Beast from the East is on a tear and headed toward DerryBy JULIA ANN WEEKES
NH Weekend Editor August 08. 2018 1:40PM
If you go...WHO: Popa Chubby
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
INFO: tupelomusichall.com or 437-5100
There’s that one guy who just won’t stand for a Popa Chubby show — and he’s at center stage.
“I’ll be honest with you, man, I suffer from pretty debilitating physical conditions,” said the New York electric blues guitarist and vocalist. “I had both my knees replaced, had a shattered ankle, and I have arthritis in 90 percent of my body, so that’s caused me in the last five to seven years to play sitting down.”
But, as Chubby would say, man, does he love getting a crowd on its feet. And he’s good at it.
“(Sitting on a stool to perform) used to freak me out, but then I started feeling better about it,” said Chubby, aka Theodore “Ted” Horowitz. “No. 1, I play better sitting down, and I can get my point across. I don’t know, man, it’s just what I do. I’ve learned that if you have a good time and throw a party, then the audience will (respond in kind).”
Chubby — who’s also known as “The Beast from the East” — has a knack for revving up crowds. At a show at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry last year, he commanded the room with blistering riffs and soulful runs, and got plenty of feedback for his blues swagger and unabashed glee for guilty pleasures and speaking his truth.
“It’s really important for my shows to be inclusionary, not exclusionary. I hate seeing an act or a band that thinks they’re more important than their audience,” said Chubby, who would rather think of a show as hanging out with would-be friends.
“It feels like everybody is recognized and part of the show, and then it becomes good,” he said with a rumbling laugh. “It’s really that simple.”
Chubby, who sharpened his ax skills in New York City but now lives in the state’s Hudson Valley, will return to Tupelo Music Hall Friday night.
“I just got back two days ago from Europe. I played in Rhode Island yesterday, and now I’m in Seattle. I’m here for three days, then I fly back to Europe, and then I come back, get back into a van and drive to the Midwest,” he said.
He tweeted recently that “the beast had been released,” hinting at the hectic pace of the international tour, plus a new album in the works.
“It was kind of a nod that I’m going to be tearing up a good section of the world for quite some time,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been a very busy year. It’s a little tiring. We tend to learn how to rest when you can — you know, ‘Smoke ‘em when you got ‘em, rest when you can.’”
He’s been promoting his 2017 release, “Two Dogs,” which includes a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” the defiant “Me Won’t Back Down” and the achingly wry “Preexisting Conditions,” a lament of all the body parts that are starting to fail and the fear of not being able to afford treatment with changes in U.S. health care policies. (A sample of the lyrics: “I got the rocking pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu, and my knees don’t do what they used to ... and my lungs are brown. I’m telling you. I’m a man on a mission. I’m gonna die of pre-existing conditions.”)
Blues comes from the gut of experience and, a lot of times, the pain of a broken heart. But the beast has healed in that respect.
“I’m not heartbroken any more. I was for a long time, and I wrote a lot of songs about being miserable and heartbroken. But now I’m happy. So, I guess I have to write some happy songs. But does anyone really want to hear a song about puppy dogs?,” he said, with what sounds like a straight face.
“The blues is not just about the invisible man. It’s really about truth of expression. But ... a lot of my older records do definitely have a heartbroken tenor to them,” he said.
These days his message is often one of not “feeding the wrong dog,” as he says in a Facebook video post about combating division and hatred. It’s a universal message in his global travels. Plus, it’s pretty cool hearing his fans in other countries sing along.
“The Europeans get it, man. They’ll phoneticize lyrics. It’s great,” he said.
The only difference in playing various parts of the world is how much he cleans up the cussing.
“There are some places where the audience is a little more conservative so I’ll tone it down a bit. I tend to swear a lot. I have a filthy mouth. Don’t tell my mom, though,” he said with a laugh.
Overall, he sees music as something that transcends political and ideological divides.
“My sole reason has always been and will continue to be to make people happy, and I sincerely mean that. I want to make the world a better place. I always said I want to heal the world one note at a time. No matter what people’s political orientation or sexual orientation, they still love my music. It’s an interesting thing. It’s really difficult to hate a person, but it’s really easy to hate an ideology.”
Still, he doesn’t tempt audiences’ ire with the set list.
“My fan base has been around for a long time so there’s certain things they expect to hear from me when they see me, and I’m always happy not to disappoint them,” he said.
That includes three tunes that have become standards across music genres, be it a cappella or psychedelic electric rock: “Hey, Joe,” the murderous ode made famous by the Jimi Hendrix; “Over the Rainbow,” which Judy Garland gave such longing in 1939’s “Wizard of Oz” movie; and Leonard Cohen’s much-recorded “Hallelujah,” which Popa Chubby gives some grit and growl.
“I’m in an amazing happy place in my life, thank God. I’m enjoying the fruits of 25 years of hard work and the success that comes along with that ... and of doing it the right way and for the right reasons.”