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David Dondero Bio

DAVID DONDERO By Darren Hanlon

I recently called up Dave to relieve the boredom on a three day drive across the bottom of the United States to return a prodigal hire car.

“So you’re in Texas on the I-10?” he wanted to know, “What junction are you at?”

“Um, give me a sec,” I hadn’t been paying attention but the road was straight and clear enough for me to consult the GPS, “I’ve just passed the exit to highway 118.”
“That means you’ve gone through Van Horn.”

“Maybe?…Yes!” I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was, “How the hell did you…?”
“..Oh man there’s a water hole you gotta stop at,” he said, “Fresh springs at Balmorhea. Break up the drive. Freshen up. Just cannonball right in there.”

David Dondero has road maps tattooed on his brain. He is a true prophet of the highways of America. Most importantly they are the veins that connect him to the next show. He doesn’t take them for granted. He’s run ruts in them, relentlessly back and forth over the years, through prairies and mountain ranges, and he’s got sermons memorised for most stretches. I know he’s tried settling down and seeking what some would call a ‘normal life’ (bar-tending in San Francisco, laboring in NY) but the road keeps luring him back. He wakes me at 9am in a Super 8 motel after a really late show in Fredericksburg VA and says, “Come on man, I gotta get outta this place. I’ve got ramblin fever.” He tours more than anyone I’ve ever met, or heard of.

My story with him started a decade ago, on my first tour overseas, when I’d been invited to play a show in Omaha, Nebraska. Dave was on the bill too; we were both booked to play in the front room of a shambolic house that held regular shows called Hotel Frank. He came down to the basement and introduced himself and his girlfriend while I was fetching my guitar out of it’s case to tune it. They were driving around together and sleeping in the back of his truck, mostly outside of the towns under the stars. His face looked like it had broken off Mt Rushmore.

I played and then he played. Drunken kids were sprawled around drinking out of super-sized red plastic disposable cups. They were reverentially listening to his songs, and quietly singing along with the ones they knew. I sat still too with the growing excitement of a music fan discovering something new. It was folk; I recognised the chord progressions and melodies but together with the words and stories, sung with such verve and urgency, they were bursting at the seams. It was equal parts razor-sharp narrative and travelogue, and free-flowing beat poetry, name-dropping American states and towns like a Kerouac novel.

After the show the party kicked up a notch and Dave and I chatted for a while in the corner and suddenly from the other room came shouting and then a scream and people rushing past us. Out on the lawn in front of the house a fierce melee between local rival gangs had broken out; fists flying and even baseball bats. One of our revelers had shouted something dumb at them and now the brawlers attention had turned towards us in the house. Windows were being smashed and people running everywhere. We looked out the window to see it go down and then some creep (strangely wearing surgical gloves)  pulled a handgun from under his t-shirt.

“Holly shit,” yelled Dave, “Come up this way.” I grabbed my banjo and vaulted up the stairs and we hid in a cupboard and cowered until the Police arrived and things calmed down. It’d be hard not to form a bond.

Weeks later I returned home with a bunch of Dave’s albums and they fast became part of my regular soundtrack. Our paths would cross from time to time on US tours and we’d play songs for an hour or so in parking lots. Later still we did tours just the two of in his car, and I got to see first hand the locations for some of his songs. We’ve shared hotel rooms and I’d witness him drunk and exhausted after shows tapping out words onto his computer, for hours and hours, good stuff too, and I’d envy that direct connection he has with his muse compared with my pedantic cautiousness.

In 2005 I brought him out to Australia to tour with me and it went badly with Dave ending up in hospital with pneumonia after a drinking binge, being found cowering in pain in the doorway of Polyester Records in Melbourne by the clerk opening up for work one morning. He’s been at me to bring him back ever since to redeem himself.

Just a month ago I met Jolie Holland backstage at a festival and she said, “So you’re the Darren Hanlon from the Dave Dondero song?” I coyly nodded and she was truly excited, and I didn’t have to do anything, just be mentioned in his song. He’s a musicians musician. He’s been my meal ticket in the US enough times now, just because we’re buddies.

And yes, there’s a song that mentions me… it’s on this album we’ve sent you (Wherever you go There you Are). And before you think me an ego maniac for releasing an album that praises me, it did cross my mind as the only reason not to put it out. But really, I’m flattered, and it’s no reason you shouldn’t hear all these songs. As a fan I think this his best album yet.

Discography @ Flippin Yeah Industries

FYI008 (November 2011) – #Zero With A Bullet (Album)
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