Banjo Man Eugene Chadbourne to Play Mahall's as Part of Short Midwestern Tour

Courtesy of Eugene Chadbourne
Free jazz/folk singer-guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, who performs at 9 p.m. on Friday at Mahall’s as part of a short Midwestern tour, grew up in Boulder where his mother, a refugee from Nazi Germany, and his father, a French literature professor, encouraged his musical ambitions once got a guitar after seeing the Beatles on TV.

“[I got a guitar] not because I liked [the Beatles], but because girls seemed to and prior to that the only way to get girls to like you was being good at sports or beating up other kids, neither of which I excelled at,” says Chadbourne in an email interview.

He had a brief "raga banjo" thing in Boulder High School because a music store went under and he got the instrument for “almost nothing.”

In the '70s, he moved to Canada to avoid getting drafted. The experience proved to be formative.

“Calgary allowed me to really grow into my own personality, that was where I began living on my own, supporting myself and decided to become a musician,” he says. “I had a successful career as a newspaper reporter and was awarded as the youngest member of the Calgary Herald writing staff. I was also involved in underground and pirate radio that made a lasting impression internationally.”

During the 1990s, he picked up the banjo again and started incorporating it into his music.

“It was going to East Germany that ironically allowed me to buy an instrument that was somewhat better than the cheapest banjos being made in the USA at this time,” he says. “The concept I developed was that the instrument has been under used and it was time to play lots of unexpected styles on it, from free jazz to punk rock.”

He subsequently delved into many different genres – rock, blues, country, free jazz.

“I like them all and I play music to entertain myself,” he says when asked about the free form nature of his music. “I don't like to belong to categories and think musicians that are so uptight about the rules and regulations of their respective camps are missing out. I got lots of useless advice about sticking to one thing, getting really good at it, I could have been a great improviser but I played country! I could have been a great singer-songwriter but I improvised! I could have been a great heavy metal guy except I sing like Bugs Bunny! This has all resulted in a wonderful life and fun relationships with players of all ages and backgrounds.”

A collection of quirky folk tunes, Chadbourne’s 1996 album Jesse Helms Busted with Pornography, represents his free wheeling spirit. The twangy “Hit on a Bubble” sounds like the Meat Puppets at half speed and "Little Tunnel" features nasally vocals that make it sound like an Adam Sandler song. The tender "Remember Me" could pass as a Willie Nelson tune.

“This was a frustrating period where no one would really finance new projects but producers were keen on the idea of rehashing collections of my material with many different well known guest stars,” Chadbourne says when asked about the album. “Several CDs came out of these as well as dozens of unreleased demos, but this CD was at least funner than most because North Carolina was in the midst of trying to get rid of the vile Helms and the label behind it was in Charlotte and wanted the CD to be part of the anti-Helms effort, which it was in a small way. It was even in a close up shot in local news coverage of an anti-Helms rally with me.”

Recently, Chadbourne has issued Old Dog, Supplies Dwindle and To Robert Harris, three new CDs with his “contemporary rock band.”

Given his huge discography, what can fans expect from Chadbourne’s appearance at Mahall’s?

“That I show up and play some good stuff on guitar and banjo...and that the media will ignore me and cover Donald Trump,” he says. “I also have a new version of the famous 10 Most Wanted List and last year's 'Folks Song' continues to be a big request.”

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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