David Dondero's life as an independent singer-songwriter and guitarist has taken him all over the map to perform at venues of all sizes. He continuously travels, tours and records his music, not calling any one place "home" for very long.
But Dondero has always found time to stop and see his old friend William McCanless, owner of Interzone Coffee Shop in Corvallis.
Dondero and McCanless met as students at Clemson University in South Carolina during the late 1980s. When McCanless opened the shop in August 1998, Dondero, who had just started his solo career, was there to see him put up the sign.
"I've known Dave for 30 years, and I would argue that in 1998 or early 1999, he's been playing here ever since," McCanless said. "Once a year, sometimes twice."
Dondero headlined the coffee shop's 10th anniversary. So, it seems only fitting that he'll perform this Saturday at Interzone's 20th Anniversary Party.
Dondero just returned from playing several gigs in Australia and New Zealand and will head to Texas after his performance in Corvallis.
Dondero, who is on the road eight months out of the year, said he lived in Virginia for the past two years, but is used to being on the move.
The native of Duluth, Minnesota, started playing the drums at 10.
His musical influences ran the spectrum growing up. He said he liked everything from Whodini, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to country music and artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jim Croce.
"I listened to early hip-hop, early punk rock, but also classic rock. Whatever was being spoon-fed to us on the radio at the time," Dondero said. "I wasn't just into one style. Luckily, it was a pretty eclectic mixture."
Dondero remembers his introduction to punk rock came on a Saturday morning in the 1980s, as he waited in his mom's car while she bought bagels.
"I was tuning the radio, and I stumbled across the pirate punk ship radio station and it changed my life," he said.
At 16, Dondero played drums in a punk band with friends called Toe Jam. The group's front man was a 38-year-old pot dealer, who encouraged his teenage bandmates to perform in a Battle of the Bands competition.
"He wanted to return to his old high school and show them all, and he did," Dondero said. "We won the high school Battle of the Bands."
After that, Dondero and the bass player of Toe Jam started another group called the Fat Stinking Belgian Bastards.
Dondero went to Clemson from 1987 to 1991 and earned a degree in business. He met McCanless, at the student radio station where they both worked as DJs.
"It was our social network," Dondero said. "It was a safe haven for all different types of people who were into different types of music and didn't want to be part of the frat scene."
He played for punk bands during college and after. He was the drummer turned lead singer of Sunbrain for six years, and followed that as a drummer for a Florida-based group, This Bike is a Pipe Bomb. He was with them for two years, before quitting in '98.
"When I left they got popular," Dondero said.
This Bike is a Pipe Bomb played shows at Interzone seven or eight times over the years, because of Dondero's connection, McCanless said.
He began his solo career in '98 with a tour after the release of his first album, "The Pity Party."
Dondero says while he definitely doesn't play punk rock anymore, it is not easy to categorize his style of music.
"It's quirky music. It's hard to describe. I leave that to other people," he said.
Some album reviews have suggested it's indie folk, while others have pointed to country-rock.
McCanless said, "To me it doesn't seem as folk as other people seem to think it is. I think he gets pushed into that."
Critics and fans of Dondero's albums have lauded his songwriting. In 2006, he appeared on a list of “best living songwriters” by Robin Hilton, producer of NPR’s “All Songs Considered.”
He has held many different jobs during the times when he wasn't making music, including carpentry, masonry, roofing, painting, landscaping, solar panel installation, bartending, waiting tables, food delivery, moving pianos and calling centers.
Sometimes these occupations inspire song lyrics. Dondero said his job installing automatic sprinkler systems for obsessed rich people living in the West Austin, Texas desert was mentioned in the song, "This Guitar," from his 2013 album of the same name.
"People can spend $20,000 on a sprinkler system for their conversation piece willow tree that they are trying to grow in the desert," he said. "That kind of stuff creeps into my songs."
McCanless said people from city to city come out to see Dondero's shows, because they connect with his songs.
"I think Dave's music is a little more authentic, and people dial into that. I don't doubt that he sees a lot of the same faces over and over because of that," McCanless said.
"He creates a community with his fan base, and you can hear it in his songs," McCanless added.
Dondero's ninth and latest album, "In the Cat's Eye," was released in 2017 by McCanless with his label Koschke Records. It was recorded in Austin, Texas.
"I think I was lucky at the time to have the resources to do it," McCanless said.
"Each take on the record is a live track from start to finish, the drums, the bass, the guitar, even the vocals," he said. "We all sat in a room together and played all of the songs."
"I'm proud of it. It is for John Winsor. He played bass, and he was a wonderful guy," Dondero said.
Winsor, who Dondero said was the happiest man in the room throughout the recording process, committed suicide the night they mastered the album.
The release of the album was delayed out of respect for Winsor.
Dondero said at shows he talks with audiences about depression and the stigma of suicidal thoughts, even his own.
"We need to talk about it openly. I feel like if John would've talked about it he might still be here today," Dondero said.
Dondero said his favorite song on the new album is "Bacon, Eggs & Beer."
"I think it's one of the only good songs I've ever written," he said.
"It's a standout for the people that come in here (Interzone)," McCanless said, adding that he enjoys the songs "Capitol Buildings Bleed" and the album's closer, "All My Love."
Dondero said he will play one or two songs from "In the Cat's Eye," but won't go beyond that.
"When I play live, I usually play a song from every record, and I've got nine records," he said. "I take requests if people want to hear other songs."