Coming up on 10/04: A Different Nature: The Music of Shockabilly


A Different Nature on 10/04: The music of Shockabilly - Hosted by Rich L.

Rising out of the ashes of avant-garde guitarist Eugene Chadbourne's 70's experimental ensemble projects - including such alumni as John Zorn, Tom Cora, Fred Frith and others - Shockabilly reunited Chadbourne with bass and keyboard player Mark Kramer and percussionist David Licht. The band toured as The Chadbournes, playing a goofy hybrid of jazz, country, bluegrass and psychedelic rock with various sundry musicians joining in (most notably Zorn and Cora). The group eventually was distilled into the trio of Chadbourne, Kramer and Licht, touring along the punk/indy rock network under the somewhat ambiguously descriptive name Shockabilly.

They recorded their first EP on Halloween of 1982. It was a weirdly disjointed collection of covers of rockabilly, garage punk, country songs, with a Beatles cover thrown in for good measure. All songs would shift in tempo, style and not too infrequently fall apart under a fuzzy haze of intense guitar freakout. This seems to have established the M.O. for subsequent albums by them. Shockabilly would run cherished music from the Sixties Billboard charts through their crazed blender, rendering a Hendrix song into a bluegrass breakdown, a Roger Miller song into a demented opera. Occasional originals were often paeans to bad trips or psychedelic ephemera. Shockabilly sounded like the weird little transitional bits in the margins of Mothers of Invention albums or perhaps like an old radio that would shift frequencies suddenly and without warning.

"...Following their hysterical live performances, no attendee could say they had no feelings about what they had just heard. one barfly in Alabama even threatened to go home, get his shotgun, and blow Chadbourne's brains out after hearing the manner in which Chadbourne played a guitar solo in a Hank Williams song. Now THAT's Entertainment..." Shimmydisc website

Shockabilly toured Europe, across the USA and spent time with the not-too-dissimilar Butthole Surfers - all hilariously documented in Chadbourne's tour diaries, which were excerpted in a huge poster included in Shockabilly's penultimate album Vietnam.

Shortly after the release of their final album, Heaven, in 1985, the band broke up. Chadbourne released a torrent of homemade solo LPs and handmade cassettes out of his Greensboro North Carolina home. Kramer went on to form Bongwater with performance artist and Goddess Ann Magnuson and rise to prominence as a producer. David Licht briefly played skins in Bongwater, while also joining such bands as B.A.L.L., When People Were Shorter And Lived Near The Water and The Klezmatics.

While shortlived, Shockabilly was unique. They seemed like a linear link between The Residents, Henry Cow, 80's sludge punk (Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Killdozer) and more contemporary, diverse bands such as The Sun City Girls and Primus, to name a few.

Sadly, Eugene Chadbourne claims Shockabilly was one of his least favorite projects and Kramer has apparently desecrated the mixes on subsequent reissues of the Shockabilly catalog he released on his Shimmy-Disc label. The 2008 remixes seem to have addressed this somewhat.


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