August 24, 1944 – July 23, 2010
"God grant me the courage to nail the licks I know, the serenity to let the clams fall where they may, and the wisdom to know that if you can do either one twice, it sounds like you planned it that way."
- Chuck McCabe
Chuck McCabe's life began on the road. Born into a Navy family, McCabe's wanderings began early and continued through years of playing summers on Cape Cod, winters in Vail and every gin mill and Holiday Inn lounge in between. As a 5-string banjo player he was part of Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Review. As a guitarist he played rock, blues, jazz and bluegrass from the trendy bars on the Sunset Strip to USO shows in the wilds of Southeast Asia.
All the while, McCabe gathered fodder for what has become a significant and important body of work. Ever since his song of the plight of the working class, Minimum Wager, won the Woody Guthrie Songwriting Competition in 2002 McCabe has joined the ranks of the master story tellers in the tradition of the great folk troubadours. His songwriting also has been honored by the Boston Folk Festival, Sisters (Oregon) Folk Festival, Napa Music and Wine Festival, Founders' Bluegrass Festival, Sierra Songwriters festival, Wildflower! (Dallas) and the Tucson Folk Festival.
A vein of humor and a theme of respect run through McCabe's distinctly American songwriting. From those clever missives that make us laugh and shake our heads (Don't be rude to the people who bring your food) to poignant social commentary (Minimum Wager, Deliver us from Evil), McCabe makes us think about how we treat our fellow-man. His presence and delivery always demonstrated an understated elegance that is a rare find among performers — especially those who cross the lines between wit and wisdom.
McCabe recorded for Capitol Records, ABC and GRT in both Nashville and Los Angeles, where he was a staff writer for ABC. Through his career, McCabe made choices that allowed him to express himself in a unique and non-commercial form. His extensive discography includes the original works for which he is best loved: Pensacola Flash (1976), Burgers and Champagne (1998), Bad Gravity Day (2002), Chicken Dinners (2004), Sweet Reunion (2006) and Creatures of Habit in a World of Change (2009).
Musing about this latest recording, he called "Creatures" a collection of songs that prove you can laugh about the things that concern you most. "I care deeply about many things, but I'm the last guy who should preach... I hate to sit through a sermon as much as anybody. I've written songs about the homeless and the working poor, but maybe the folks I understand best are the chronically-confused. Those are my people."
In addition to his recordings, his first book, "Uncle Rhythms Cosmic Riff and Gig Guide," was published in 1993 and sold not only to musicians and songwriters, but to countless colleges and county libraries across the country, following a buy-recommendation by the American Library Association.
McCabe spent the majority of his adult life in the San Jose, California area where he lived with his wife Cindy Costa. A popular performer, he could be found in Bay area watering holes like The Cats in Los Gatos, listening rooms like the Espresso Garden & Café to house concerts, festival and fair stages appearing solo as well as with the his musical cohorts Jay Howlett, Steve Kritzer, Rolfe Wyer, Tim Siefert and the Blah Blah Woof Woof music collective.
On sustaining a long-term performing career, McCabe said recently "we get comfortable with our role — the only iffy thing is if the rest of the world continues to need that role. We hit our stride, the music business gets easier and as you adjust your sites you can make a living at it if you're willing to play in a polka band."
And that he did. He performed with the Polka Band, The Alpiners — and had the lederhosen to prove it — as well as the Irish band, Emerald. In addition to his performing career, Chuck was a sought-after songwriting clinician and frequent guest songwriting judge for the West Coast Songwriters and the Sisters Folk Festival. He has inspired hundreds, if not thousands of songwriters to push themselves that extra mile to do the re-write, to find the musical transition, to perfect the hook.
Living in service to his craft and his community, McCabe regularly performed more than 100 shows a year for the non-profit Young at Heart Project that provides a musical respite for seniors in care facilities. Most recently, he was key force in the formation of the non profit organization Strumming for Vets which uses music therapy, donated guitars and volunteer teachers to help veterans restore the feeling of joy and self-worth that can be lost after extreme trauma.
Chuck McCabe collected as many friends as he did stories, and he always had a kind and encouraging word. And if you're a friend old or new and you've read this far, Chuck would say "he's a personal friend of mine."
He was fond of relating a quote by John Adams... "I am a soldier, that my son might be a poet." He added that his father lived to see that reality, even though he didn't like it much.
Chuck's spirit, wit and wisdom lives on through his songs, and through the friends he leaves behind. He was a gentleman and a husband, a son and a poet. He was a songwriter, a performer, a friend and mentor to all he touched.
And through his 65+ years, despite numerous close-calls, he managed to elude both fame and fortune.
Read Memories of Chuck