In early 2020, everything was coming together for Garrett Dutton, who is affectionately known as G. Love to his multitude of fans. He released his 12th album, “The Juice,” and the early praise for the new album was fantastic.
I wasn’t that familiar with G. Love or “The Juice” when I first met Dutton. My music tastes are broad and unfocused; rarely do I know the name of the song I am singing (most likely with the wrong lyrics) or the album that it’s from.
From my time spent on the Gulf Coast, I developed a love for the blues, but that didn’t factor into the conversations that I had with Dutton and his wife Kelsey when we first met on a trip to the desert. While hiking, we talked about kids and chickens (our families both have chickens in our backyards). We enjoyed drinks and beautiful sunsets, and we felt the thrill of nearly falling off mountain bikes as we coursed through a very technical desert single track.
Down to earth and humble, Dutton is easy to get to know. He’s a rare person who shows genuine interest in those around him, and he doesn’t put on airs. But it wasn’t until Dutton picked up his guitar and harmonica that I fully appreciated him as an artist. Listening to him play tracks from “The Juice,” I finally acknowledged the artist and album are special. Dutton also believes “The Juice” is special—and different from his other work. The album was produced by Grammy-winning artist and producer Keb’ Mo’ and features a long list of talented blues artists. After nearly 30 years in the music industry, Dutton has had his share of success but never a Grammy, the music industry’s highest honor. He wanted to rectify that with his new album.
“I’m an off-the-cuff dude,” Dutton replied with his usual frankness when asked why his latest album was different from his other work. “When I make an album, it’s not always thought out in great detail, sometimes I just go with the flow.”
Not this time. Dutton knew what he was doing when he pursued Mo’ to produce “The Juice.” The 68-year-old is a blues legend—and he has five Grammys to prove it.
“After our first meeting, I knew this was going to be different. I sat across from Keb’, and he was direct and asked me what I was trying to do here. He asked what my goal was.”
When Dutton said he wanted to win a Grammy, Mo’ told him that he was going to take a unique approach.
“I had to make the sincerest and most connected record. Every lyric, every note, every performance had to be played with conviction and purpose. The whole thing had to be well thought out.”
The process wasn’t easy for Dutton, but creating art never is. Under Mo’s direction, Dutton worked tirelessly to perfect the album. They built the album from the ground up, then tore it down and built it back up again.
“Keb’ gave me a masterclass in the blues. Sometimes he would say, ‘That lyric sucks, do it again.’ It was hard work. But when we finished the last take, I knew it was worth it. I stand behind every note on this album.”
The two collaborators released the album in January 2020. At the time, Dutton planned to promote the album and was planning to spend much of the year on tour in Australia, Japan, Europe, Canada and the United States. The year held a lot of promise and it was going to be busy—and important.
In his early days, Dutton performed on the streets in his native Philadelphia and loves playing in front of a live audience. Live music and interacting with the crowd inspire him.
“Performing live is part of my creative process. It brings a connection to the audience that motivates me. There’s a tension and a release in a live show. I love it, man.”
With a full touring schedule and a hit album to promote, Dutton was excited to get started. Then COVID-19 hit.
“I was in Santa Barbara with my band Special Sauce,” he said. “When I heard the news, I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is real.’”
As he played his last show and said his goodbyes to his longtime bandmates, the full extent of what was happening started to settle in.
“I’m a musician—I’m not making the rules. At first, I panicked a little. It was a lot to take in.”
For Dutton, panic is not in his nature and once he got home to Cape Cod, he sat down with his wife Kelsey and they worked out a plan. His plan, like his life, revolved around music.
Music venues and concerts were some of the pandemic’s early casualties. Dutton recognized this and knew he had to get creative. That meant playing smaller venues and private parties—often outdoors—and embracing the online live-music movement.
“After 30 years in the business, I’ve learned to be fluid. Things happen. I invested in new equipment for these online shows and adapted. It’s different, playing for thousands of fans from your living room, but it’s still about the music.”
Dutton learned about the power of streaming and the love that his fans have for his music when he joined his old pal Jack Johnson for the Kokua Festival in April 2020. The two-hour livestream event was a benefit for Johnson’s Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which drew hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world to watch the artists perform.
“Kokua was a trip,” Dutton said. “That was the largest audience I’ve ever played in front of—and I performed from my backyard.”
Despite 2020’s challenges, Dutton’s spirits never wavered. Then suddenly, the musician who has given so much to his craft received the news he’d been waiting for.
On Nov. 21, 2020, “The Juice” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. The one-time street performer is finally being recognized as one of the best in the music industry.
“My heart is full, and I have so many people to thank. It’s such an honor to be recognized with so many other great artists.”
It should come as no surprise that Dutton’s performing name is G. Love. The man behind the music is humble and appreciative for everything he’s already achieved. His overall message is one of love and respect—in a time when so many have lost so much and are struggling.
COVID-19 hit musicians hard. It took a way of life away from them, but you wouldn’t know it from Dutton’s attitude—or from the tone of his new album. The more time I spent with Dutton, the more I was reminded that many musicians entertain, but great ones like him inspire us.
The Grammy Awards are scheduled to air on March 14. I’m going to watch the program this year. You got this G.—and the Love is already coming back at you.
While G. Love’s latest album is above all about the blues, it still pulls from the funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop roots of his past. Appearing on the album is a host of big-name talent, including heavyweights Keb’ Mo’, Robert Randolph and Marcus King, just to name a few. The album’s message is positive, and the attention to detail that went into its creation is evident throughout. Light-hearted and fun, without being silly, “The Juice” is the perfect mix for a gathering of friends at an outside barbeque or a long car ride when you just want to sing out loud.
“Go Crazy” – The tune has a hip-hop groove and funky undertones, like much of G. Love’s early work. Keb’ Mo’s distinctive voice adds to Dutton’s laid-back, effortless vocals.
“Fix Your Face” – With Keb’Mo’ on electric guitar, this track is blues rock at its finest. A smooth, soulful rhythm gives this song an almost country blues feel.
“Shake Your Hair” – This track’s pop-funk sound, passionate soul backup singers and Dutton’s rapping message combine to create a fun and uplifting song that will get your toes tapping.
Eric Kallen is the editor-at-large of The Virginia Sportsman.
Cover photo: Contemporary Blues artist G. Love performs songs from his latest album, “The Juice.” Photo by Eric Kallen