Formed in 1982 by guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, bass player Mark Kramer and drummer David Licht, Shockabilly produced music that sounded like an unholy combination of the Electric Prunes and Karlheinz Stockhausen. They specialized in outrageous cover versions - ‘Psychotic Reaction’, ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Purple Haze’ - and also more obscure items by John Lee Hooker, John Fogerty and Syd Barrett.
When the song seems to be familiar, it gives the listener a thread on which to hang the power trio-chaos in which they liked to indulge. Chadbourne’s background was in rock, blues, late 60s free jazz and free improvisation - he put it all into Shockabilly with an energy and spleen that gained a response from the more adventurous post-punk audiences.
After they folded in 1985 Chadbourne, an inspired songwriter, pursued a solo career while Kramer, as well as playing in B.A.L.L. and Bongwater, set up Shimmy-Disc, one of the great radical rock labels of the 80s and 90s.
The final two albums by the avant rock trio Shockabilly were their creative high points, the albums where their combination of silly, antic humor and experimental noise finally truly came together. It’s not that these albums are any less goofy than what had come before — guitarist Eugene Chadbourne still sings a lot of the songs in those silly cartoon voices that Primus stole outright, and bassist Kramer introduces that bizarre sped-up voice that he later used on the Bongwater records with Ann Magnuson. New drummer David Licht, who became an integral part of Kramer’s world starting with these records, gives the band more of a rock & roll wallop, the same sort of heft that Sonic Youth suddenly gained when Steve Shelley joined. These are still self-consciously abrasive, “difficult” records filled with alternately giggly and creepy sound collages, but songs like “How Can You Kill Me, I’m Already Dead” (a disturbing musical recasting of some of Charles Manson’s public rants) and Kramer’s unexpectedly bouncy “Pity Me Sheena” have a musical presence and authority that Shockabilly’s earlier records lacked.