Collboration in Music: Hugo Claudin and Jeff Boughner

Editor's note: This piece was submitted to LAMB via the comment section of on the article Ideas of Collbaration. The first section of this article was submitted on Oct. 13, 2006 and the second on March 5, 2007. Hugo Claudin has been an active artist and musician in Grand Rapids since 1989 and continues to be progressive, constantly collaborating with new people. As you will read in the second part of this piece, we would like to remember local musician Jeff Boughner who suddenly passed away in February.


Impromtu collaboration at Mexicains Sans Frontieres; Jonathan Harnum, Johnny Unicorn and Hugo Claudin

by Hugo Claudin

I have been living in Grand Rapids for 26 years. In that time I have collaborated extensively with other artists in the area, why? Because I wanted to create an artistic community. Since I arrived in Grand Rapids people have asked me why I don't move to Chicago or New York? Why would an artist of your talent stay here where there is no so called "art scene"? And my answer was always "Exactly"...

I had moved from Guadalajara the second largest city in Mexico with the idea that I would be 20 years in the future if I moved to the United States. Unfortunately I ended up in Caledonia, a small farming town owtside of Grand Rapids. My welcome to America was the shooting of John Lennon. It was not until I visited the Reptile House on Division Avenue that I felt that I had found hope, I met artists, musicians, poets, and the tattoo-pierced crowd and saw many top notch underground acts including Yo la Tengo, The Voluptuos Horror of Karen Black, Crash Worship and others. At that time I opened a studio (glorified garage) and began collaborating with local musicians, poets and dancers. My goal was to be criss-cross disciplines and put artists next to people they would not normally brush shoulders with and wait and see what happens. This workspace served as my painting studio but also a practice place for musical groups including my own and several seminal groups that went on to do other marvelous things (Mommy Wont' Wake Up, C3 Little Miss Waintikaitis, Knunk, Bill Horist, etc). This space was later to be called the Jesus Free Zone a reference to the strong conservative dominance in the area. While most underground projects here in Grand Rapids are not financially rewarding I can say that I have been amazed by the amount of folks that despite all odds maintain their artist projects by working day jobs in restaurants and the like. I was also amazed by the quality and depth of some of the work being produced.

Four years ago I went to Baja for an extended sabbatical and worked with Mexican printmaker Angel Flores he introduced me to a very hard selling method he employed to sell his work which was basically carrying his portfolio under his arm at all times and stopping people on the street and saying "Hey, would you like to see my work?" Angel always had money.

Upon returning from Mexico I ran into dancer-choreographer Rachel Finan and proposed to her the idea of creating a gesamtkunstwerk , that is an all encompassing work of art using art, poetry, music and dance in one show. We took Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding and put an add for bilingual actors. The night before auditions I talked to Rachel and told her, "If more than three people show I'm in, otherwise I'm going home to read my new Artforum." 30 people showed up for the first audition and 20 more for the second. Blood Wedding was presented at Urban Institute of Contemporary Art and played four nights straight with a bigger crowd each time. I was amazed. The first bilingual play to appear in Grand Rapids. This collaborating partnership went on to do many other projects including shows that incorporate butoh with free jazz, plays, and even a rather successful burlesque show.

Part 2:
It was around 1989 that I picked up a job by the Gerald R Ford airport. I was studying at Kendall College and working in a factory, between the two I would stop at a bookstore on 28th St called Schuler Books. A slight man occupied the counter, his names was Jeff Boughner. I remember how exciting it was to me to find this little gem only blocks from the megamall, there was this little sanctuary where one could browse through the books and magazines without being shoo'ed away. A couple of years later I began working at Schuler's as a sales clerk, I wanted to do the Art section but a bearded man had that post already and he held it another ten years. So I happily took the poetry section as long as I did the pop psych section as well. I became friends with Jeff Boughner and slowly discovered that this shy man who was the floor manager but had tons of music running through his veins.


Jeff Boughner. Date, unknown

There was hardly a topic about music or art that Jeff was not hip to. After a few years of working together the Schuler-ites decided there was enough talent in the store to put a show together with music, poetry and we got permission to do a night of bohemia. That was how Haje Nebula was born, this group later was renamed Blue Nebula. Jeff was an amazing guitar player and had the chops and ear to improvise beautifully. Jeff Boughner, Al Thayer and myself got a loft in a warehouse on Front street that became the Jesus Free Zone, my first studio in Grand Rapids. Several seminal bands rehearsed here including Mommy Wont Wake Up, C3, Little Miss Wintakaitis, Knunk, Better Disease and others I cant remember. Jeff was open to the idea of mixing jazz, noise, art. Anything. The Haje Nebula added John Corrigan on drumkit and I did hand percussion, we also added another conga player named Luis Merced. This ensemble played locally at venues like Arco Iris where on several occasions local poets jumped right in and read their poetry over the sounds of the band. I don't know many musicians in town who would put up with this, but Jeff just smiled and enjoyed the moment.

Jeff Boughner passed away a couple of weeks ago but left an amazing body of work with many musicians in the area. He will be sorely missed. His latest CD won a Jammies Award for Best Jazz Album of 2006 , three days before he left.

Posted on March 5, 2007 5:34 PM


Thank you for sharing this part of the grand rapids story. and to Hugo, for staying and believing in g-rad.

Posted by: stephanie on March 5, 2007 7:25 PM

Yes, thank you for letting us read some of Grand Rapids music history.

Posted by: jeffgrado on March 5, 2007 8:49 PM

Hi Hugo,
Long Time, No Anything. I'm im GR on business and thought I'd Google you, as I hadn't spoken to you in about 15 years. Nice to see you are still staying true to you. Take Care, and don't ever stop doing what you believe in.

Posted by: Suzanne (Downing) Sipe on March 10, 2007 12:51 AM

Incredible to read this small discriptive body of work... A telling synapsis of my time away from G.R. Sorry to hear about Jeff. I would love to catch up either here in the North or in G.R.
I still blow the same horn, but a lot of straight musicians up here if you know what I mean. Hope this note finds you well & encouraged...what was the name of that iguana that escaped to the sea?

Posted by: My little friend , on March 22, 2007 11:13 PM

Hugo, man you are such a gem. I remember those times prepping Relics of the Present in the Jesus Free Zone. Crazy, lovable times. Losing Jeff was very sad, but I'm glad to see him so fondly remembered. And that it all still goes on.

Jeff was an awesome collaborator. A poet reading is usually a very dull thing, but Jeff had such a fine ear, he was like a dance partner and helped make all the poets sound ten time better than they would have alone.

And you are doing such great things at Mexicains Sans Frontieres. Thanks.

Posted by: Scott on April 9, 2007 7:17 PM

Greetings Hugo,

This may seem unusual - okay, will likely seem unusual, but such is life? - but although I don't believe we're met, I do believe we have a friend in common that I'm trying to get in touch with to say Hi. If you get this, would you be so kind as to drop me a line at Thanks very much!

Posted by: Sean Duross on August 3, 2008 4:25 PM

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