Dr. Eugene Chadbourne
Eugene Chadbourne, born 1954, grew up in Boulder, Colorado. His mother was a refugee from the Nazis (her account of the introduction of anti-Jewish regulations at her school surfaces on “I’ve Been Everywhere”). His music, from the punk rock/trademark feedback guitar sound of Shockabilly to his later country and western-tinged solo recordings, reflects musical influences ranging from the Beatles to Zappa. Ironically, despite the major contributions he has made to today’s neo-folk-punk scene (with over 20 full-length albums and participation in numerous compilations), the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of Chadbourne is his musical prowess with the electric rake.
You cover a huge range of styles of music, from folk to country to punk rock. Is there any particular genre of music you like best or are most comfortable with?
No, I really like the different styles I play equally.. pretty much…when they are done well, the entire idea is to create a style of my own in which all these things intermingle. This is why I sometimes say it is music about music.
You’ve gotten to record and perform with some of the great acts of the underground scene, from Kramer to Jonathan Segal/Camper Van Beethoven. Who have you enjoyed performing or recording with the most and why?
I have learned a lot from everyone I have worked with, and for that I am grateful, although some experiences are more pleasant than others. With Kramer, for instance, I think I learned a complete set of ideas about how not to do things, just by watching him in action. Sometimes this kind of learning experience is necessary, although most of us would rather skip it.
For sheer camaraderie, the Camper Van Beethoven guys and the Violent Femmes are fun to work with, because in the projects with me they’re more relaxed and less in a perfectionist or group mode than when they are normally working.
From Jimmy Carl Black I learned the genius of simplicity as well as something about the outlook of someone who went through the entire cultural upheaval of the ’60s as an icon. He is one of the greatest drummers I have been privileged to work with. Others include Han Bennink, from whom I have learned a great deal about the surrealistic potential of live performance and Paul Lovens, one of my current duo partners, from whom I have learned an unbelievable amount about drums, space, and silence.
With John Zorn, I had a period of about five years where we worked together almost like Siamese Twins; however, like Siamese Twins, there was an inner desire to rip free of each other. Luckily, in our case, ending the partnership was easy and pleasurable.
What instruments do you play?
In order of quality of playing, years of practice: Guitar, banjo, piano, bass, drums.
Do you have a favorite instrument that you consistently use for recording or performances? Where did you get it and why is it your favorite?
I really like my Dobro steel guitar, which I have had for 25 years and have modified a great deal since that time, to the point where it was just an incredible instrument, and completely unique, when that asshole Rex Probe stomped on it during a drunken rampage at the end of a concert in San Francisco. Supposedly it has been repaired and is on its way back to me for another few decades of action. Other instrument favorites are the Deering Deluxe 5-string banjo and the Gibson acoustic I got from my wife when we got married. Both these have been on lots of records.
A great guitar that should be mentioned in passing was the Burns electric guitar I was given by some local music store dodos. They had bought it for $30 from someone who came in and thought it was a piece of crap that only someone like me could play because the neck was so wide. This turned out to be a fantastic guitar made by George Burns, who worked for Mosrite, among other companies, and was crucial to the entire Shockabilly sound — this guitar was ripped off by a jerk in New York who broke into the band’s van during a short lapse in security (guard fell asleep). The burglar also grabbed another guitar case which had not a guitar in it but an electronic dog skull, amplified rake, and an electronic toilet plunger.
Do you have any other interests in the arts besides music?
I have always liked to write. When I was a teenager, I wrote seven novels or something like that, then burned them all. In the last few years, I have had three books published, most noteworthy Mix Press’ I Hate the Man that Runs this Bar. I used to work as a journalist for the Calgary Herald and have had a lot of articles published in various magazines. Some people credit me with inventing the “tour diary,” in which on the road fiascoes are turned into laugh goldmines.
Since the early days of designing album covers, I have always enjoyed visual arts. I like sculpting, but better yet, I love painting, and use it as a form of relaxation while touring. It also captures memories of places I go better than any other way, including writing, which I think is interesting because I don’t do realistic paintings. Last year, I sold a few paintings, but [I] am kind of burned out on selling art because of my music business involvement, and would rather keep this side of my personality a kind of private thing.
What do you think you’d be doing if the music thing hadn’t worked out as well as it has?
Other careers I think would be good for me would be making films, writing screenplays, gardening and landscaping, [and] archeology. One friend of mine wants me to sell long distance service.
Who have been major influences on your life? Have there been any significant events in your life that you think really contributed to making you the person you are today?
My father and mother were big influences. From my mother, I learned the rewards of hard work and the importance of a work ethic and a sense of responsibility. From my father, I learned to appreciate the arts and to get joy from them, despite the fact that in the typical macho environment of that day and age such pursuits were considered “queer.” Another enormous influence would be my wife, Emmy, who influences everything I do. Raising three daughters with her — an experience still in progress — has been one of the biggest developments in my life. From my children I learn new things every day. For example, if I had the wisdom of my daughter Molly when I was 13, it would have saved me a lot of trouble. I get a lot of personal advice from her all the time.