Perhaps “boxing and blues” does not roll as easily off the tongue as “blues and brews” or “blues and barbeque”, but the two continue to cross paths in more ways than one. Not only are some of the boxing writers and promoters blues fans or knowledgeable about blues, but the musicians are aware of boxing.
Popa Chubby is one of today’s rising blues musicians and one of the blues’ biggest fight fans. Known for his intimidating blues-rock guitar that can bowl you over, he can also shift to a slow ballad and win your admiration with some emotive playing. To paraphrase Mohammed Ali, he can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
His recent release How’d a White Boy Get the Blues is dedicated to Willie Dixon and Mohammad Ali. Asked about the dedication Chubby said, “They both symbolize excellence, both are champions.” And many blues fans know that Dixon also boxed early in his career. This CD had great sales on its European release and has been released here in the states by Blind Pig.
The spirit these champions displayed inspire him as he strives for excellence in his musical endeavors. That can be seen as he promotes the New York blues scene. He is also involved in the business side of the music, presently working with Magic Slim for Blind Pig.
How did Chubby get interested in boxing? Perhaps it is just a natural for a New York City guy born in the Bronx. But the story goes deeper than that. “I grew up on boxing” is how Chubby puts it. Although he never fought professionally or in the amateurs, Chubby did have his share of street fights.
His father cultivated Chubby’s boxing interest. Mentioned as a businessman in Chubby’s promotional material, not much detail was provided on his boxing background. Chubby’s father managed fighters and was a Golden Gloves participant in his youth. Chubby’s father also was a partner of former Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. And even after retirement, Patterson continued to train. This allowed Chubby go to Patterson’s training camp and watch him work out.
He learned to skip rope in those visits to the camp, a skill he still has. One only has to picture the massive Chubby skipping rope to realize that he might just paralyze opponents if he had taken up boxing.
Since his youth and those training camp visits Chubby has had a love of boxing. And bluesmen like Dixon and Johnny Copeland who were boxers remind us of the connection. Chubby sees Ali aka “The Greatest” as just that. Ali was able to control the ring and knock out an opponent with a jab.
It is not just the memories. Chubby still follows the fights, always looking for a fight on TV. He is glad to express his views on the current state of boxing, from Evander Holyfield’s decline to the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight. He also likes the lower weight classes too, citing De la Hoya and Nassem for exciting bouts. And speaking of a chance meeting with Don King, Chubby said, “I met him in a fatman’s shop. He’s a big dude, I wouldn’t want to mess with him.”
As he has gotten older, Chubby still likes boxing, but the brutal aspects of the game bother him. Many boxers stay too long because of the chance of a next big payday. But he also realizes that while a sport, boxing has to please the crowd to get them to return. “Boxing today is a lot of personality and entertainment not unlike the blues,” he remarked. In talking of the parallels between boxing and blues Chubby made the observation that, “Blues people starting fighting to change the life mapped out for them. Many young artists moved from a life in the fields to the road life of the blues.” “Fighting is a way for young fighters to move up from the system,” he continued.
Another parallel between boxing and blues is the way many of the men involved end their careers, not with the glory of the crowd but instead working to make ends meet. It is sad to note that after providing so many crowd-pleasing performances, the future cannot be as bright as the past for these professionals.
A favorite on European circuits, Popa Chubby tours extensively on the continent promoting his own works, often testing his new material. In the US, when not rocking blues clubs, he also devotes time to producing other bluesmen, those from his own territory of New York City as well as Chicago and beyond.
In his present work with Magic Slim, Chubby will be spending time in the studio mixing the CD. He is striving to bring out some more of Slim in the recording. “I hope this CD will get to the core of what Slim is really about,” said Chubby. “Slim is an original, he is a living legend. This CD will not be like anything he has done. We had fun, and I believes that he has a lot to give,” concluded Chubby.