Wry folk singer Dirk Hamilton returns to McCabe’s in support of the re-issue of his 1996 album, ‘Sufferupachuckle’
By Michael Aushenker
Most musicians tour when they have a new album to support. Not singer-songwriter Dirk Hamilton, who appears at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica on Saturday night in support of an older album: 1996’s “Sufferupachuckle.”
Then again, “Sufferupachuckle” is not just another album, and Hamilton is not “most musicians.”
“It’s one of my favorite albums,” Hamilton said of the record, one of nearly 20 he’s recorded dating back to his 1978 Elektra debut, “You Can Sing on the Left or Bark on the Right.” “It’s got a lot of great songs on it, and the sequence from one song to the next is almost perfect. The songs are really strong.”
This week, Hamilton is squiggling his way down the Pacific Northwest — where he has a gig in Redmond, Wash., and in Portland — to California’s Central Coast, where he plays Pismo Beach’s Shell Café.
“When you travel, time slows down,” Hamilton said. “Especially when you travel in difficult circumstances [not knowing the language], time slows way down. And that’s got to be a good thing.”
By week’s end Hamilton returns to Los Angeles, the place to which he devoted some of his best years as a young musician.
“Ironically, I didn’t play [McCabe’s] back in the 1970s,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in playing solo or acoustically; I just wanted to rock.”
In the 1980s, it was McCabe’s that rejected Hamilton, but since the late 1990s, when Hamilton began playing McCabe’s every few years, it appears musician and venue have met in the middle.
“It’s a great gig,” he said of McCabe’s. “When we do venues like that, they love singer-songwriters. The people there know how to listen to songs.”
Unlike, say, at a recent stop in Seattle, when Hamilton was performing and “you could hear a pin drop. And in the back, two people kept talking while 40 other people were dead silent.”
Hamilton stopped the performance. He glared at them until “they look around startled and realize they’re the only ones talking,” he said, chuckling.
Born in Indiana, the wry-witted Hamilton grew up in Sacramento and Stockton before arriving as a young musician in Los Angeles, where he lived in Hollywood, Venice and Malibu.
Elektra subsidiary ABC Records paired Hamilton with Gary Katz, the producer best known for crafting Steely Dan’s most iconic records in the 1970s as well as frontman Donald Fagen’s 1982 solo offering, “The Nightfly.” Hamilton and Katz got along well making “You Can Sing,” but when Katz tried to apply his aesthetic approach with the New York supergroup on Hamilton’s album, the lyrical folk rocker was initially not thrilled about the final product.
“They made records exactly opposite of how I made records,” Hamilton said of Steely Dan. “Everything is overdubs, tweaked and polished.”
These days, Hamilton divides his year between the Dallas area and Italy, a country he fell in love with 20 years ago. Unlike people in the States, the Italians know something about quality of life, he said, quoting Oscar Wilde: “America is the only country that went from barbarism straight to decadence without passing through civilization.”
At the McCabe’s show, expect a slew of tracks off of “Sufferupachuckle,” including “Walk on Lake George,” “Black Dog Blues,” and “New Earth Suit,” a crypto-tribute to the birth of his son.
Since the original release of “Sufferupachuckle” on the Core label, Hamilton had a daughter— now 12 — and his 19-year-old son has designs on becoming a professional musician, just like dad.
Life moves in cycles, he said, just like the musician’s career.
“I like it all,” Hamilton said. “I love being in the studio. I love making a new record and putting the songs down. The writing period, the studio period, the playing-live period. I love the rhythm of it.”
Dirk Hamilton follows opening act Walter Bliss at 8 p.m. Saturday at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. $15. Call (310) 828-8037 or visit mccabes.com.