Punk, funk and other junk: Eric McFadden

Fingerstyle virtuoso Eric McFadden plays it cool during a wintertime show at Kirkwood. Drummer JD. Beck is in the background.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Eric McFadden often mentions gypsy when he explains his myriad music styles. His craft has led to a nomadic lifestyle filled with creative and often eccentric artists. He seems to fit comfortably with everybody.

When he last played at the Crystal Bay Casino, he was part of Anders Osborne’s band. A year earlier, he was a musician at-large at the High Sierra Music Festival, jamming with all sorts of bands and musicians, including Luther Dickinson. He’ll be back in the Crown Room on Friday, Nov. 8, as part of a revue led by Tab Benoit – a showcase for Benoit’s label, Whiskey Bayou Records.

McFadden’s Whiskey Bayou debut is “Paint By Numbers.” He’s since had a European release on the French label Bad Reputation, an acoustic album called “The Light Ahead.”

“Generally, I like to alternate between a rock or electric album and then an acoustic album, just to keep it interesting for myself and hopefully for other people as well,” McFadden told Tahoe Onstage before a show last week in New Orleans. “There is a lot of territory to explore. I am just trying to keep myself inspired and motivated and interested. That’s one of the pleasures of having several projects.”

Projects. That’s musician-speak for bands or collaborations. The Eric McFadden project is continuous. What does he play? “It’s from punk to funk to anything else. Punk, funk and other junk.”

McFadden, 53, studied flamenco guitar in Spain and jazz in New York. Journey’s Neil Schon said McFadden is “the greatest guitar player I’ve ever heard.”

McFadden played for three years with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. He’s been in Eric Burdon and The Animals, fronts a supergroup with members of Fishbone, T.E.N., and played in Stockholm Syndrome with Dave Schools, Jerry Joseph and drummer Wally Ingram. He often gets together with Les Claypool.

“Fishbone and Primus were two of my favorite bands,” he said. “Now I’ve known them for more years that I thought I would be alive.”

McFadden works half the time in New Orleans and people mistakenly think he lives there.

“There’s all these great players in New Orleans that I get to play with: Ivan Neville and Anders Osborne are out here, Leo Nocentelli (of The Meters), the Galactic folks, Papa Mali.”

McFadden lived in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly two decades before relocating to Los Angeles a year ago. He’ll move to New York in January.

When artists collaborate with McFadden, they don’t just get to share their art with a virtuoso. They get to know reserved, sincere and compassionate man. McFadden has long dreadlocks and dresses in black, and often wears a derby or stovepipe hat. A macabre sense of humor comes out in his songs. He’s congenial enough for a reporter to risk having a Chris Farley-Paul McCartney interaction.

What was it like to tour with Joe Strummer? (Strummer was the band leader of the Clash. He died of a heart issue in 2002).

“That was pretty heartbreaking because we could use a guy like Joe Strummer in the madness of these times,” McFadden said. “He was real man of the people, just a genuine soul and he was a great human being and an artist. It was a great loss.”

Strummer noticed McFadden playing guitar backstage at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.

“He invited us to his bus we where we stayed up until sunrise drinking Johnny Walker Black and playing whatever songs came into our heads. I didn’t tour with him. I opened some shows at the Troubadour in LA. The I was playing with George Clinton and ran into him in Japan Fuji Rock Festival. We sang Karaoke on a log by bonfire drinking Four Roses bourbon until the sun rises again. Every time I hung out with Joe Strummer it was until the sun rises, of course.”

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
McFadden and Eddie Roberts jam at the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Recently, McFadden has begun a project with Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds. Roberts is a British native who was influenced by jazz’s Grant Green and funk’s Leo Nocentelli. After a jam in Roberts new home Denver, the guitarist decided to start Duo or Die. But when they got in the studio – Roberts is the co-founder of the label Color Red — Roberts couldn’t help but bring in a full band, which includes Wally Ingram. The band’s name is Sophistakits. They’ve recorded five songs and released three of them. More sessions and performances are in the works.

“Eddie and I wound up connecting in a pretty profound way,” McFadden said. “We have an admiration and respect for each other’s playing. But what also happens onstage is we meld or morph into each other. My playing gets a little more Eddie and his gets a little more Eric. We really vibe well up there and I feel like our styles become incredibly complementary to each other’s because we’re playing into each other quite a bit.”

For the Whiskey Bayou Revue, Tab Benoit will play drums behind McFadden and rising blues guitarist Eric Johanson for their respective sets. The show concludes with a set with Benoit playing his beat-up Telecaster guitar.

“This guitar didn’t look this was when I bought it,” Benoit said during a concert in Reno last year. “This is the result of Courvoisier and sweat.”

Benoit is a showman.

“He’s always in the moment,” McFadden said. “When Tab plays, you feel he’s completely digging in there and just taking everything he’s got in there and putting it out. I really appreciate that. He plays with a good amount of passion and fire. I enjoy listening to him night after night. You can’t say that about everybody.”

— Tim Parsons

Related story: Tab Benoit lives in the moment.

Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Revue
Featuring Eric McFadden and Eric Johanson
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room (seated show)
Tickets: $25
Red Room after-party: Jason King Band (free)

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Guitar god triumvirate: Luther Dickinson, left, Eric McFadden and Anders Osborne at the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Eric McFadden and Angelo Moore of Fishbone.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Eric McFadden and Carl Dufrene on the Big Meadow stage.
Tahoe Onstage
Angleo Moore and Jah Work with Eric McFadden after a show.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.


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