Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Shockabilly - "Are You Experienced"

If you've never heard Shockabilly before, I can almost guarantee you've never heard anything like Shockabilly. The three-piece emerged from New York's downtown avant-jazz scene in the early 80s, and all three members went on to become fixtures in one way or another. Drummer David Licht continues to play in a Shimmy-Disc band or two; bassist/organist Kramer has produced dozens of records, was in Bongwater and has collaborated with just about every underground musician in the past quarter-century. (Incidentally, he produced a record by the Thundering Lizards, led by Scott Prado, q.v. Monday's post.)

And then there's Eugene Chadbourne.

I first heard about Chadbourne through my fanatical devotion to the music of Camper Van Beethoven. They recorded an album (and a few others since) with Chadbourne in 1987 called Camper Van Chadbourne, which I bought and didn't really get. But it was nothing compared to his solo work, which can most accurately be described as protest free-bluegrass. He plays a banjo and his style is distantly rooted in country conventions, but the end result is far beyond that, drawing inspiration primarily from the scales-and-time-signatures-be-damned ethos of early free jazz. All behind angry/funny left-wing political lyrics sung in a variety of annoying cartoon voices.

Shockabilly was Chadbourne's early phase, before he got tired of rock music. The band's first few records consist almost entirely of covers, mostly of sixties dinosaur hits, which the band proceed to gleefully piss all over. The marvelously-titled Earth vs. Shockabilly includes barely-recognisable renditions of "Day Tripper", "People Are Strange" and "19th Nervous Breakdown", among others. I picked "Are You Experienced"[sic] because it has the most far-out guitar work, but it's pretty representative of the record as a whole.

The price tag says $5.99. I'm guessing I got it at Downtown Music Gallery, which was for many years on East 5th Street. The guy who ran the place was a Chadbourne freak, and I remember him telling me once that he was in contact with all three members and trying to convince them to play a reunion show. Wonder if it ever worked out.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Shockabilly - "Are You Experienced"

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