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Published: 2004/03/30
by Andy Tennille

Used with Eric McFadden

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

"Should I get it?"

I turn around to find Eric McFadden glancing over a black-and-white striped coat that he’s considering for his stage wardrobe for the next P-Funk shows at the end of the year. Besides fronting his own trio and playing solo flamenco guitar, McFadden serves as lead guitarist in George Clinton’s latest incarnation of the Mothership.

"That’s pretty sweet," I say, removing the purple velvet pimp hat I have on and placing it back on the mannequin head. "How much is it going to set you back?"

McFadden glances down at the jacket sleeve and grimaces. Turning around, he looks in the full-length mirror again, assessing both the jacket and his own financial situation.

"It’s not often you find a jacket like this," he says as he walks over to the hat rack and picks up a bowler. "I check out stores like this all the time while I’m on tour. I’m always looking for stuff to wear onstage. Last year, I bought a nice top hat, but I lost it a little while ago. I freaked out, man. I wore that hat all the time at shows."

2003 was a busy year for the San-Francisco based guitarist. Besides playing with Clinton, McFadden recorded and released a solo album, Devil Moon, which highlights his flamenco guitar prowess and songwriting abilities. He also recorded an album with the Eric McFadden Trio, Diamonds to Coal, which is a dark, brooding rock record. Both are excellent.

"Playing with P-Funk, it’s all about playing with my idols," he says as he takes the coat off and flips it onto a nearby chair. "George Clinton is one of those motherfuckers who was completely ahead of his time. His influence is unbelievable, from soul to rock to hip-hop. It was an honor to be asked to join his circus.

"Playing with the trio is very different. I’m just playing with a double bass player (James Whiton) and a drummer (Paulo Baldi). . They’ll go anywhere with me, so it’s great. If you’re not listening closely, then you can definitely get lost. And playing on my own is the acoustic, flamenco stuff, mostly guitars and mandolins."

McFadden also worked on the upcoming new Slang album, More Talk About Tonight, with Widespread Panic bass player Dave Schools and electronica wiz Layng Martin which is due for release in June. Schools came calling again in November, asking McFadden to join his Stockholm Syndrome project, a rock collaboration with Jerry Joseph, drummer Wally Ingram and pianist Danny Dzuik. The group recorded in the Bahamas in January and will tour Europe and the U.S. this summer with an album release date a few weeks before the Slang disc is due to appear.

"Dave is a really fun guy," McFadden says. "We’ve been friends for a while. This is the second time we worked together for Slang, so I really want to hear how the record came out. We recorded it at Layng’s house on Long Island and spent a few days just hanging out and having fun."

After putting the jacket on hold with the store clerk, we head down to Amoeba Music for a look around. McFadden stops at the store entrance and points to a poster on the door.

"Carla Bozolich is an American avant-garde punk rock queen," he says. "She’s a friend of mine. I’m going to her show in a few weeks. I’ll have to check out her new album."

As we step down onto the main floor of the store, McFadden answers the first question I ask all my guests before I even have a chance to ask it what the first album he ever bought was.

"It was Hendrix’ Band of Gypsies. I bought it for like 75 cents when I was 11 or 12 years old," he says. "My dad used to play Jimi all the time in the house. I first heard Funkadelic around the same time through a cousin from New York City who had this big, six-foot fro with a pick sticking out of the middle of it. I remember watching Watergate on TV and listening to Parliament for the first time."

As we make our way into Used Rock, I spot what looks to be about 50 copies of George Harrison’s last album Brainwashed stacked up along a shelf. A long-standing George fan in this John vs. Paul world, I walk over and pick up the disc.

"It’s a pretty good record," McFadden says. "He was a great guitarist, totally underrated. Just a brilliant musician with a really cool demeanor and a great sense of spirituality. I identify with John the most, but…geez, the two dead ones now, huh? What the fuck’s up with that?"

Beyond the obvious rock influences, McFadden’s also into classical guitar and Spanish flamenco music. He’s a fan of Andre Segovia, Paco de Luca and Carlos Montoya, specifically Montoya’s The Art of Flamenco. On a trip to Madrid, McFadden was walking through the Plaza Mayor and met some street musicians playing flamenco for tips.

"I told them I played a little guitar, and they asked me to go get it," he says. "I came back and played with those guys for a while. They started calling me El Gitano Negro.’ I spent a really cool afternoon playing music with those guys."

In high school, McFadden made friends with some of the punks at his school and the result was the beginning of his love for punk music.

"The stoners hung out next to the punks at lunch at our school," he says. "This guy and I became friends and he got me into punk music. He lent me the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks. In ’83 or ’84, I punked around with the Minutemen one night in New Mexico, which was undeniably significant. D. Boon was the man. Mike Watt is just a killer bass player. I love Ballhog or Tugboat?"

McFadden listens to a lot of Dead Kennedys, Pixies, Black Flag, Zappa, Zeppelin and Sabbath.

"I like stuff with a social aspect to it," he says. "All of those groups were a little edgy and showed me a whole other side to music. It definitely influenced my own sound. I love the Clash. They’re the punkest of the punk bands."

It’s no wonder McFadden is a huge Tom Waits fan. Both musicians are ominous songwriters that write stark lyrics delivered with growling vocals. Rain Dogs, Bone Machine, and Mule Variations are a few of his Waits favorites.

"I don’t know what it is specifically, but I like everything about his music," he says. "His songwriting and lyricism, his storytelling approach and just the way he expresses himself vocally. He’s the best about the players he chooses and how he uses them. If I could be half of Tom Waits, I’d be cool."

As far as jazz goes, McFadden is a fan of Miles, Mingus and Coltrane, as well as the great Spanish gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and Reinhardt’s right-hand man, Stephane Grappelli.

"Grappelli died on my birthday in 1998," he says. "I stayed up all night playing old Django vinyls. The melodies Grappelli created were beautiful, just a master in a complementing Django on guitar. I had some really great records back then. My entire collection got stolen about a year ago, so I’m trying to slowly build it back up."

Leaving Amoeba, we head back over to the store where the coat is. McFadden tries it on again, again examining the coat at all angles before putting a down payment on the purchase. He’ll return after he gets back from tour to pay the rest. As the store clerk takes his name and information, I ask McFadden what it’s like to walk onstage every night with the P-Funk All Stars with all those costumes.

"Shakespeare said All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,’" he says. "I think all the world is a circus, and we’re all the clowns."

Eric’s Picks of the Day
Charles Mingus, Ah Um
Noe Venable, World Is Bound by Secret Knots
Jimi Hendrix, Axis Bold as Love
Carla Buzulich, Red Headed Stranger
Miles Davis, On the Corner

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