G. Love paints the canvas of life, both onstage and off

Tahoe Onstage

G. Love & Special Sauce spiced up Lake Tahoe on Thursday, March 29.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Do you know who Garrett Dutton is?

No, the name doesn’t sound familiar? How about G. Love, do you know him? Sometimes with Special Sauce? Sings, plays guitar and harmonica, likes cold beverages? Well, they are one in the same. So, now do you know who Garrett Dutton is?

Before I talked to Dutton for Tahoe Onstage, all I knew about him is that his music as G. Love and Special Sauce was of the first things I got into to when I first started to “listen” to music. Growing up I always thought my cousin, who was eight years older, was probably one of the coolest guys I knew. Loud, funny, life-of-the-party type guys who could make you feel great just by being in his orbit. He told stories about his days in college and his band Funhole and how they used to tear up the local college scene with mischievous abandon. To a 13-year old kid just starting high school, how is that not the pinnacle of cool?

Tahoe Onstage/ Larry SaboNaturally, I tried to pick up some of the things he was laying down and see if some of that cool might rub off on me. One of the things I picked up was G. Love and Special Sauce. The two things my cousin liked the most was playing the guitar and late-’80s/early 90s hip-hop and in G. Love he found a combination of both. I could hear those sly guy rhymes percolating over the scratchy, blues-inspired riffs on tracks such as “This Ain’t Living” and “Cold Beverage” off G. Love and Special Sauce’s debut album and felt how fun and loose it all was, just a dude with a guitar laying down rhymes.

So thinking of my cousin, I had to know: who are Dutton’s all-time hip-hop titans?

“De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, KRS-One, Eric B. and Rakim, Cypress Hill and The Pharcyde are my top all-time (laughs)” Dutton said.

Hip-hop may be a part of Dutton’s roots, but his music has since flowered into something more rich and colorful over the course of his career, which now spans more than two decades. He’s explored a love of dusty blues and backroads music with The Avett Brothers on “Fixin’ To Die,” his album “Lemonade” was a breezy jaunt of rock and singer-songwriter sensibilities and “Love Saves The Day” is a melted down grab bag of uplifting grooves and beats, featuring everyone from Lucinda Williams to  Ozomatli to DJ Logic. Did you know dude even has a Christmas album, last year’s “Coming Home From Christmas”?

Needless to say, he’s a rolling stone who has never really gathered any moss. His albums come at a steady and consistent pace, always solid and offering something a little new, and his fans remain a loyal and dedicated bunch. To Dutton, it’s no mystery as to what allows him to keep down this troubadour career path.

“Really, it’s a testament to the support we’ve gotten from our fan base, our record label and independent radio. Lot of love from the fans. Mostly we’ve been able to continue for 25 years on the strength of our live performance and that connection with the fans. You know how musicians say, ‘we couldn’t do it without the fans’  — well, it’s true, you can’t do it without the love you get from the people. Certainly there are times where you wonder what your doing this whole thing for, then you’ll go out and have a show and connect with those people and you’ll feel that love. That’s what it’s all about,” Dutton said.

As for why Dutton still keeps at it, there’s a multitude of reasons. There’s the responsibility of feeding one’s family, of keeping his crew and band members and their families fed and clothed. There’s the responsibility to fans, to show up and give them a performance as good as the records they’ve come to love. There’s also the all-important heady, emotional aspect of doing something you’ve always felt moved to do, fuel to follow the muse.

“Number one, I’ve always had this urge to write songs, record them and play them for people. I don’t know where it came from but that’s how I felt when I wrote my first songs at 15 and recorded them to my cassette deck, just the same way now if I go write a song on a park bench. Me, I love to play music for people, I love to feel the energy of the crowd. It’s quite an addiction. You feel this energy that you can go make people feel inspired, you can go make them happy every night and give them love or lift them up. Or, just give them a good party, it’s very simple,” Dutton said.

It’s also not only about music for Dutton. Just as he can paint rhymes for the summer time with his music, he can lay down visual verses with his art and graffiti. He’s been tagging, drawing, doodling and arting around for as long as he’s been performing; that’s his G. Love and Special tag scribbled on the cover of his debut. His art-on-anything ethos has since evolved to selling hand-painted set lists on canvases and tagging chairs.

“It’s been really cool, people are excited to get them. The next thing I started to do was a chair. I sit in a chair for a good amount of time at my show, there’s always a chair on stage. So the next thing I started doing was painting these chairs, I call them blues chairs. Same thing, let me start selling these chairs. I’d go get a chair at a thrift store, paint them up and sell them up onstage. Then I’d go to a thrift store and start getting chairs and then see a shitty little canvases with a painting on it and think, ‘I can just paint over it and do my thing.’

“So I did that and, again, people liked them and ordered them. Now it’s a thing. Now, if I have a day off I’ll go to a thrift store and grab 15 or so canvases and spend the day painting these paintings. I do it because I love to do it, just graffiti on a canvas,” Dutton said.

If there was one thing I learned about Dutton during our conversation, it was that he seemed like a genuine, down-to-earth guy who values human connection and spreading the love. I mean, he has an album called “Love Saves The Day,” But even so, where some people might insulate themselves from fans and other musicians, Dutton seems intent on bringing as many people into his circle as possible. At the very least, he’s lending a hand where he can. Not too much else you need to know about a person.

“I always put the money I made from selling paintings aside so I can support the other artists that I like and their art. I’m into cultivating talent. So if I can help an up-and-coming singer buying their work with money that I made playing or selling my own artwork, that feels pretty good to me. It’s always been my mission to inspire people by playing music or making music, even when they thought they couldn’t.

“There’s a guy named Jack Johnson. He wasn’t trying to be one of the world’s biggest rock stars, but I saw something and helped him bring it out. There’s a lot of people like that, Slightly Stoopid, The Expendables, Jasper, where I saw something in them and told them, ‘hey, you’re great.’ I’m all about that,” Dutton said.

– Garrett Bethmann

Related story: G. Love pulls Ron Artist II & The Truth out of hiding.

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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