Playing Sleazy Bars


Note: the following report has been compiled from datebooks and diaries. All incidents and characters are true - Eugene Chadbourne

Jan 29 - Max's Kansas City, New York, NY


I accept an engagement at this club despite its absolutely horrible reputation for jerkwater clientele and rip-of pay policies, basically because the manager, who calls himself 'The Chief', enjoys the album There'll Be No Tears Tonight so much. The bouncer looks like Sammy Davis Jr, and wears brass knuckles. He spends much of the evening grinding his fist into his palm.

Bands wishing to lock up their instruments during breaks are required to rent a padlock for two dollars.

The sound man comes up during the check. He's got tattoos up and down his arm. He starts to talk in a thick English accent.

'Hey, you guys are really allright. The shit we get in here is so fucking awful you wouldn't believe it. But you guys got real class…I used to do this same exact thing back in London in the '50s, but it was just me, like a singer-songwriter sort of thing.

'Don't use the second dressing room on the right', he warns me. 'Last night the band got pissed off and kicked it in. The Chief followed them down the street holding the door on his back. Then he gave it to them and said "Right…you know, you are playing on the door tonight."'


Jan 30 - the Barre Hunt Club, Barre Common, Massachusetts

The Chadbournes' first gig on the road is cancelled when the owner goes berserk and trashed the entire bar.

Our agent, Bob Jordan, finally located the owner's son the next day and demands $50 for our trouble. 'This is a professional outfit,' he says.


Jan 31-Feb 1 - Murphy's Bar, Grafton, Massachusetts

This is your usual bar with a tiny stage, tables, bar, jukebox, video games, pinball machines and pool tables. Business sucks. It only picks up after 1am for about 40 minutes. Clientele includes plump woman wearing a see-through white blouse and cowboy hat. She slow dances to 'Swinging Doors' with a big blond stud. They start making out and he feels her ass with his hand. We go into 'Glad All Over': No doubt about it/It must be love/One little kiss from you/And I feel/Glad all over.

A guy with a knife scar over his eye asks to sit in on harmonica. 'I dig music, man', he tells me.

An honest -to-god country and western pedal steel player drops by to chat during a break. He raves about Johnny paycheck's band. 'Goddamn! The steel, Big Jim Murph, goddamn that boy's fast! And his brother, he plays in Asleep at the Wheel, and Christ he's even faster! There's another brother, too, all three of 'em fat with hair down to their ass but hell they can play! Murph plays sax, too! And cocaine! Goddamn they put $10,000 up their nose faster than you can whistle Dixie-shit!' He leaves after we play one song.

A young lady who has been drinking and shooting pool all afternoon requests a Willie Nelson song and then passes out. The bartender complains the tempos are too slow. Someone picks "Slide Into Your Satin Sheets" 10 times in a row on the jukebox. Mark Kramer gets depressed during a break and doesn't even get into his customary Asteroids game. 'I'm just thinking to myself', he tells me over a beer 'here I am back playing in goddamn bars again. I hate goddamn bars!'


March 14-17 - The Chukker, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

This is the pow-wow grounds for the Alabama psychedelic generation. The '60s hit particularly hard in this college town. The repressive atmosphere of cops and rednecks vs. the new hippies loaded on locally grown mushrooms has left lots of residue (ace free improvisers Davey Williams and LaDonna Smith, for example) and the locals are definitely up for the rumoured combination of country, psychedelic rock and 'weird sounds' we are offering.

The bar is packed every night. On St Patrick's Day, three Irish guys yelling 'Borstal!' and spitting beer at the band are practically torn to pieces by the crowd.

The front row consists of employees from the local mental institution. 'Sorry I have to leave,' someone tells me between sets. 'I got to be at the insane asylum first thing in the morning.'


March 21 - Bard College, Barrytown, New York

This is the pow-wow grounds for today's generation of college kids who are fortunate enough to be sent to a 'liberated' campus. Student council spends its funds on big wild dance parties with all the free booze you can drink. A teenage sound man has a temper tantrum when I kvetch about the shocks on stage. 'Quit breaking my chops!' he screams. Somebody waves his penis at me. There are no adults anywhere on campus.


April 3 - Logos Studios, Ghent, Belgium

The owner here buys every record Polly Bradfield and I have with us, except my country album. 'I am not interested in country and western music,' he says.


April 10 - City Limits, New York, NY

The manager of this 'urban cowboy' bar turns down the Chadbournes. 'We want bands with pedal steel and fiddle that play dance songs people can recognise.'


April 11th - O'Lunneys, New York, NY

The manager of this 'urban cowboy' bar allows me to audition on Monday night. Afterwards, he says: I like country music to be natural. That was too affected.'


April 30 - The Bowery, Detroit, Michigan

A drunk passes out and unfortunately happens to land on the PA's master power switch. The bar is filled with howling feedback. The muscular sound man, whose t-shirt reads 'I can be very nice sometimes', hits the drunk as hard as he can. The drunk returns with three friends who begin pelting the front door with beer bottles. The second set goes on as scheduled.


May 3 - The Club Doobee, Lansing, Michigan

This has been a red-neck and motorcycle club hangout for years. All of a sudden the owner decides to start renting isolated nights out to a local fellow who wants to promote new wave shows. The two crowds don't mesh. While we set up two women in slacks and bee-hive hairdos quit their pool game and storm out, muttering 'You ain't playing no goddamn country, no goddamn country at all!'


May 4 - Calhoun's, Cincinnati, Ohio

C.A.G.E., a local avant-garde art organisation, launches a new series called Art In Bars. The Chadbournes perform at this campus bar, and the two organisers are the only people there. One gives me our check and leaves halfway through. 'I don't know what happened,' she says. 'I have lots of friends who would like this sort of thing but they're not here. They all had other plans tonight, I guess.'


May 6th - Ruby Tuesday's, Springfield, Ohio

The night before we play here I am told the club is famous for a particular incident years ago. Someone from a motorcycle gang whose hand had been lopped off ripped someone else's face to shreds with his hook in front of the bar. 'Don't let that freak you out or anything,' I am told.


May 16th - Bard College, Barrytown, New York

Back to Bard with a hastily thrown-together jam band including myself and Frank Lowe on tenor sax, playing Eddie Cochran and Hank Williams tunes among other things. An all-night marathon is in progress in a huge barn-like gymnasium with 30 bands involved. Everyone - organisers, audience, sound-men, most of the musicians - are completely loaded on booze, grass, hash, cocaine, LSD, speed, angel dust. The schedule is running 5-6 hours late. After we finally insist on either playing or leaving with the money at about 4 am, we finally are allowed to go on. A drummer whose band's set got cut in half pushes into me.

'You goddamn pussy motherfucker!' he shouts. 'What's the matter with you? Can't stay up late?'

'I have a family,' I say. 'I have to get up early.'

'You have a family! You have to get up early! You're a fucking pussy!'

The same guy who flicked his penis at me the last time we played here comes up before we start.

'Hey Chadbourne! Hey Chadbourne, man! Remember me?' He is practically drooling.

'How could I forget you?' I say.

Tonight man! I'm whipping my fucking cock out again tonight! No shit!

He does.

Someone says 'Where you going, boy?' to Frank Lowe on our way out and he completely panics.

Jumping into the car, he starts screaming 'Get me out of here! Come on, don't say a goddamn thing just get this fucking car moving and let's get the fuck out of here, man, before I have to kill somebody!'

Later he tells me it was the hardest gig he's ever played in his life, including sleaze and raunch throughout the USA. 'That's the last time I ever play for $100,' he says.


July 17-18 - Stuffy's, Richmond, Virginia

A weekend gig. The room is upstairs and is impeccably neat, with a salad bar. The manager is a wimp wearing a mohair sweater. The owner shakes my hand and asks me if we have fan club in Richmond.

After the first set the manager says 'Eugene, could you please turn your guitar down? The customers are complaining bout all the irritating high notes!'

After the last set the manager fires us, throwing an extra $50 for our trouble. We are glad to get the hell out of there and drive all night, almost going off the road 10 miles from home. When I get home I find out our new dog Melody has diarrhoea.


Sept 11 - the Kitchen, New York NY

We open the 1981-82 music season here with Faron Young and Roger Miller material. Derek Bailey, in New York on a hiatus, tells me 'This will change the course of the history of music! I can tell my children I was there!'


Sept 17 - Streets, Boston, Massachusetts

'I don't care what people say,' the manager tells me. 'You're one hell of a singer and guitar player. But next time you'll have to play for less money.'


Sept 25-26, the Purple Horse, Raleigh, North Carolina

'Oh God!' Bruce Hampton of the legendary Southern band Hampton Grease Band tells me, 'never play in Raleigh!'

We knew something was wrong when the sign on the door said 'neat dress required'.

Somehow we manage to get held over a second night. 'I think we made a mistake,' the manager tells me. 'We advertised you as a music city type.'

On the second night someone throws a beer bottle at me during a Jimi Hendrix song, 'House Burning Down'. 'Just some yahoo stoned out of his mind and hooked on 4-chord rock,' the owner says after throwing him out (4 chords? Not bad…)

For the first time in my life I get paid in complete silence by the manager.

Next door at another bar, PC Goodtimes, a local rock musician says, 'You guys sound funky! But you can't expect to make it big with the audience the first time you play in a town.'


Nov 16 - the Pier, Raleigh

Back to Raleigh. David and I decide to open up for the The Ventures as a two-man band. The loading dock is flooded and the club staff are moronic. The sound man shocks the Ventures' roadie by asking how many vocal mikes this famous instrumental combo needs.

'What!' the roadie says. 'Crazy joke, man!'

The sound man shrinks away and approaches me. 'Like…uh…I don't know much about sound man, and …uh…nothing about the Ventures. How many vocal mikes do they need?'

Like most warm-up gigs, this one is an anti-climax. My well-prepared set list with everything from Merle Haggard to Thelonious Monk covers is received with shocked stares by the audience, many of whom are die-hard Ventures fans in business suits. I overheard one fellow telling the Ventures' roadie: 'You guys are great but that opening act should've played K-Mart.'

The manager says 'Well, different…' to me when she pays me.


Nov 18th - the Station, Chapel Hill, N Carolina

While we pack up after another two-man gig, two waitresses get into a knock-down brawl. Screaming, breaking windows and rolling all over the floor clawing at each other.

Ed Hunter, the manager, talks extremely fast. 'The next time you guys come here we're going to have to change the situation just slightly to account for this kind of development and charge you a $2 cover or something like that so you can sit back and watch the fight and not have it be a freebee like it was tonight.'

'I'm sorry as all hell you guys can't make any money playing here,' the bartender interjects.

'Yeah well I just lost $50 on the football game so I'm not about to tell you anything like that,' Hunter adds sympathetically as a beer bottle flies overhead. 'Why don't we go outside on the back patio and pass around a bowl of hash and avoid this little unpleasant scene in here.'


Dec 7th - the Double Door, Charlotte, N Carolina


The Chadbournes wind up antagonizing a well-known rhythm and blues bar. A tall bearded fellow into his beer stops me on the way out.

'You're lucky I don't go home and get my rifle and shoot you,' he says.

'Why?' I ask him.

'Because you're total bullshit!'

I say 'I don't go around killing people for that reason, do you?'

'I do,' he says.

He and a gang of buddies watch us load up in the parking lot. When I bring out the beat-up old Sony I sue to play pre-recorded tapes of some of my favourite TV shows, he runs up to me.

'That tape recorder is mine!' he shouts 'That's what makes your art a travesty! I know what I'm talking about, I'm a poet!'

He makes a fist and points to my crotch. 'I'm taking your balls,' he says. 'I paid a $2 cover and I want two balls for it.'

When we're ready to roll he stands by the van screaming at us. David, Scott and I feel demoralized, spend a few minutes discussing what we could use for weapons. 'Sometimes you just have to mix it up,' Scott says. (Later I start carrying around a bag full of slugs to use as a blackjack.)

Later in an all-night diner the cook makes an impassioned plea for cleanliness. 'I want a kitchen floor someone can walk in and start licking!' he shouts at a waitress. The next morning my wife Emily tells me she dreamt the same incident.