Matt Stubbs is more than a little familiar with Lincoln.
“I’ve played the Zoo Bar inside with Charlie (Musselwhite),” Stubbs said. “I’ve also played ZooFest with Charlie. Before that, I came through and played there years ago with Janiva Magness. It’s probably 18 years ago now. So, yeah, I’ve passed through quite a bit through the years just as a guitarist.”
But Stubbs, who still plays with Musselwhite, missed ZooFest this summer — because he was in Europe with his band GA-20, which is set to make its Lincoln debut at the Zoo on Monday.
GA-20, which has been tagged as “heavy blues” as it leads a traditional blues revival, came together after Musselwhite made an album with Ben Harper, then went on the road with Harper and his band for a year.
That left Stubbs without a gig. So he got ahold of guitarist/vocalist Pat Faherty.
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“In 2018, I looked at a year off and I didn’t want to get a day job,” Stubbs said. “So GA-20 was born out of me just saying to Pat, ‘Why don’t we start a trio (with a drummer) and work just around town (Boston)?’ We weren’t thinking about touring. We weren’t thinking about making records. We did that, we got a bunch of gigs. Then I had the idea of going into making recordings.”
GA-20, which takes its name from an amplifier manufactured by Gibson from 1950 to 1961, made an album, which got picked up by Colemine Records and was released in 2019, putting the group, which added drummer Tim Carman in 2020, on the road.
That bass-free alignment, with two guitars and drums, sets GA-20 apart from most trios. But it wasn’t created intentionally to exclude bass.
“When we started the band, we wanted to keep it as stripped down and as small a combo as possible,” Stubbs said. “So we picked songs that didn’t have bass at first, then we would pick songs and try to arrange them, reimagine them without bass — if it was Little Walter’s band playing or Hound Dog Taylor. There were lots of that, like The Black Keys and The White Stripes, that started out with no bass as well. But we wanted to kind of take a page out of the Chicago blues book as far as no bass.”
In fact, traditional Chicago blues from the ’50s and ’60s — the music of artists such as Otis Rush, J.B. Lenoir, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells and Johnny “Guitar” Watson — is GA-20’s touchstone.
And even though they got the “heavy blues” tag from the power and distortion of the guitars, GA-20 doesn’t come anywhere near blues-rock and its six-seven-eight-minute, rock-structured songs filled with long self-indulgent guitar solos.
“We try to play shorter songs and have songs that are about the melody or the vocal or the story rather than, I think with a lot of modern blues bands, the whole song, the whole point is to get to that guitar solo and stretch it out as long as possible. And the other things are secondary,” Stubbs said.
“You know, a lot of our records, with the exception of the Hound Dog tribute record we did — those songs are a little bit longer because that’s how Hound Dog approached it, lots of our songs are 2½, 3½ minutes long. Some don’t even have a guitar solo.”
You can hear how GA-20 brings those blues on stage on the album “Live in Loveland,” a 30-minute raw recording of a performance that captures the drive and energy of a tightly fused band that’s breathing contemporary life into the tradition.
“That was alive as you can get,” Stubbs said. “We did that in Loveland, Ohio. Our record label also owns a record store. So we threw a show there at night. Sold it out. We recorded it straight to tape in front of the audience. There’s no overdubs or anything like that. It’s what you would have heard if you were sitting in the front row.”
GA-20 has finished an album that will likely be released in the spring of 2024. It’s not a live record. Nor is it a continuation of the traditional electric blues of 2019’s “Lonely Soul’ and last year’s tight, propulsive “Crackdown.”
“It’s a little bit different,” Stubbs said. “It’s a studio record, but it’s an acoustic record. There’s a little different kind of influence from one of my favorite Muddy Waters records called ‘Folk Singer’, where he went in and reimagined songs that he recorded electric, as an acoustic band with Buddy Guy and stuff. So we kind of took that concept when we recorded some of the songs that we already have written and recorded some new ones and some new covers.”
Since it began a hard-touring regimen after the pandemic, GA-20 has been building a wide audience stretching beyond those who came to the blues during the revival of the ’60s and ’70s and post-Stevie Ray Vaughan blues-rock enthusiasts.
“There’s always going to be diehard traditionalists that love blues,” Stubbs said. “Hopefully, they like what we’re doing. But we also are doing our best to get in front of audiences that maybe have never listened to the blues. We play a lot of different festivals where we’re the only blues band. And it seems to go over. We see a growth in our fan base, we see comments on social media and people buy the records.
“I think our goal is to reach people that are already blues lovers and then reach people that will like it when they see it live. I love making the records. I love producing, but we’re a live band. For me, blues has always been a live art form. When you see it live, it’s hard to really capture that on a record.”
Lincoln, Stubbs promises, will get a good in-person sample of the GA-20 Monday at the Zoo.
“I’m not sure what the contract is at the Zoo Bar, if it’s one set or two sets,” Stubbs said. “But either way, it’s a very upbeat, high-energy show. We always try to put on a show and like seeing people move. … I hope we have a big night. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. I used to spend a lot of time in Lincoln. My ex-wife was from Lincoln when I met her; she was living there. So I’ve spent time in Lincoln through the years.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or email@example.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott