David Dondero fights the good fight, success and stability be damned
Folk-rock troubadour brings his incisive tunes to Will's Pub
Published: November 20, 2013
DAVID DONDERO with Goodrich and the Die Tryin's, Zap Dragon and the Attack, Sterling Schroeder and the Chosen Ones 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24 | Will's Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | willspub.org | $5
For years, nomadic singer-songwriter David Dondero flirted with the idea of giving up his hardscrabble musical life. On 2010 album #Zero with a Bullet, he sings, "I need to get away/ I don't trust a goddamned thing that I say/ I really need to get away from me." The title track of his new album, This Guitar, puts it most bluntly, however: "This guitar fucking ruined my life/ Lost me jobs and lost me wives/ I swear I'm gonna strangle its skinny neck/ For turning my sweet life into a wreck."
"I've been saying for years that I'm going to get out of this racket," Dondero says. "It's a losing game. But I haven't stopped yet. I still have new songs." The tunes on the self-released, Kickstarter-funded This Guitar brim with devastating details, impassioned opinions and odes to life's broken-hearted peculiarity. "Samantha's Got a Bag of Coal" relates the story of an Indiana-born, Bay Area-transplanted transvestite who was nearly killed in a hate crime before eventually committing suicide; "There's No Tomorrow in This Song" finds Dondero mulling mortality in Alaska while serving drinks to a three-man crew that ends up perishing on Mount McKinley.
Of This Guitar's 11 tracks, Dondero says, "They're pretty much just a continuation of what I do. Nothing new." But barroom piano, Tejano-laced horn arrangements and accordion swatches provided by Austin, Tex., musicians Eddy Hobizal and Kullen Fuchs (during recording sessions there) add jaunty flair to the album's otherwise bare-bones palate. Don't expect anything more than one weary man and his beat-up Gibson Hummingbird when Dondero swings through, however. "It'll just be me alone playing folk-style," he says. "I can't afford to tour with a band. I'd love to someday. And the guys who play on my records deserve to be paid properly – they have children and families back home to support."
Does Dondero regret giving up creature comforts in favor of a long, strange life spent cycling between odd jobs, break-even touring and a long run of critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums? That depends. On the brutally honest "Alcohol," he sings, "Your dear old mama/ Told you I was trouble/ Told you I'd always be poor/ And that you'd best get out on the double." Later in the song, which Dondero describes as "completely accurate," his significant other splits in favor of stability, family and money, to which he responds, "You wonder why people drink/ Yep!"
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