Chuck drags on a Marlboro. I hear him exhale over the phone. "Have you noticed how there's this huge rise in rehabilitation? I hate that, man! As a fan, I'd rather see people burn out. Y'know, rehabilitation and music - I don't know if it really mixes. I mean, if you burn out, you can get lit back up again. You can light a match twice, man. If you hit bottom hard enough, you're gonna bounce back pretty high.
Life versus legend. Immolation and immortality. These are the dilemmas Chuck's been schooled in since he teamed up with Dan Stuart and dragged his beautifully wasted carcass all over the world as quick-flash guitarist with Green On Red.
So Chuck, you keeping out of trouble? "Yeah, y'know, for the most part ..."
He laughs. And well he might because his first solo album, "Brother Aldo", recorded during breaks in the GOR saga, has been favourably compared to the work of some of his heroes - notably the late, lamented and totally dead beyond rehab Gram Parsons.
"I certainly don't mind that," he says. "Gram and Emmylou. God, not a bad place to start. But I'm not comfortable with the notion of a solo record. There are other people involved. Solo, to me, sounds like masturbation and I can't think of anybody I like who's really a solo artist"
Chuck calls particular attention to Stephanie Finch's harmony singing. She has the sort of voice that instantly reminds impressionably romantic young men of truck-store goddesses soothing lonesome long-distance souls and indeed, she was working as a waitress in a San Francisco oyster bar when she first married vocals with Chuck on tape.
"The spirit of the recording was like a demo." he says. "It cost virtually no money and I wanted it that way. Like, in 1988, when I had the rug pulled out from under me monetarily, romantically and domestically, I figured the only luxury I had left was to work with people I liked. I didn't really want any professionals involved, I didn't really want it to be too corporate.
And working with friends, just going to people's places and putting it down on tape, that's what I live for. It was exciting and gratifying to write a song and cut it in a day. That was the most rewarding thing about it - I kept the macho guitar thing up my sleeve because I didn't feel like I was auditioning for anyone"
Talk turns to Bob Dylan, another of Chuck's heroes. What's he think of "Under The Red Sky". Bob's much-mocked new LP?
"It'll be his biggest record yet, man - on `Sesame Street'!" Chuck laughs `No, I dig it. He has a hard time doing anything wrong by me I've been pissed at him over the years but, if you stand back and squint, there's alwoys something there.
"I mean, he makes all these great players sound like shit. That's his thing. Like, all the records in America are being made by the same people now - y'know, Jim Keltner on drums . . . they're super groups. But Dylan's played with them, all - Clapton, The Band, Bloomfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and he's f***ed them all through his intimidation. He's a dehumaniser, man. He keeps everybody guessing. That's what it's all about. That's music. It's not the product, it's the process. You know you've got a record when you can hear something going on."
Strings 'n' Squiers
`When I'm recording I can find a sweet spot on any guitar, but live it's still the Squier and nothing else. Man, that guitar knows all the songs by now and it can play `em without thinking - which is what I need `cos I got to worry about other things when I'm on stage.'
`The Squier' is Chuck's battered Japanese Telecaster. It cost him $150, and it's been a mainstay of his career since early Green On Red days. He's fitted Seymour Duncan Vintage Telepickups and the sixth tuner flips between E and low D. For amps, Chucks a vintage tube fanatic. His main squeeze is a blackface Fender Delexe Reverb with a single 12" EV speaker, though he'll also use a Princeton and, for its metronomic tremolo, a Musicman also, on Feast Of Hearts, producer Steve Berlin brought on other toys for Chuck to get to grips with.
`He had bazoukis with lipstick pickups, electric mandolins, baritone guitars, things like that. As a producer he'll want to record a lot of things for effect and he does that by using a lot of effects - big crates of boxes. But I just thought music came outta your fingers y'know? But, if you can keep yourself amused with that stuff, he'll reel it out for you.
`A good example of what we did is Battered And Bruised, which was cut with a baritone 6-string bass capo'd at the 5th fret through a phase shifter which is his sort of thing. I was just going, "Oh yeah Steve, i'm into a lot of new groups too man, I like the Cure, Modern English..." Of course, Berlin loved it ...'