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G. Love's Specialty Is Ragmop Blues : Pop music: He and his band, Special Sauce, have attracted good reviews and a core of fans. They will be at the Roxy tonight.

October 28, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Garrett Dutton III thinks that he could have been a contender as a shooting forward, but then he got hooked by the blues and became G. Love. Now his basketball passion is channeled into such songs as "Shooting Hoops," one of the engaging narratives that form the debut album by G. Love & Special Sauce.

Coupled with steady touring (the group appears tonight at the Roxy), the record has soaked up admiring reviews and attracted a base coalition of roots mavens and college-rock eclectics.

Dutton, a rangy youngster with Elvis features and thrift-shop duds, is only 21, but he's done some serious digging.

The song "Blues Music" is his manifesto, a litany of influences from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bukka White to Leadbelly and Booker T. to James Brown and Jimmy Smith. He doesn't listen to much current music--he can't, since he doesn't own a CD player. The song "Town to Town" ends with the sound of a needle skipping on a scratchy record.

But don't file it under blues, exactly. G. Love and his two sidemen call it ragmop .

"It just came one day," says the Philadelphia native, his acquired drawl and jiving inflection giving his conversation the same kind of jumpy flow he brings to his music. "It's just a combination of everything I listened to, which was blues, reggae and hip-hop.

"Those were the three musics I was really listening to. Blues for myself when I'm playing guitar. . . . And reggae when I'm hangin' out with my friends or somethin', and hip-hop when we're drivin' around."

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The sound of ragmop is a timeless evocation of the rural blues, with G. Love's mumbling, murmuring vocals set in an earthy, natural framework that emphasizes the spontaneity and interaction of the players.

"Everybody is so caught up, man, in high-tech gear and high-tech production," Dutton says, sitting near the pool at his Hollywood hotel during a recent visit.

"For us, like all the records I listen to are set up with a mike in a room. That's what sounds right to me. All that (expletive) don't sound right to me. I don't want to sound like (expletive) Phil Collins, you know."

Dutton grew up near Philadelphia's South Street, absorbing the polyglot promenade's multicultural flavor. He started playing guitar at age 8, and under the spell of Bob Dylan wrote his first song at 15. He began singing in the streets, first with friends and then alone, an M.O. he continued after moving to Boston in search of musical fulfillment.

"Playing on the streets, that was my best time ever, man. I used to love that. . . . I'd play for four hours straight. In the sun and the cold and everything. I just did it, man, I was into that (expletive). I was pretty much able to just be in my own world. I felt like a lot of strength just from being out there."

Dutton's ambitions were modest--sell his homemade tapes and play the coffeehouses. But after he hooked up with bassist Jimmy Prescott and drummer Jeffrey Clemons, he began moving up the ladder on the Boston club circuit. The trio eventually connected with manager Jonathan Block, who got them a deal with Epic Records' newly revived Okeh label--appropriately, one of the major companies in blues history.

"It was intensely emotional," Dutton says of that step. "You have to understand, like a million kids have a dream about doin' what I'm doin' right now. So, of course, everybody tells you, from your guitar teachers to your parents, your parents' friends to your friends to their older brothers, everybody tells you that you're crazy. And you are, which is why you try to do it in the first place.

"And then if it works, then it's like, 'Holy (expletive), I can't believe this.' It's crazy, man. It was like so lucky. It's such a beautiful thing. I remember like cryin', man, to my drummer, we were so happy. It's like a dream come true."

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For Dutton, the next step involves a diminished presence for the hip-hop element and a sound that's even more primitive.

"I don't see us gettin' any more produced," he says. "I see us gettin' even more raw on the second album. We're talking about rentin' a loft in New Orleans and just shackin' out for a couple of weeks and runnin' the (tape recorder) and gettin' a couple of mikes in the room. Just real simple like that.

"When you hear us live it probably sounds pretty old-fashioned, I guess. We've played for all-black crowds, we've played for all-white crowds, mixed crowds. . . . Everybody. We've opened up for Booker T. & the MG's, we've opened up for Run-DMC.

"We've found that anybody who can be opened up to a good time can get into it. We can always suck people into what we're doin' 'cause we're real. . . . We're not trying to be anything. We're kind of a bar band, you know."

* G. Love & Special Sauce play tonight at the Roxy, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $12 . (310) 276-2222.

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