Eric McFadden Trio is at Levelz

Making it in music is as much about survival as it is about talent.

"Most people who get into this, don't stay with it," Eric McFadden said. "You're traveling around in a broken down van with a bunch of guys, sleeping on beer-soaked floors and you're lucky to be eating a can of tomato soup that day."

It's not for everyone.

"I did all that," McFadden said. "It was hard, but at the same time, I felt alive. It was better than the alternative, which is not play music."

Like most musicians who haven't made the commitment, McFadden worked odd jobs on construction sites, but "it (screwed) my music up. You get off work and you're tired. You're in pain. But you still have to promote your gig and play with a lot of energy.

"You have to make that decision at some point in your life. Some people can. A lot of people can't," he said.

McFadden has been making a good living as a musician for a while now, but when he first quit his day job it was "pretty rough."

"I'm not proud of it, but I was part of that musician stereotype. I had a stripper girlfriend who paid the rent."

It was the early '90s and McFadden was living in Albuquerque, N.M., playing in the punk metal band Angry Babies.

Independent labels showed some interest in Angry Babies, but the band disintegrated as members suffered from alcohol abuse, depression and carpal tunnel.

In 1994, McFadden gave up on New Mexico and moved to San Francisco to sleep on musician and filmmaker Michael Dean's couch. (Dean featured McFadden in his documentary "D.I.Y. or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist" along with Lydia Lunch and Ian McKaye.)

"We lived on rice and free condiments," McFadden said. Before leaving New Mexico, McFadden had been in the band Liar. The members of Liar moved to San Francisco one by one.

A San Francisco reviewer described McFadden as Slash in a cowboy hat, "a versatile guitarist. ... He can pull off some amazing licks, and I have to say, he is the best local guitarist I've seen in San Francisco. Playing in apparently four other projects, including The Eric McFadden Experience, he's also one of the hardest working musicians around."

"Liar really took off," he said. The band based its music somewhere between blues, rock, country and flamenco. "Things were going so well. We were making a living."

McFadden also was in an avant-funk band called Alien Lovestock.

"That was kind of when I finally stopped living like a gutter rat," he said.

Since then, McFadden has played with a lot of great musicians, he said, and traveled all over the world with his music.

The Eric McFadden Trio is his latest music project, focused on playing rock 'n' roll.

Bass player James Whiton is an old friend from Albuquerque who lives in Seattle.

"I remember seeing him in (New Mexico) and thinking, 'I would love to play with this guy,'" McFadden said. They played together a few times before McFadden moved to San Francisco, and Whiton didn't forget the experience. When he saw an Eric McFadden Experience poster in Seattle, Whiton showed up to the gig.

A year ago, drummer Jeff Anthony walked into Dante's in Portland, Ore., and sat in with the two musicians.

"We met him that day and played the gig. The chemistry was so right on," McFadden said. "The Eric McFadden Trio was born."

EMT has recorded two albums together. One recorded live at Dante's in Portland and another in the studio, "Diamonds to Coal."

It's far more of a rock album, than McFadden's previous albums, but it still has a touch of the flamenco sound that has become his trademark.

"I have a real affinity for Spanish culture and music," he said.

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