On his compulsive own, Eugene Chadbourne (previously the guitarist and leader of Shockabilly) has spewed forth a ceaseless stream of records and cassettes (the latter on his own Parachute label) that easily represent the oddest version of country and folk music ever. While the notable left-winger’s guitar playing is looser than clams, it harbors wildly unique energy. (He also plays the electric rake.) The North Carolinian is also the master of several different voices, some of them deceptively sincere. Harsh, funny, irritating and packed with ideas, Chadbourne often suggests a politically correct Frank Zappa.
There’ll Be No Tears Tonight lovingly takes on thirteen country-western standards. Eugene acts out his “free improvised country & western bebop” with several game free-music experts on everything from Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” to Merle Haggard’s “Swingin’ Doors.” The results are hilarious and touching.
The President contains Chadbourne’s own politically charged ditties, many in a Phil Ochs-ish bag. His targets include Jerry Falwell, Women Against Pornography and his arch-nemesis, Senator Jesse Helms.
Country Music of Southeastern Australia mixes ten country standards and ten originals, played free-form style with such noted noisemongers as Rik Rue, John Rose and David Moss. Country Protest features the quintessential Chadbourne cover-version collage, “Medley in C.” He’s joined by Lenny Kaye on steel guitar and the Red Clay Ramblers for 11:25 of everything from John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Black Flag’s “TV Party” to Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” and the Butthole Surfers’ “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave.”
The 7-inch 198666 EP, released on the Residents’ label, is a rustic little artifact containing country-folk renditions of “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” and four other songs.
Corpses of Foreign Wars is an all-protest vehicle featuring Violent Femmes Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie; highlights include a wonderful Phil Ochs medley and originals that range from verbal assaults on despicable neighbors to the “KKKremlin.” Somehow, it all fits together.
Chadbourne then cleaned out his closet, using the two-record LSD C&W as the merry receptacle. Much of the material here — including a Beatles medley, “In a Sentimental Mood,” a Roger Miller medley and other free-jazz, blues and rock faves — derives from mid- ’80s sessions featuring former Shockabilly members Kramer and David Licht, plus John Zorn, Tom Cora and many others. It also includes some of EC’s finest originals sung solo. LSD C&W is the most of EC on vinyl, and possibly the best.
Chadbourne goes it alone on Kill Eugene (the complete title of which is Dear Eugene What You Did Was Not Very Nice So I Am Going to Kill…), although a nutty old lady on the radio and a few appreciative audiences (for the tracks recorded live) do make guest appearances. Covers on this mostly acoustic outing include “8 Miles High,” “Purple Haze,” “Oh Yoko,” “Lucifer Sam,” “Ramblin’ Man” and the Pee-wee’s Playhouse theme, which gets a topical rewrite as “Ollie’s Playhouse.”
Top-notch Austin stompers Evan Johns and the H-Bombs provide authentic rock’n’roll accompaniment on Vermin of the Blues, which covers ground from Count Basie to the Count Five, along with Chadbourne’s usual amusing rants.
Eugene almost comes off as a father-figure on the joint Camper Van Chadbourne, although he easily out-eccentrics the Santa Cruz eclecticians. Check out their Zappa medley, the long-inevitable cover of Pink Floyd’s “Careful with That Axe, Eugene,” Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe,” Joe South’s “Games People Play” and Chadbourne’s own witty’n’wise originals.
Though not credited as such, the Double Trio Love Album — one side of Chadbourne originals and a side of Tim Buckley songs — is more or less a second volume of Camper Van Chadbourne whimsy. Unfortunately for Chadbourne fanatics, he relinquishes the driver’s seat for the bulk of this road trip. There’s a bit more politicking (and a few inside jokes), but the real flaw (as Eugene’s lectures so often warn) lies in the democratic process.
I’ve Been Everywhere (credited to the Doctor Eugene Chadbourne) is as near to pure autobiography as the avant-rock form will allow; Eugene trots out both his (many) noise-making apparati and some of his most tender licks in a collection of songs that cut deep. In another way, so does Country Music in the World of Islam. This salvo, aimed pretty squarely at the evils of United States foreign policy, finds both Chadbourne’s medium and message growing shrill — but it’s hard to discount his arguments.
Chadbourne’s voluminous tape cache is truly astounding, in terms of scope and overall quality. Sure, there are some duds among the dozens of selections the man himself proffers by post, but even a blind stab is likely to yield something of interest. A few samples:
Chicken on the Way ranks with the best of his fully structured cassette releases. Recorded around the time of Shockabilly’s birth, there’s really no reason this couldn’t be a bona fide vinyl album (although that would preclude the finger-lickin’ fast-food packaging). Calgary Exile‘s mélange of obscure and/or unreleased tracks from ’75-’76 is a little tougher sledding (so to speak). Recorded when Mr. C. was indeed exiled (by Selective Service persecution) to friendlier tundra, it’s nonetheless a useful document of his “outside” material.
Megadeath is one of the least song-oriented collections here. Bits of a surreal AM-radio talk show pitting Eugene against some bewildered North Carolinian homemakers provide breathers between the (mostly) rake-and- plunger — he’s played pickup-equipped versions of both for years — material. Third World Summit Meeting is a virtual obscure-rail pass through a plethora of little-explored ethnic styles. The individual numbers tend to drag but, in small doses, this is fascinating.
Both Tucson and Wichita document live sets from those cities (the Arizona tape actually combines a pair of shows) in all their rollercoaster glory. Tucson is a bit milder and more pensive (in part due to its solo circumstances), while Wichita osterizes anarchosyndicalist rhetoric, bitter, almost Lenny Bruce-like barbs and plenty of feedback to fine effect. And though it’s not clear who “Chuck” is, he abets Chadbourne on a crazy-quilt of material, including works by Charlie Parker and Duane Eddy.
Re-pairing Chadbourne with Johns (minus his long-running Austin band, the H-Bombs), Terror Has Some Strange Kinfolk tempers the furies for a good-natured but noisy stomp through the backwoods tangle where Nashville meets the refugees from a politically conscious Martian boobyhatch. On “Redneck Jazz,” the guitar-totin’ Johns and a snappy rhythm section confidently run through their paces while Chadbourne tries to fuck shit up with all the random noise he can muster on guitar, banjo and rake. Turning the tables, “I Cut the Wrong Man” and “Killbillies” find Evan, bassist Buggs Coombs and drummer Mike Buck attempting to follow Eugene’s ectoplasmic lyrical inventions as best they can. In between, there are drunken nonsense scraps (“I Gotta Pee,” “Missing Engineer”), acoustic guitar and banjo topicals (“George Bush’s Bones Jig,” “Desert Storm Chewing Gum”), conscious parodies (“Achey Rakey Heart”), tape manipulations, even a few moments of poignant semi-seriousness (“Checkers of Blood,” a wordless “Got the Blues & Can’t Be Satisfied”). The collaborators make apt foils: Chadbourne’s clever, provocative words colorize Johns’ solid musical chops, which, in turn, haul chunks of the record closer to Planet Reality than Chadbourne usually orbits. (For those concerned with his erratic rotations, the good doctor surfaced in ’95, playing a little banjo on the Feral Chickens’ Only a Mother LP.)