Popa Chubby bringing ‘Prime Cuts’ to Geneseo Blues-rock guitarist talks candidly, plays hard and defies definitions

Popa Chubby: “Music should be dangerous ... The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, they were not just bands, but threats to society.”

Blues-rock musician Popa Chubby includes a holiday song, “There on Christmas,” among the 15 tracks on “Prime Cuts: The Very Best of the Beast from the East,” his just-released collection of favorite songs from his catalog.

It seems, at first, an unlikely choice from an artist who presents an imposing portrait: shaven head, numerous tattoos, a goatee and a New York City attitude.

“It was an honest and organic gesture. I felt we could use a little Christmas cheer,” he said of including the Christmas song.

And then …

“You can’t really put me in a genre,” said the guitarist, born Ted Horowitz. “I’m like Prince – not that I’m anywhere near his genius, that’s for Kanye, right? – I just want to play music, no matter what the genre.”

Playing favorites

Popa Chubby returns to the Geneseo Riviera, 4 Center St., on Dec. 15 with his high-energy, take-no-guff attitude. He previously played their last September and this time is touring in support of “Prime Cuts,” released in mid-November.

The new album features 15 tracks that are among Popa Chubby’s favorites and several that have never been released.

“People are going to hear all of the hits they want to hear, and stuff from early in my career,” the guitarist said, rattling off a list that includes “San Catri” and “Caffeine and Nicotine.” “We’ll revisit that and have a lot of fun.”

The album also includes “Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer,” fan favorite “Life is a Beatdown” and stylized versions of “Hey Joe” and “Hallelujah.”

Being dangerous

He talks candidly. His music is at times both raw and intimate – you’re as likely to hear in concert his take on “Over the Rainbow” as you are a social commentary song on the current state of affairs with a title that reflects a true New Yorkers attitude, but is not suitable for print (though it also features his daughter, Theodora Horowitz, on violin).

“Music should be dangerous, elements of it,” Horowitz said in a telephone interview from his New York City home. “When Elvis got on stage and shook his hips, people were threatened. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, they were not just bands, but threats to society.”

“Rock ‘n’ roll is not about ‘F’ me, it’s about ‘F’ you. See, I’m getting more mature, I’m not using the F-word,” he said.

‘Just wanted to play’

Popa Chubby has forged a three decades long career, becoming a renowned bluesman after spending his early days immersed in the New York punk scene of the early 1980s. He had moved from his childhood home of Queens to New York’s East Village in 1981 and played with anyone who would take him – including a guitarist for a Japanese performance artist who presented a horror-movie inspired show while wearing a kimono. The artist, Screaming Mad George, taught Popa Chubby his sense of theater.

“I wasn’t thinking of blues when I went to New York City. I was just happy to be a part of the scene,” said Popa Chubby.

“I came just to play what was there, man,” he said. “Always, I just wanted to play. As long as it was good music, I didn’t care about the genre.”

But blues has always been the foundation of his music, which began with a young Popa Chubby playing drums “until my parents decided that drums were too loud,” he said with a laugh.

So he turned to electric guitar. And quickly discovered artists such as Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. Later, he was turned on to the likes of B.B. King, Freddy King, Albert King and Otis Rush, and started to see the connection between them and blues rock.

“It was all the good stuff,” he said, scoffing and what he said passes as a rock band today.

“Greta Van Fleet, this week, I heard referred to as the new Led Zepplin. I fear for the future of humanity,” Popa Chubby said.

(Greta Van Fleet, a rock band from Michigan, scored four Grammy nominations last Friday, including Best New Artist category, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album.)

Going his own way

Popa Chubby had signed with Sony in the 1990s during the height of New York’s underground scene when “major labels were usurping the underground scene to sign acts for their indie labels,” Popa Chubby said.

He recorded one album with noted producer Tom Dowd, who encouraged Popa Chubby to go to Europe, where American blues acts were finding tremendous success. He did and upon his return, ready to record a second major label album, he found his label no longer interested.

“They went from Bruce to fickin’ alternative music,” he said with disdain. “They were chasing money, not the art.”

Undettered – it’s that attitude thing again – Popa Chubby went the indie route, touring the world and record on labels in France, Holland and Blind Pig in the United States, among others.

“Going indie was the best thing I could have done,” he said. “I wound up with a career that few others have had.”

And last year, he was able to buy back control of all his music, which led to “Prime Cuts.”

“It’s 30 years of being in the right place and the right time, working real hard with a modicum of luck,” Popa Chubby said as he reflects on the longevity of his career. “The one thing that doesn’t change is that if you write great songs, people will want to hear them.”

A Quick Look

WHAT: Popa Chubby, in concert.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 15. Doors open at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Geneseo Riviera, 4 Center St., Geneseo.

TICKETS: $25 in advance, $29 at the door. Available online at brownpapertickets.com and the box office.

INFORMATION: Go to geneseoriviera.com or call (585) 481-0036.

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