Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, who moved from New York to Greensboro, N.C., in 1980 to raise his family, has chased music down unexpected rabbit holes for the last 30 years.
Whether making country on acid with Camper Van Beethoven, improvising with an electric rake with free jazz leaders like Han Bennik, or performing in a traveling tribute to Fats Waller with Japanese pianist Aki Takase, Chadbourne is a tireless sonic plunderer. We caught up with him at home after his two-month solo tour in Europe.
NOSTALGIA: There's probably good reason for that, the way things are these days. People are thinking about the good ol' days. My favorite song about nostalgia, of course, is a Merle Haggard song called "Wishin' All These Old Things Were New" . I was immediately attracted to it because it has a really good point of view about the repetition of the same thing over and over again. So many of these depressing things, they just don't seem to change. It's nice that somebody can draw some hope from somewhere.
DEREK BAILEY: He's like one of my greatest musical mentors. I still feel bad about his death. He's a really great man. He made a lot of time for younger people, in a way that a lot of well-known musicians or people that are well-known in the arts, a lot of them wouldn't understand the kindness of a guy like that or how in touch he was with what younger musicians were doing all the time. I sent him the first recording I put out on my own in like 1975. I was living in Canada, and he wrote me back and he helped me do some gigs in London the first time I came over there, which was—right away—a very generous use of his time. Over the years, one of the things that was really unique about him was that he really just liked to play. There's a lot of people who won't play if there's not a gig of some kind, but he was like, "Bring your banjo over and let's play for a little while and then have some food or something." He just liked the actual act of doing it. It didn't matter if there was an audience or not.
FREEDOM: It's nice to think about the freedom one can have through music. I feel like I have some control over that, but it's difficult: We can see in our own community, it's difficult for musicians to have places to express what it is they do. No matter what amount of freedom is involved in it, it's kind of always under attack in a way from so many different sources. I think it's been basically getting harder ever since I can remember. Going back to nostalgia and Fats Waller and that time period, there was a lot more live music in every community, and musicians were much more able to find ways to perform. More buildings had live music in them and had drum sets and pianos ready to go.
STREAMS: It's a title of a really good Sam Rivers album, but I always like walking along them, too. I think Sam Rivers used that as a title for a recording of music that was freely improvised, so if you're thinking along that mindset, it would be sort of like the stream of creativity or the stream of things that are indented as you're onstage, gnawing away at an instrument without any idea what you're going to do next.
TOURING: I do a lot of that. That's just how I kind of hone my craft, but it's also very nice just to travel and see the world and see what things are like in different parts of the world for yourself, and to have so many friends in different parts of the world. The main difference is there's a presidential candidate people [in Europe] like. That's a first for me, or that I can remember in my time.
Dr. Eugene Chadbourne plays The Cave Friday, Sept. 12, at 10 p.m. It's his first North Carolina solo show of the year.