Since 1993 singer-songwriter David Dondero has trucked through the United States, clocking in countless miles, encounters and stories, all to culminate in 15 EPs and LPs, and well over 50 songs. Taking on the highway once again on his recent tour in support of “This Guitar”—recorded in Texas and Washington state, and released in the fall—Dondero will return to Wilmington, NC, a place he considers one of his many homes. He will play the intimate space of Bourgie Nights on January 2nd.
encore spoke with Dondero about life on the road, his musical inspirations, including the late, great George Jones, and where to find the best burger in America.
encore (e): What’s the best and worst part about being on the road?
David Dondero (DD): The best is visiting old friends and seeing new things everyday, getting to play my songs every night and honing the craft of playing guitar. You learn something new everyday, especially with playing live and even experiencing local cuisine. I like the Zen of driving—zoning out for hours in a trance-like state. The worst [part] is getting sick, not sleeping well—loneliness, feeling like a stranger, not having your own home to go back to.
e: You’ve covered a lot of highway. Where’s the best place to grab a bite in the grand ol USA? (Fan-friend Chad Keith is looking for the best burger if you have any insight…)
DD: New Orleans is my favorite food town. I recently enjoyed one of my favorite sandwiches, “Da Bomb,” at Guys Po’Boys on Magazine Street; it’s got blackened catfish, blackened shrimp, melted cheese and all the fixin’s—really pretty amazing.
The last really good burger I had was at the Palomino in Milwaukee. The best steak and eggs on the planet is definitely at the Dixie Grill in Wilmington. They take the prize for that. I’m looking forward to returning.
e: Any favorite venues or cities you like the most?
DD: Lately I’ve been liking Reno, Nevada, a lot—and Pueblo, Colorado. I enjoy the rivers that run through the towns. The Truckee River in August is really fun to float down. Seems there’s a lot going on in those places underneath; in fact, I’ve thought about moving to either [place]. Rent is cheap and they have not yet been overrun.
I also like Edinborough, Scotland; the Scottish Storytellers Centre was a great venue. But one of my favorite places I’ve toured is Perth, Australia; the most out-of-the-way place and the ocean water is amazing. I remember cruising around that town, listening to 10cc. jumping in the ocean and getting slammed in the shore break. The water was perfect.
Or Yungaburra, Queensland, where the platypus live down the street from the historic Yungaburra Hotel. I swear it’s haunted.
One of the most interesting cities i’ve played was Belgrade, Serbia, and seeing the ruins of the Milosevic era. The remnants of a bombed government building and the city’s rebirth.
e: Tell me about your latest release: Inspirations, collaborations, where you recorded, with whom …
DD: I recorded “This Guitar” mostly in Austin, Texas, and Underwood, Washington, at four different studios. I collaborated with Adoniram Lipton for some of it; he played piano on two of the tracks. Kullen Fuchs of Austin also played on several tracks and did horn arrangements. Eddy Hobizal played piano on the title track. It’s an album using piano, guitar, accordion, horns, optigan organ, meditation balls and guitar with minimal percussion. I wanted it to be smooth all the way through.
e: Might you have a song on this album you love most? One you love playing live?
DD: I like playing “Take a Left Turn in Boise” the best. It’s usually what I open with these days—a nice way to break the ice with the audience. It’s a hopeful story about gambling for what you want.
I also like to sing “Roses and Rain.” So far i haven’t gotten tired of either one—even though I’ve sung them hundreds of times.
e: What song do you receive most requests for at your shows? Do you oblige happily (or angrily)?
DD: “Not Everybody Loves Your Doggie Like You Do”—I gladly play it every time because it’s a fun song to do. I’m stoked if someone likes my song well enough to request it. If i still know it; I’ll play it for them. I’ll gladly oblige and play any song of mine for someone who’s taken the time and spent their hard-earned money to see me play. I’m thankful to them.
e: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
DD: Probably Jason Lytle from Grandaddy. I really like his productions and he’s fun to hang out with. I respect what he does.
e: What songs do you enjoy covering at your shows?
DD: Lately, I really love doing several covers. The first being “Sea of Heartbreak,” which is a song written by Paul Hampton and Hal David. Don Gibson made it famous. I really feel for that song so i try to sing it every night. I can relate to the lyric. I also like doing “Vincent” by Don Mclean. It’s a challenge to make it through that one with no mistakes. I can empathize with the lyric to that one as well.
At the end of my set, I do a medley of songs in the key of C including “Freight Train” written by Elizabeth Cotton. I play that song for the bookends of a medley, which sometimes includes “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” Bob Dylan or “The Boxer” by Paul Simon, mashed up with some of my tunes, which fit into the transient theme, like “Song for the Civil Engineer” and “ Less Than the Air.”
e: I know you were affected by the Possum’s passing earlier in the year. Tell me why you admire George Jones. Any other musicians you revere as much?
DD: I loved George Jones since I was a kid and my grandmother played his records. It was his voice—the uniqueness of it. The range. It’s amazing. When I think of George Jones I think of my grandma, and how she would get a childlike look in her eyes when she talked about him. She loved him. I loved him, too. No one ever sang like George Jones and no one ever will. One of a kind. He was himself. Naturally the best country singer ever. I also hold Brian Wilson in the highest regard. Luckily, he’s still out there.
e: I understand you work on a farm as well when you’re not touring. What’s life like there?
DD: I’ve been working off the grid on a farm in Mendocino County in Northern California. It’s an amazingly beautiful and remote place. We mill our own lumber and grow our own food. We shit in a bucket and pour sawdust over it. When the bucket’s full, we dump it in a hole with the rest of the compost. When the hole is full, we plant a fruit tree. Those trees are gonna have our chromosomes in them.
At night we listen to old jazz, blues and comedy records. The owner of the farm has about 10,000 records and used to play in the San Francisco jazz scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I get to see bear, ravens, red tail hawks, deer, wild turkey, jackrabbits, skunk and alligator lizards on a regular basis.
There are two natural springs on the property and we mill the lumber from fallen Douglas firs that we haul from the woods with a chain and a back hoe.
I’m able to sleep in a room that I built from the wood of nearby trees. It’s communal living environment, yet sometimes I won’t see anyone for days. I won’t speak to anyone for days.
I get a lot of exercise when I’m there, walking up and down those hills, building stuff, cleaning things up, digging trenches and mending fences. It’s a pure way of living.
There is a diversity of crops—no pesticides, all natural sunlight. I appreciate how bright the stars are, with minimal light pollution. I appreciate the complete quiet of the forest—the mist coming off the Pacific, curling through the steep ravines. The Manzanita trees. The giant Doug firs and the feral cats. I enjoy the local radio station, which monitors the cops. It’s a much more free-thinking atmosphere than any other place I’ve been.
e: Think you’ll be on the road for life?
DD: I think I’m gonna start training to be a pro skateboarder. It’s not too late, I know … I’m only 44.DETAILS: David Dondero with Emma Nelson Thursday, January 2nd Bourgie Nights 127 Princess Street All ages show, $5 advance (available at Eventbrite) Under 21, $8 at the door