(SKH) Popa Chubby returns with a new album titled Back To New York City on October 11. The singer shares, "If there's one thing I want people to know about me, it's that I'm a survivor."
His story reads like a docudrama, having faced challenges that easily could have placed him on a path of no return. The death of his father at the age of seven left him to largely fend for himself, where at 18 he wound up in New York with a debilitating heroin habit that placed him on the streets by his early twenties.
His move to begin playing again saved his life, rising from the New York Blues scene of the early '90s, and forging a successful worldwide career that continues to thrive today.
Following two initial albums on his own Laughing Bear label, he was signed to Sony's briefly revived O-Keh Records, the one-time imprint of Mamie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other influential blues and jazz artists. Popa Chubby came into his own as a songwriter with 2002's The Good, The Bad & the Chubby with the affectingly sincere post-9/11 testimonial "Somebody Let the Devil Out." Over the next decade, he has continually aimed to straddle the rock and blues, a task expertly accomplished by an extraordinary blend of song craft, musicianship and personality in Back To New York City that telegraphs the message "what you hear is what you get."
The new album displays why Popa Chubby is one of the genre's most popular figures. His imposing figure, weighing more than 300 pounds with a shaven head, tattooed arms, a goatee, and a performing style he describes as "the stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, Jimi Henreix meets Robert Johnson, and so on makes his indelibly one of a kind. The discs 11 cuts flip the blues-rock label around, putting rock at the fore and the pedal to the metal with fat, scalding guitar sounds and stories plucked from true life. Some, like the rubber-burning title track and the pleading "A Love That Will Never Die," are autobiographical tales that channel what's deep in his blood as well as the fevered pulse of the city Popa Chubby has called home for 30 years. Others, like "Stand Before the Sun" and his sweet 'n' sizzling take on Johan Sebastian Bach's instrumental "Jesus Joy of Man's Desiring," chronicle his search for spiritual enlightenment, which has led Popa Chubby to practice Tai Chi and Chi Kung before his sweat-soaked concerts. And then there are pure shots of fun like the chest-thumping "Warrior Gods," which thunders along like a long-lost Motörhead gem, and "She Loves Everybody But Me," a tongue-in-cheek hard-core Texas shuffle that purposefully nods to Stevie Ray Vaughan in its skyrocketing leads and solos.
Popa Chubby, who was born Ted Horowitz, sees Back To New York City as a career album. He shares, "This is such an inspiring time to be a guitarist, because there are so many great players recording and touring now. The bar has been raised, so I've had to raise the level of my own performances by necessity, and for this album I went for intensity wall to wall." Papa Chubby is joined by bassist A.J. Pappas, drummer Dan Hickey, and organist / piano man Dave Keyes on the tracks cut at his own Serpentine Sound studios in New York's Hudson Valley. As is the case with Back To New York City, Popa Chubby has produced all of his recordings since working with the Olympian producer Tom Dowd (Derek & the Dominos, Cream, John Coltrane, etc.) on 1995's Booty and the Beast, which yielded the radio hit "Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer."
Popa Chubby is clearly a reflective man, he has, indeed, never gone back. His career has always been about moving forward and carving a place for himself in the imposing terrain of the music business, overcoming odds to continue growing and maturing as a creative force, building a constantly increasing base of fans across the world. Yet, as the title of Back To New York City implies, the Big Apple has always been the True North of his artistic compass. "That's my home; that's where my heart is and where everything started for me," he says, "and as much as I love to tour, when I'm on the road I miss it."