At the time, everybody in Pittsburgh knew Damon Che. But few really knew him.

Che, who now lives an uneventful life in the Amish countryside 15 miles southwest of Punxatawney, Pa., was the octopus-armed drummer for Pittsburgh-bred experimental rock pioneers Don Caballero, a singular percussive force in indie-rock circles. But even Che himself talks about misunderstandings and bruises in the Don Caballero story that have sullied his larger legacy.

“Every Don Caballero record was a struggle to bring into the world, every Don Caballero record almost miscarried and it was usually because I had to coax people into making something,” Che told me this summer. “It was a constant barrage, getting people not to leave to get out the next record. I’m still bitter about it to this day, that it had to be like that.”

Though Che released a record in 2019 – a collection of old odds and ends by his other band, Thee Speaking Canaries, out this spring via Chunklet – he has embraced the sunsetting of his musical career.

“Maybe I’ve done all I can do – a grave only needs to be six feet deep,” he said. “If I have one regret it’s I don’t feel I ever got to play with musicians who were up to what I was up to at the trap set.”

+ + +

I first met Che around Memorial Day this year at the Bloomfield home of the late Karl Hendricks, a local indie icon who, in addition to leading his own trio, played bass in Thee Speaking Canaries. Che stood tall – he is broad-shouldered, long-armed and has to be pushing 6’5” – and had a kind of lumber to his walk, but was otherwise unassuming. He tapped his hands in his lap, as if he were rolling out a line on a snare, when he sat still for too long. We talked for some three hours, all of it on the record, and I could count on one hand the number of times we made eye contact.

Che, at 51, is quick to confront his demons. He admits he drank too much booze during the Don Caballero heyday – though, to clarify, he says: very little while recording the band’s considerable discography — but he’s sober now, and has been on the wagon for several years. He knows he had a particular, maybe even erudite, vision for the way things should work, and makes no apologies. These days, though, he’s more into meditation than confrontation or squabbling with the past.

“I had a lot of energy going in a lot of different directions,” Che told me, “and a lot of it probably made people uncomfortable.”

As a drummer at his peak, he was peerless. Che utterly battered his kit – characteristically, while only wearing boxer shorts – and inserted more polyrhythms and fills into an off-kilter time signature than most conventional rock drummers would imagine possible. He was more proficient, better at keeping time, than any drum machine – way more inventive, too.

Though he recognizes his talents, Che also likes poking fun at himself. He glowed as he told me a story from a Don Caballero tour that stopped somewhere deep in Eastern Europe, where he downed a fifth of vodka before his live set and peppered between-song banter with whiskey and more (and more!) cocktails. He approached a couple of young women after the set. They were not impressed.

“We have seen this before,” Che deadpanned, imitating the girls in a faux-Soviet accent, “where the drummer drinks the wodka and plays explosively.”

+ + +

Damon Che Fitzgerald always has been an exile.

Che spent most his formative years bouncing between distant parents in the orbit of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and grandparents who settled in the blue-collar Pittsburgh neighborhood of Greenfield. He got his first drum kit at 14; his father was a blues guitarist of some local renown.

Around ’83 or ‘84, after leaving Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill for Swissvale High School, Che found a home for his new-wave haircut and formed Pynknoys. It was the first in a long list of adventures. At 16, he joined Burgh hard-core stalwarts Half Life, playing as an opener for The Descendants at the fabled Electric Banana in Oakland. (The band’s Under The Knife EP, released as a 7-inch in 1986, became his recording debut.)

Mike LaVella played bass in Half Life when Che joined the band. Even in the mid-eighties, he told me, people recognized Che as something unusual in punk, a whiz kid, maybe, a kind of musical polymath.

“It was hard to keep up with him,” laughed LaVella, 54, who now lives in California. “I took the challenge. I was like, ‘If I’ve gotta play with Damon, I’ve gotta do this.’”

A stint with garage rockers The Heretics followed Che’s tenure in Half Life. Then came the all-too-brief noise-rock band Punching Contest, and sessions with guitarist Ian Williams in the band Rocco Rocco. (If you want a sample of the latter band, listen to “Stupid Puma;” it’s a Rocco Rocco song, Williams said.) Che was nothing if not energized to make a serious go at a career in music.

 “Damon has always been an outsider.”

That’s Dave Martin. He met Che in the mid-eighties when the drummer, then maybe a sophomore in high school, played a local talent show.

“Even then, he was just light years beyond any kid who considered himself a musician,” said Martin, 50, who is now a music-label executive living in Queens, N.Y. “It was a real ‘Holy Shit’ moment.”

“In high school, I was a metal kid transitioning into punk and I had a lot easier time than Damon,” Martin added. “He always looked different. Damon really stuck out and he would get a lot of flak. And he’s an oddball. I mean that in the best possible way.”

Che formed Don Caballero – his father said the name would never work, he told me – with guitarist Mike Banfield and bassist Pat Morris in 1991, shortly after starting to helm Thee Speaking Canaries, in which his weapon of choice is the guitar. (It’s been said, and Che himself says it, that Thee Speaking Canaries is equal parts Sonic Youth and Van Halen. Its Joy of Wine LP remains a blueprint for the intersection of post-rock and classic rock.)

Martin, who played alongside Che in Punching Contest, was blown away by Don Caballero live sets from the get-go.

“They were amazing – it was perfect. It was full-on Damon,” Martin said. “I always tell people Damon played lead drums. When [Don Caballero] came out, they just attacked. It was a sensory experience. There was nothing like it.”

“Don Cab pulled off the incalculable feat of making music that is very complex sound very musical,” quipped Eli Kasan of The Gotobeds, a Sub Pop Records indie-rock quartet leading a new generation of Pittsburgh artists. “No easy feat as I hate math!” 

+ + +

Henry Owings, a York, Pa. native, was pursuing his MBA at the University of Pittsburgh around 1990 when he became aware of Che. While studying, he would go to underground rock shows almost daily; the cup overfloweth in Pittsburgh in those heady days of alt-rock. Owings’ fanzine, Chunklet, later published a vitriolic, blow-by-blow account by musician Fred Weaver of Don Caballero’s final tour, which Che told Space City Rock in 2006 “was pretty much an accurate, true account of how things went.” Owings’ record label, which borrowed its name from the zine, has released collections of Don Caballero and Speaking Canaries rarities.

“There’s not another city that could’ve made Don Caballero,” said Owings, 50, who has lived in Georgia since leaving Pittsburgh in 1991. “Only Pittsburgh would obsess over Bitch Magnet. Only in Pittsburgh is it difficult to find a Bastro record. It’s the city where Nice Strong Arm sold records – goddammit, it’s as obvious as the nose on your face.”

Owings knew Williams, who “disbanded” Rocco Rocco and joined Don Caballero as a second guitarist around the time Owings left Pittsburgh, as the drummer for the band Sludgehammer. To take it from him – though Don Caballero “was a profoundly inspiring thing to see” and “was even greater than the sum of its parts” – Che was, early on, the central driving force to the Pittsburgh band’s voice.

“I’m just happy to share, for further reinforcement, that this guy is a fucking genius,” spat Owings. “Even his demos are better than most people’s polished stuff.”

+ + +

The iconic Chicago indie Touch and Go Records released Don Caballero’s full-length debut – For Respect, recorded by Steve Albini – in 1993. But it wasn’t until its second record, titled simply Don Caballero 2, that the band exploded in the public consciousness outside of the Steel City.

The record was explosive stuff, a kind of mutant extension of Slint’s mathiness and Bastro’s aggression coupled with a post-industrial edge that tended to pummel listeners’ ears. Compositions, all of which were instrumental, were like mountain ranges. The band had little time for filler. At the center of the cacophony was Che, who frequently deployed his drum kit blitzkrieg style, notes flying to and fro and back again like so many bats out of hell, as guitarists Banfield and Williams laid down a more linear percussive foundation.

Though the band never toured to support its biggest hit – more band tensions, which to this day irritates Che – Don Caballero 2 lent the band its mythos.

“The liner notes speak it plain – ‘Don Caballero is rock not jazz, Don Caballero is free from solos.’ But not from complex, ever evolving compositions that never, ever forget to crank up the amps and riff along,” Ned Raggett wrote in an AllMusic review of the LP. “Music with a brain that rocks, full stop.”

He wasn’t the only breathless one.

“Between Don Caballero 2 and What Burns Never Returns, the awareness of Don Cab had grown to the point where the New York shows sold out and the shows were super-packed – there was just an audience that wasn’t there before.”

So says Eric Emm, nee Topolsky, who joined Don Caballero on bass during this period, after a stint with Williams in the experimental noise-art trio Storm & Stress. He outlasted most of the band’s bassists – the door, at times, revolved swiftly; one bassist lasted one week – and added immeasurably to the band’s sound, especially after Don Caballero became a trio. (Guitarist Mike Banfield departed for the last time in 1998, leaving Che behind as the band’s only founding member. When I contacted Banfield, he said he didn’t want to talk anymore about Don Caballero.)

“Bass was the last instrument I wanted to play – I did everything I could to not play bass traditionally,” said Emm, 44, who now lives and plays music in New York. “I used a lot of effects. I was tapping on the bass, which is a cue from the Don Caballero tradition. I was more of an anti-bass player and I think that really started to work when we were a trio.”

Digital delay and looping also became central to the highly textured sound.

“That changed everything for us. Ian saw it. It was like, ‘There’s a path here,’” Emm said. “When we started experimenting with the loop pedals? The abyss texture-wise was because of that.”

Around 1998, Williams consulted with Tortoise drummer (and Bastro alumnus) John McEntire about building guitar loops. McEntire recommended the Akai Headrush. The pedals and Williams instantly clicked, as they constructed texture in what Williams, only half-jokingly, called “zero time signature.”

“By ’99, I was really good at it,” laughed Williams, 49, sounding almost surprised. “I could play all of our songs by just stacking the loops.”

American Don became the sole document of that experimentation.

 “Wild rhythms and guitar textures blast off as tracks veer from warm beauty into angular riffage and killer rawk epiphany,” Ian Danzig wrote in Exclaim! on Oct. 1, 2000. “While previous outings have focused on blowing the doors off the joint, American Don exposes a more subtle touch, using the dynamics of style, energy and tempo to make an even bigger sonic impact without even breaking a sweat. Not only does Don Cab experiment with rhythms that conflict and confuse, but the melodic segments of their music travel an equally unconventional path, defying expectations at every turn.”

+ + +

The “first” Don Caballero broke up after a traumatic tour-van crash ended the group’s American Don tour. If you look on Wikipedia and most websites that are sourced, in part, from speculation and second-hand sources, the culprit was the battles between Williams and Che.

But Don Caballero left behind a blueprint. And Che, who had grown into his role as the octopus after wetting his whistle in punk and hardcore, stayed on the radar.

“It all just kinda made sense,” said Arthur “Dan” Allen, 51, of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty, a former WRCT disc jockey who toured with Che as Half Life’s roadie on the band’s myth-making 1987 tour. “Damon’s style just kept evolving so Don Caballero sounded like the next stage of that evolution … The difference about Don Cab is that now you had these really dedicated players. It was more of a shared vision.”

After the band’s break-up, there was a lot of radio silence. Williams, a Johnstown, Pa. native who had left Pittsburgh for Chicago years earlier, moved to New York City. So did Emm. Around the same time Williams formed the experimental outfit BATTLES, Che made a move some thought unthinkable – he re-formed Don Caballero with an entirely new line-up, anchoring himself on the drum kit.

+ + +

Jason Jouver is a busy guy.

In the 1990s, one year out of high school, the Brentwood-bred musician played in the Pittsburgh rock band Liquid Brick, then went on to play in Jumbo, which seemed influenced by Drive Like Jehu as much as it was by local heroes like Che.

In 1996, he helped form Creta Bourzia, which went on to define math- and post-rock in Pennsylvania’s second-largest city after the demise of Don Caballero.

About six years later, Che himself came calling. Jouver went on to play the Pat Morris and Eric Emm role on bass in the “second” incarnation of Don Caballero, which started around 2003. The band’s first show took place at the Smiling Moose; much touring followed.

“It was great – it was like playing with the best drummer I’ve ever heard or seen in my life,” said Jouver, 44, now a sound man and engineer who works some of the time at +/- studios in the South Side. “And I never knew what was going to happen.”

There was, briefly, an alternative. Che told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006 that he approached Pat Morris and Mike Banfield – who made up the rest of the original trio – about playing again.

“I asked Mike if he’d be interested,” Che said. “And I told Pat he’s always welcome ’cause he seems to be the one who’s most upset about the fact that I’m doing the band without him. We’re still friends and everything, so I told him, ‘Hey, if you want to play bass in the band, we’ll just move [Jason] Jouver over to guitar or something.”

They both declined, and the new line-up – Che on drums, Jouver on bass, and Gene Doyle and Jeff Ellsworth on guitar – was born. To say expectations were high for the new Caballero is a like saying Che’s style of playing is a little extroverted.

“It was a harsh environment, for the most part – there were a lot of people who were upset Damon was doing this,” Jouver said. “But I didn’t get that sense as much in Pittsburgh.”

Jouver estimates half of the audiences as the band toured in the mid-aughts were reliving their memories of the “first” Don Caballero line-up and the other half showed up to rubber-neck a travesty. Neither urge was really fulfilled, he said, neither itch scratched.

The new line-up released a “debut” of sorts in 2006.

“While drummer Damon Che has always been Don Cab’s main attraction, guitar duo Ian Williams and Mike Banfield were a crucial part of the band’s signature sound– best represented by 1998’s incredible What Burns Never Returns,” Matt LeMay wrote in Pitchfork on July 26, 2006.

“Unfortunately, the Don Caballero we all know and love broke up in 2001,” LeMay continued. “Aside from Che, the band responsible for World-Class Listening Problem is entirely Non Caballero, assembled instead from fellow Pittsburgh natives Creta Bourzia. Given that band’s metal leanings, and the fact that Relapse is releasing this record, it’s not surprising that World-Class Listening Problem is harder and crunchier than its predecessors.”

After some positive and some luke-warm reviews for LPs World Class Listening Problem and Punkgasm, the “second” Don Caballero line-up went on hiatus after a show in Spain in 2008.

And, again, silence.

+ + +

As much as Che might hate it, his legacy is, in no small part, intertwined with that of Williams, with whom he played – and famously feuded with – for the better part of eight years in Don Caballero.

When I talked to Williams, as he prepared to release a much-anticipated new BATTLES record, he was fairly clear on his feelings about Che. He reminisced about jamming before Rocco Rocco with Che and a bassist in Che’s grandparent’s garage, surrounded by odd antiques and a legit Model T. He even expressed some levity recalling how Che illustrated what he wanted out of Williams’ sound by jumping head-first and crashing into his drum-set, Kurt Cobain style.

“No, you’ve gotta rock, fuckin’ rock!” shouted Williams, imitating Che at the time.

“It was like, ‘Yeah we’re trying,’” Williams remembered responding timidly. “We were like, ‘That guy’s crazy.’ And he was like ‘Those guys suck.’”

But he also paused for reflection.

“I honestly think Damon’s the best musician I’ve ever played with, honestly – I still feel that way,” Williams told me.

“With the distance of 20 years, I think I can say the guy had a lot of personal baggage he brought to the band,” Williams said. “And he’d attack everybody he was in a relationship with. He’s a fascinating and hilarious person. He has a really magnetic charisma, maybe even repelling but it was fascinating … he was a fascinating car crash.”

Che remains jaded about the relationship – and the attention given to it.

“I can guarantee there are so many things about [Battles drummer] John Stanier he’d put up with that he wouldn’t put up with me,” Che said. “He did sort of treat me like I was some sort of yinzer, which is kind of bogus.”

And, by extension, Che lashed out at those who listened.

“For a band such as Don Caballero, they almost went out of their way to treat their fans like shit,” said Owings, the fanzine and label head. “And they were tremendously mentally unhealthy towards each other.”

Emm, a younger brother figure and often a mediator between Williams and Che, was more matter-of-fact about the nature of the conflict and what led to Don Caballero’s disintegration.

“In the end, we’d already made [American Don] and we were all drifting off in our personal directions,” Emm said. “I don’t think back on the band stuff. I can’t say why things were the way they were.”

“Damon is a singular force; he’s a genius,” he added. “He’s on another level. But I don’t think he ever did a good job of compartmentalizing and coming to terms with his talent.”

+ + +

I never got to see the “first” incarnation of Don Caballero. But I did catch the “second” incarnation live at 31st Street Pub in the Strip District shortly after moving to Pittsburgh in 2006. That night, they didn’t play a single song off Don Caballero 2.

“I probably did always find myself on the fringes,” Che told me. “As far as bringing my ideas to fruition, I was pretty alone.”

And what does Che hope people will walk away from this article thinking about him, his skills as a drummer, the Don Caballero story?

“I only want people to get the truth out of it,” he said. “’Damon’s a success, everyone says so’ – I wouldn’t want to see that. That’s not true.”

“I always felt strongly that time was running out when I was 20 and 30 and now it’s undisputed,” he added. “I feel like I’m 79 now – I just can’t undo that feeling.”

Williams says one image comes to mind when he tries to describe Damon Che. One day in a nondescript Pittsburgh autumn, Che was driving a beat-up, old car. It had been raining but, even though the rain had stopped, Che’s windshield wipers were still swiping, back and forth, furiously. Thwick, thwack. Thwick, thwack. The heat was blaring out on full-blast. And Che was playing an Amphetamine Reptile-style record, with the volume on his car stereo turned up so high it was shaking the car and barely distinguishable from roars of white noise.

“That was Damon,” Williams said. “And, to him, that was just a normal day. Such raw energy — he was so intense all the time.”

-30-

By Justin Vellucci

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer at MusicTAP and Popdose, a contributor to Pittsburgh City Paper and Punksburgh, and a former staffer at Delusions of Adequacy and Punk Planet. His music writing has appeared in national publications such as American Songwriter and PopMatters, alt-weeklies The Brooklyn Rail and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

16 thoughts on “American Don: The Damon Che Story”
  1. Thanks for this thoughtful retrospective on Damon’s career. He’s a fantastic drummer (and showed those skills even in high school), a unique musical voice, and has added much to Pittsburgh’s indie music legacy. One very minor correction: Manny Theiner was never in Pynknoys. It was a trio of Damon, Brian Sales, and myself. (Manny introduced us to Damon, though.)

      1. Unfortunately, Josh is not precisely ‘wrong’ but he is omissive. The band I was in with Damon was the five-piece synthpop band, Syndicate. I’m not sure why Josh chooses to omit this information because he was in that group, which consisted of myself, singer Rachel Markowitz, synth players Josh and Brian, and Damon on a Simmons drum kit. We practiced mostly at Josh’s house, in fact. We played two house parties and a talent show at Carnegie Mellon, and recorded five songs (which I still have on tape).

        It wasn’t until Rachel decided not to sing anymore, and I was told I was no longer needed, that the three went off to form
        Pynknoys, which played a couple more shows at the Electric Banana and St Edmunds School Gym. Josh then left to start his own project, Wintermute, and Brian and Damon continued for a little while as a duo called The Autumn, while I had a solo project called Za Dharsh. There is documentation of all of these bands on my cassette label, SSS Productions (see the Discogs listing). As for Damon, he had already joined Half Life as their drummer while still in high school.

        So you edited my name out of the article even though I formed the first band that Damon ever played in (Syndicate). Furthermore, there’s no mention that I released Don Caballero’s first 7-inch single in 1992 on my label Pop Bus, nor that I set up many of their earliest shows.

        Good times!

        1. Manny,

          Thanks for adding that detail–I didn’t know that you were in Damon Che’s first group.
          I found this while searching for Karl Hendricks’ first recording. Was it Sludgehammer’s Big Water? Many many lost memories that we’ll, over time, patch together.

  2. HoLeeFuk Damon Che! From chilling at Swissvale HS to Don Caballero and Pitt Med and Trina to Punxy and Santa Fe You were a glowing young ruffian oh my god it was a million years ago…….

  3. Don Caballero is one of my favorite bands of all time because they provide one of the most unique listening experiences out there. Jackyl may have a chainsaw, but Don Cab has a table saw and drill.

    But in all seriousness, this was a fantastic piece to read. I feel like Damon may be one of those, I don’t know how to put it, but too good for his own good type of people. There’s no reason his talent level shouldn’t have brought him at least some level of fame. I don’t consider myself a drum expert never having played but he is the best drummer I’ve ever heard. I still hear new things in Don Cab songs(either a Che part or somebody else) I didn’t notice before, and ive been listening for a few years now. When ever somebody I know wants a music recommendation and can appreciate complex music, this is the band I go to.

    This was also cool to read because I am from Pittsburgh(North Hills, counter to most people in this article being from the South Hills), and I think that’s really cool. This music also reminds me of the city, and it makes me feel like achieving something like this isn’t unreachable. As if people from here can make something some consider the best of all time(or thereabouts)…I don’t know.

    Don Caballero kind of reminds me of the band Husker Du, another favorite of mine, because Bob Mould and Grant Hart seemed to constantly be feuding and all kinds of stuff, yet they made several excellent records(and my personal favorite of all time, Zen Arcade) and were amazing. I feel like the dynamic of the two main band members there was that the tension drove them to do better; to be better musicians and songwriters.

    Perhaps that is what drove Don Caballero on to do great things. As I’ve said they wrote some of the best music i’ve ever heard. controlled chaos with a LOT of sweet moments along the way.

    I really hope Damon isn’t done making music. His solo work “Oh, Suzanna!” is very good and I like it a lot. But I shouldn’t act like he’s here to perform like a clown. Whatever he has decided, he gave us a lot of quality stuff while he was active.

  4. This is the article that many of us have been looking for for for …. years. It is nice to see the pieces fit together and get some backstory from what we experienced in front of us on the stage.

    I latched onto Don because of the old-school, “hmm, that cover looks interesting” thing that used to happen all the time to me in the record store. It was What Burns… and it was (at that time) inconceivably difficult and beautiful – something to rival my Mr. Bungle or Thelonius Monk records. Miraculously, they were on tour and played Gabe’s in Iowa City and arriving early, I was treated to seeing Che fully nailing, pounding, his kit to the stage floor while smoking a cigarette. And then they actually played what was on the record, no studio tricks. Being in the room and physically witnessing them perform the mad transitional rush of Delivering the Groceries is where I have to agree with other comments on being one of the most impressive musical feats in my life. It’s up there with Philip Glass and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the performance is transcendental. Very special.

    Fast forward a few years, I had moved to NYC. They played The Knitting Factory and the crowd was really excited and responsive, in contrast to many New York shows I had attended that people just stood around and talked passively. The performance was no less impressive, but there was also these “stunts” I will call them with Ian, more like performance art, where he took a mic and looped it through his Headrush loop pedal. He had this big chunk of plywood and he was dropping it on top of the mic and looping this. As a charismatic young man, he then pointed out and brought a young lady on stage and they giggled and kissed into the mic in the same way. It was strange, creative and highly entertaining – the crowd was fully engaged in this ritual. Fantastic.

    I can count on one hand the people who I have shared this band or experience with, but it is a cherished memory. Seeing BATTLES a few years later, it was nice to see Ian had developed a complex new sound with Tyondai Braxton, but still more slick and produced that the raw energy of The Don. If somehow, Damon reads this page, he needs to know how singular his music is and that I wish him happiness. Thank you for not turning off your wipers.

  5. How does one effectively communicate with Damon? Obscure SCTV references over the telephone in the middle of the night. Standing shoulder to shoulder, facing the empty stages and gesticulating for punctuation. Pushing through a crowded bar in tandem with huge smiles on your faces. Always thought he was a decent guy, and always looked forward to seeing him. We are lucky he shares his stuff with us. It would be easier to stay home, but he doesn’t.

  6. thank you for taking the time to interview these guys. don cab is a band as essential to my existence as breathing, truly. i was one of the lucky ones to have caught them in the 90s and through the mid to late 00s in all the different incarnations, short of when they had george draguns and matt jencik on bass. to me, thats what don cab was all about, breathing and as cleanly and true as art can be and creating sincere and visceral music, very few bands over the years have spoken to me and elicited the feelings they did. when you have a group of musicians with an output as unique as theirs, its understandable that its a temporary thing. they continue to inspire me in my own work and will always remain absolutely incredible as the first time i heard them. a one of a kind band that we were lucky to have experienced. thanks again.

  7. Wow, such a great article! Don Caballero 2 has been in my top 5 albums for a long time. Love their other albums but 2 is by far the best and the band never seemed the same without Banfield following WBNR. I always tell people WBNR is still a ‘new’ album because nothing sounds like it….still…..and nothing competes with it for sheer audacity and bravery. However, 2 found the perfect mix of rock-moody-heavy-experimental-and just plain beautiful sounds. The end of ‘Rollerblade Success Story’ shimmers and shines as much as ‘Repeat Defender’ crushes. Damon is without a doubt one of the greatest drummers ever put to tape. Banfield, Williams, and Morris (though he didn’t play on 2) are all great too and Banfield’s sound and style on DonCab 2 and WBNR was very influential for me as a guitarist. My favorite thing about Don Cab was that they always challenged me. I didn’t like 2 when I first heard it cause I was expecting and wanting another For Respect and I didn’t like WBNR at first because I wanted another Don Cab 2. I had to work a little more for each album and the joy of discovering all the new idiosyncrasies and musical textures of the albums made them that much better. So I guess having to work a little for them only added to my enjoyment and immense respect for the musicianship. I had never heard a drummer like Damon before and as someone who has always appreciated virtuosity in music it was only natural that I would love his playing and this band. I wish Damon had done (and is doing) more but maybe he’s right in saying that maybe he has done all he can do? In this case I hope he’s wrong. Time will tell.

    I was lucky enough to open for the American Don lineup once in Boise ID. As they were without a doubt my favorite band it was something I’ll never forget. Hanging out with the Don and especially Damon afterwards was just the miller lite on top. Much appreciation for this article!

  8. Great article, thank you! I was behind the Don Fanallero fan site for many years (sadly only available now on archive.org) and I was lucky to see them with Ian Williams twice in Boston (’99 and ’00) and few times with the later lineup. Pivotal gigs, pivotal albums, absolutely one-of-a-kind band.

  9. Glad I finally found this in my annual “Google Damon Che and see if he’s got anything new coming out” quest. I didn’t discover Don Cab until after the first version was done (via that Chunklet article) so it’s tough to accept the sun setting when I slept until dinnertime. I did manage to see him play once at least and I hope it won’t be the last.
    PS – “Menopause Diaries” may be one of the most underrated songs ever.

  10. Heard Don Cab for the first time in 2005 as an 18-year-old. Since then it’s just been What Burns, American Don, and Don Cab 2 on repeat (among other things). Every time I hear those records, I still think: “Holy shit, how is any of this even possible?” A couple friends of mine recently had an “American Don Day” on zoom, where we just spent an hour listening to the record and talking about how fucking phenomenal it is.

    I had a brief chat with Damon in 2008 before seeing Don Cab in Northampton, MA. Extremely chill and friendly dude. He signed my Joy of Wine record, but he was also totally confused and shocked about the fact that the record still existed. He seemed tired of the whole touring thing. He then proceeded to drink like 10 ten vodkas on stage and passed out on the floor after the set. Didn’t miss a note though.

    Like others here, I google his name at least once a year to see if anything is happening with him. It is always pleasant to find that he’s recently released some ancient record that happens to be full of gems.

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