Some things are just too good to forget, and I’m not alone in treasuring my memories of the Collaboratory sessions that once were a major part of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Organized by former folk-fest artistic director Dugg Simpson, their goal was to put seemingly unrelated musicians together, and then give them enough rehearsal time to come up with an artistically coherent presentation of music the world had never heard before.
Simpson’s strategy certainly worked for American guitarist, banjo player, and musical provocateur Eugene Chadbourne, who enthused “This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life” after joining forces with violinist Jesse Zubot, bassist Andrew Downing, and Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya back in 2002, as part of the festival’s 25th-anniversary celebrations.
Fifteen years later, he’s still savouring the moment—and gearing up to revisit the magic that he and Zubot shared that day.
“The opportunity to collaborate with musicians from different countries and different cultures is something that I don’t normally get to do all the time,” Chadbourne explains, on the line from his Greensboro, North Carolina, home. “In our little pod of people we had musicians from China, Iran, and India, and then Jesse was there, and me. We had a few days to kind of work out a program, and then we got to perform. It was just a really great experience.
“Some very funny things happened,” the former Calgary Herald music critic continues. “I remember that one of the Indian musicians was really taken with Jesse; he talked about how he was going to take Jesse back to India and lock him in a prison cell and only take him out to do recordings. And I remember that Jesse was just very laid-back, and he kind of looked at the guy and said, ‘Oh, cool!’ We really had a great time doing that, so it should be a nice encounter.”
Chadbourne and Zubot will have more than fond memories to fall back on. Both belong to that very specialized caste of musicians who combine advanced improvisational skills with a deep knowledge of country-and-western music, and while Chadbourne might be the manic yang to Zubot’s stoic yin, that opens the potential for an alchemical fusion of opposites. As for the generational divide between the 40-something Zubot and the 63-year-old Chadbourne, it shouldn’t be a problem: for the past few years, the latter has been playing hometown shows with his three daughters.
It’s not like the Doc Chad Family Band, as the kids like to call it, is a sign that the inventor of the notorious electric rake is necessarily mellowing out. Chadbourne might keep the noise quotient down at the band’s neighbourhood appearances, but he can still kick up a good controversy.
“I just seem to create confrontation, even when I’m trying to play it straight,” he says, laughing. “That’s the funniest thing. We just had an incident with doing a Hendrix song at the farmers market a couple of weeks ago. The guy selling chicken wings and shrimp, he really liked it, but these other people were like, ‘You have to turn that down a little bit.’ ”
Then again, Greensboro is an oasis of liberalism in an otherwise conservative state, and perhaps the boo-birds were objecting to Chadbourne’s fondness for political parody songs, “Sunshine of Your Tweets” being just the latest in a long line of modified rock and country classics.
“Right now, it’s very ripe for comedy,” he says—and who knows what fresh hell he’ll have to work with by the time he returns to B.C.?
Eugene Chadbourne and Jesse Zubot play the Western Front on Saturday (June 17).