it basically means to get excited. The core of my music is about excitement. I think music should make people feel alive.”
Since then Popa Chubby has been touring and releasing album after album. His work rate is phenomenal. He has carved out a huge following in Europe whilst maintaining his influence on the blues scene in New York. His musical style is on the edge blues where it often ‘high fives’ with rock, rap, and hip hop.
Following on from last year’s highly successful Deliveries After Dark, comes Vicious Country. There are covers of some of the songs that have inspired him, along with Popa and Galea originals. At times there is enough energy to power your neighbourhood.
Bass and vocals are added of course by Galea, drums by Steve Holley, some wonderful steel comes from Claude Langlois, and then there’s the country fiddle of Doug Moody, and not forgetting the keys of Dave – yep — Keyes.
The album opens with a glorious romp through a scene setting version of Gene Vincent (and Tex Davis’) “Race With The Devil”. Next up on the Popa jukebox comes “Six Days On The Road”, written by Earl Green, and Carl Montgomery, a track that includes some great slide and trademark Popa guitar breaks. No one is sitting back after an opening like this.
The first original, “Baby Don’t You Care”, is next and comes straight out of Sun Studios as Popa relives that magical visit. Charlie and Ira Louvin’s 1960 gospel classic, “Satan Is Real”, joins nicely into a romping version of (Shelton) Hank Williams III’s “Straight To Hell”. Doug Moody’s fiddle, Popa’s guitar, Galea’s vocals, and some gorgeous slide from Claude complete the picture.
Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down” is given a whole breath of new life. There is love and respect aplenty here. Another pairing, this time sung simultaneously, of Alfred Brumley’s lively fiddle soaked gospel, “I’ll Fly Away” has Popa leading whilst Galea counters with “I Shall Not be Moved”. Again Doug’s fiddle is on fire.
“Mona Lisa Tattoo”, brilliantly written by Galea, has some great smile inducing lyrics and a fantastic workout from Popa’s guitar, and, of course, that fiddle. Popa’s own blues-drenched “Break Me Down” oozes late night sleaze, during which his guitar simply smokes.
The beautiful, instantly recognisable instrumental “Sleepwalk” is given the Popa treatment and leads nicely into the original Popa/Galea written “Start All Over Again”. It’s another set of superb lyrics. Galea’s “Sam’s Lay Pistol” shows she's not going to be a lady to mess with again.
Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, a hit for Jeannie C. Riley back in 1968, has Galea covering vocals. Just listen as a great story unfolds. “Act Naturally”, made famous by The Beatles’ Ringo in the film Help!, but written earlier by Johnny Russell, and Voni Morrison, brings it all to a regrettable close.
There is more, though. Included on the CD are two live videos of “Race With The Devil” and “Satan is Real/Straight To Hell”. They both confirm that if you want a real fun night out, then go and see Popa Chubby at a town near you.
With Vicious Country, a trip through that juke box of old, Popa and Galea have delivered exactly what they promised in that quote from the album cover. My only complaint is that I haven’t sat down much!