If there’s one person who knows about all the love Richmond has for soul music, its local guitarist and singer Big G.
The Charlotte County native has performed Southern soul music since he was a kid, later touring with North Carolina soul legend Roy C., and beginning to write his own originals in 1997. Since then, he’s cut 18 albums on the Stone River label run by his manager, Cynthia Vaughan. Along the way, he’s played with some greats including Bobby “Blue” Bland, Millie Jackson, Marvin Sease and Chuck Willis.
He also DJs for WCLM 1450 AM, where his show, “Southern Soul Hospitality,” spins all Southern soul on Friday afternoons. Some might recognize the Big G. song, “Do What It Do” as the theme for WCLM station owner Preston Brown’s “Famous Brown Getdown” television show.
At the Richmond Folk Festival, Big G. will have with him the Total Control band, an eight-piece group with two keyboards, two lead guitars, bass and drums accompanying his raw, gospel-influenced style of good-time soul. Style spoke to him about his endeavors to keep the genre going even without mainstream radio.
Style Weekly: What does Southern soul mean to you?
Big G: It just means soul music, period. The lyrics are a little more risqué sometimes. But now it’s getting to the point if you do that, you won’t get radio play. So my music is family-oriented and I try to keep it clean. I like to write about love and laughter. Music should be fun.
I don’t get political with my music. I got two gospel albums — the last one was entitled “Old Time Religion.” It’s more constructive. That [title] song talks about the discipline our parents taught us. It helped more than it hurt. And we need to go back to those times to get this young generation under control. I got this one line, “When I was a child, we didn’t talk back, we didn’t roll our eyes/mother would hit you in the house, you find yourself getting up outside.” [Laughs.]
One of your recent videos, “Last Paycheck,” has almost a half million views, and lyrically it’s about celebrating the last alimony payments for a child who has turned 18. Is that based on a true story?
Uhh, I think I’m gonna leave that one alone. [Laughs.] No, a lot of guys feel that way but won’t say it until their child turns 18. It’s comical but true. That song has taken me down to Memphis and Alabama and Mississippi in one tour. I’m celebrating at the end with my dance. … and I say whether you’re a man or a woman, because women today pay child support also.
How’d you first get involved in music?
Basically, talent shows growing up in Charlotte County. I could play guitar, so my mother threw me into this young gospel group at church. I played with them until I turned 21 and went to work at Powhatan Correctional Facility. I kind of got away from the gospel then. [But] when I was a 13-year-old kid, I was singing Roy C., who was real popular with Southern soul in the Mid-Atlantic. So, you had a little kid singing grown folk music. From the time I was 7, I remember he had a song called “Shotgun Wedding” with gun sounds that stuck in my head.
By the grace of God, when I first went out, I traveled with him for three years — he was a mentor. My sound is so close to his. … I play guitar in an old standard, open E tuning. Keith Richards uses [a similar tuning]. Roy’s guitar player, J. Hines, uses it. He was one of the best I ever heard.
How did you meet WCLM owner Preston Brown and get your show?
I met him in probably ’97 with my first record. I couldn’t go to FM stations. That was when Preston had his radio station on Broad Street. I walked in and introduced myself and told him I was an artist and would like to have my record played if possible. He said, “Well, sit down and play it then.” He put me right to the mic and said, “C’mon, now — as big as you are, I know you’re not scared.” And I been doing it ever since.
One of the reasons I’ve stayed with it so long is to keep my music alive locally. Preston used to have a beautiful club on Nine Mile Road, where Eastgate Mall used to be — that was my home base. But they tore that down. There are not a lot of places in Richmond that cater to Southern soul completely. But there are a lot of fans.
What’s the climate like now as a performer?
Since I been in Richmond, it’s a hard market when you’re doing originals. It took me years to build up a name. A lot of times your band gets paid, and you go home with your head hanging down wondering how we gonna do the next one. It’s almost like the Chitlin’ Circuit — that’s what it used to be and probably what it still is.
I understand why they call it the Chitlin’ Circuit, ’cause some of these cats are full of some stuff. Back in the day, James Brown and Jackie Wilson carried guns because the promoter sometimes didn’t want to pay you. And you still run into the same thing. Lot of times, your deposit is all you’re gonna get. I’m a pretty easygoing guy. I try to put the old Big G. to rest. Lot of times you have to smile when you really want to reach out and grab. But we still try to make sure the band is paid.
It’s been a hard ride, but it’s been a good one. Some of the older guys, like Clarence Carter, will tell you: Just stay true to yourself. There are guys who will come in your band and tell you to play covers. That’s not what I wanted to do, so I thank God every day that I stayed true to myself.
Big G performs on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. at the Union/Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage.