Popa Chubby

Live and Dangerous
Popa Chubby
Popa Chubby: Nelson Onofre.

Like all great rock and roll, Popa Chubby’s new double album, Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint NYC, invokes a sense of danger and attitude, powered by the exceptional playing of the man born Theodore Horowitz. Also known as “The Beast from the East,” Popa is a hard-working musician who performs hundreds of shows each year worldwide.

VG recently spoke with him as he prepped to tour of the South.

What were your thoughts behind putting out a live record, and how did it come about?
It’s great to be working with Gulf Coast Records as they really get it. The record was tracked live by Glenn Forrest, who I trained 30 years ago to be a recording engineer. Since that time, Glenn has built one of the most-amazing facilities I’ve ever seen, in Long Island City. He’s recently started to do records for bigger labels by The Roots, Meshell Ndegeocello, and a bunch more.

For this record, we went in there for two days with an invitation-only studio audience and had a five-camera shoot, so there’s video accompanying every song. In the end, we came up with more than two hours of music recorded live with my dream band.

Who makes up that dream band?
Mike Merritt on bass, Mike DiMeo on keys, and my longtime bandmate Stefano Giudici on drums. Because we’d done a lot of shows together, this band was road-ready, and we couldn’t wait to record!

It’s a no-nonsense recording that carries a sense of danger…
Well, good (laughs)! I always think of Keith Richards, when that guy came onstage and Keith cracked him with his Telecaster, puts the guitar back on and keeps playing. You look at the original blues guys, and that danger was a real part of the blues. I try to keep that alive in my music.

Though you’re a vintage-guitar collector, you tend to play just one guitar live – your ’66 Strat, “The Beast.” What draws you to the Stratocaster, and especially that one?
The Strat, to me, is the most-expressive instrument; it gives the greatest opportunities for tonal fun and just feels good in my hand.

About 25 years ago, a friend called saying he needed to get rid of some guitars, and among those I bought from him was the ’66 – pristine at the time. I picked it up and fell in love, and it’s been my main guitar ever since. It has done thousands of shows, and the wear is all mine! Several years back, it fell off the stage and broke into three pieces. I brought the pieces back to New York and Rick Kelly, of Carmine Street Guitars, glued it back together. It actually plays better now, and it’s the only guitar on the new live record.

Which amps and effects do we hear on the record?
I used my ’66 Vibrolux Reverb with Eminence Little Buddy speakers, which I really like, as they give a lot of articulation but still stay Fender-ish.

As for effects, I used an Analogman Tubescreamer 808, a Wampler Tape Delay, a Dunlop Mini Jimi Hendrix wah, and a prototype Deja Vibe – the first ever made, and the best one I’ve ever heard.

For this latest tour, I’m now down to one pedal – the 808 – because the road sometimes dictates your rig and the less I carry, the happier I am.

There are some choice covers on the album. How’d you select them?
It’s a fan-driven “best of” record, and the tunes are all songs the fans requested. I’m a big fan of giving the people what they want… plus I love playing that sh*t (laughs). I’ll never tire of it!

You spend half the year playing to European audiences. How do they compare with those stateside?
They’re bigger (laughs)! But basically, it’s a universal experience man…you go out, you setup, you play and hopefully people dig it and come away with a little happiness and enlightenment. And that’s really what the game is at the end of the day, and I try to keep it at that. This is my job, this is my passion, and this is what I love to do and I gotta go through a lot of things I don’t wanna do to do it, like traveling 36 hours straight for a 90-minute show. After the show, you sell a little merch and talk to people, and hopefully see that spark in their faces, how they’re lit up, and how some feel their lives are changed. That’s a big gift, and a big responsibility – and I’m still doin’ it!

This article originally appeared in VG’s November 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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