The Life and Times of Ground Chuck

Posted on May 5, 2010 – 2:55 AM | by OldManFoster
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By Dennis Yudt photos by Scott Duncan

Recently, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and a few associates made a pit stop at the venerable Midtown watering hole, the Rubicon Brewing Company. While there, he was goaded into singing “Happy Birthday” to Charles Adrian Thomas, a Rubicon regular who was celebrating his 41st year on earth. Mayor Johnson, never one to oppose a majority voice, gamely serenaded the birthday boy, muffing up his name only slightly. By all accounts, the mayor did a half-way decent job, adding one more episode in the life and times of Mr. Thomas, or, as every good denizen of Midtown knows him: ‘Ground Chuck.’

Ground Chuck is an institution in Sacramento, a true individual who personifies the unique and quirky city we love. Those who might dismiss Chuck as a “mascot” or, as many who are not in the know might presume, a street person, are denigrating a multi-talented artist/musician/comedian who’s been embraced by a wide swath of Sacramentans from all walks of life. Such a dismissal also demeans someone who has overcome great obstacles in life and come out the other side, not only with no bitterness, but with humor, a thirst for knowledge and experiences, an overwhelming love of people, and a healthy acceptance of who he is.

Who he is started in Portland, Oregon, where Ground Chuck was born in 1969. When his mother passed away when he was four, Chuck and his father relocated to Sacramento where he was left in the care of his fundamentalist grandparents. Soon afterwards, Chuck was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes physical and/or vocal “tics.” His grandparents, overwhelmed by the responsibility, made him a ward of the State. He was owned by the courts and sent to a succession of group and foster homes. “They weren’t tackling the problem, they were just medicating me,” he sighs. “With Tourette‘s, every day I wake up, I feel really helpless. So I have to go out and find my friends and my self-esteem starts to come back. And I do that every… single…day. That’s my therapy, that’s my medication.”

The way that Chuck talks about his Tourette’s makes it seem that he has taken an adversity and turned it into strength. He talks about the positive side effects, such as a heightened sense of awareness and an endless stream of creativity. It almost seems that he’s proud to have Tourette‘s.

“I am proud,” Chuck replies without hesitation, “because I might not be the same person I am. I’ve embraced it.”

In the mid-eighties, Ground Chuck reunited with his father. Currently, his father lives with Chuck and is in failing health; Chuck is very protective of him. “Sometimes I have to yell at my dad but it’s only so that he knows what’s going on. But I always tell him ’I love you, dad’. I don’t want him to be alone. I love him, he’s my dad.”

Chuck pauses for a moment. It is the only time during this interview that he seems to be uncomfortable, a hint of melancholia in his voice. “Are we done talking about this stuff?” he asks, clearly wishing to fast-forward and wanting this part of his story to be locked in the refuge of memory.

One profound influence on Ground Chuck was his discovery of punk rock, that oasis for the different, the creative and the outsider- all three qualities describing Chuck at age 15. Since joining his first band, Outcasts of Society, in 1985, Ground Chuck has been a steady presence on the Sacto music scene. He has played drums or guitar in over 20 bands, including Pollution Circus, The Driven, The Raisin Brains and his current metal band, MDL aka Mental Defective League.

“Punk rock is great for kids. They can write songs about what bothers them, things they hate or are upset about and it’s always been a really good thing. The punk rock community has embraced me. I’ve become kind of a legend in the scene! Throughout my life, I’ve spent one or two days with thousands of different people. Then I’ll run into their kids or friends or relatives…it really is a small world. My band opened for Fang recently and after the show this guy came up to me and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but when I was five years old you were my best friend!’ He’s 23 now.“

A self-taught artist, his big, fun, colorful chalk art pieces enliven sidewalks throughout Midtown. “I heard about people in Europe that were doing chalk art, they’re called “screevers” in Italy and France, so I wanted to become a screever. So I got some determination. You have to have determination to do anything!” He also paints on canvas and many local businesses display at least one of his works- evidence of Chuck’s habit of gifting portraits he’s made of friends to show his appreciation of their support and friendship. Kids immediately sense that they’ve found a kindred spirit. “I love kids. That’s one of my main things, man! There’s nothing better than the vibes kids give me. They’re an inspiration. Just wonderful.“

These days, Ground Chuck is most excited by his fledgling career as a stand-up comedian. Egged on by the likes of The Comedy Spot’s Brian Crall and Keith Lowell Jensen, Chuck has been appearing at various comedy open mic nights and from all accounts will have milk coming out your nose. “I’m definitely a comedian. I love telling jokes, making up bits. I love the components of a joke. I don’t have a problem with performing.” To catch Ground Chuck in action, there is a short film that can be seen on YouTube. Created by local musician Matt McCord and Rubicon bartender/director Brett Sublette, it has Chuck replete with his guitar and his face painted up like Darth Maul, riffing on the subject of the Seven Deadly Sins and improvising songs for each one. At the premier of the eight minute film it received a standing ovation. (See it below…)

With his celebrity status on the rise, Ground Chuck has no plans on leaving our fair city. “There are some good-ass motherfucking people here. They can appreciate my candor and my way of being. When I meet somebody and they’re cool to me, it makes me happy and I see all the possibilities involved in that.”

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  1. 20 Responses to “The Life and Times of Ground Chuck”

  2. avatar

    By Marion Millin on May 5, 2010 | Reply

    Dang, Dennis, I was refraining from publishing my first reaction to the “branding” of Midtown and MBA’s so-called “reaching out to the community.” Why help them go viral and why take the chance some of these satirical suggestions are adopted (shudder)? However, in honor of Ground Chuck, his chalk art was the absolute first thing I thought of. (OMG did I just give the consultancy class literal street-cred?) So, here goes:

    “The process for a new logo started in November, but Kerth said there wasn’t anything the group was happy with until about three weeks ago. The MBA reached out to the community with focus group and held committee meetings.”

    “The logo will show up on t-shirts, banners and window sticker the association is making available to businesses. “We’ll think of some other clever uses along the way,” Kerth promised.”

    Suggestions for Other Clever Uses:

    Hire Ground Chuck to draw the logo in chalk on the sidewalk in front of participating businesses

    Hold hop scotch competitions and let kids compete for whose game is craziest

    Print the new logo on meal tickets with prices, tax and totals artfully spread on the “grid”

    Tell people it’s an old Gold Rush symbol used by miners to hide location of their claim

    Hire Midtown Hipsters to get tattooed with the new logo

    Encourage use of the cartoon grid as the template for Midtown bar crawls, bike rides and scavenger hunts

    Check departing patrons level of inebriation by having them try to trace the logo

    Bumperstickers on Humvees and Escalades: “Midtown: Get Out Of My Way”

    Require barristas to draw new logo in foam on espresso drinks

    Social networking to spread the buzz that we are now “Scribblemento”

    T-shirts for locals: “Welcome to Midtown: Now Go Away”

    Tell people the real logo will be ready soon

    Marion Millin

  3. avatar

    By OldManFoster on May 5, 2010 | Reply

    Marion Millin, you are a genius. Can i steal your comment for our blog?

  4. avatar

    By Melanie on May 5, 2010 | Reply

    What a great piece on an awesome guy. I can’t remember a day downtown where I didn’t see Chuck and give him a hug. He’s an amazing guy and we’re all really lucky to have him in our lives.

  5. avatar

    By Marion Millin on May 5, 2010 | Reply

    OMFoster, my astute, less wordy friend cut right to the chase and called it a “rat’s maze.” “wow. the idea of “branding ‘ being a good thing sucks!!! they dismiss the “eclectic hip” people who despise “BrANDING”!!!”

    If it made ya laugh, Tim, yes, with attribution, right? Thanks for asking. On condition: if Chuck gets the gig, take me out for a cappuccino with real foam and no logo.

  6. avatar

    By Dennis Yudt on May 6, 2010 | Reply


    Absolutely brilliant, my dear!

    And yes, let’s make Chuck the official logo brander of Midtown. That would soooo rock!


  7. avatar

    By Marion Millin on May 6, 2010 | Reply

    Funny, D, you also helped “viralize” my 1992 “Top Ten Reasons California State Legislators Need A 37% Raise” (and then 5% + 7% + whatever here and there afterwards). Look how well that all turned out. Putting business in charge of gubmint and getting rid of people who know what they’re doing and all that. LOL.

    Chuck is a sweetie and an old neighbor from down here in the Scandal District. He loves the kids — he could also organize the hop scotch tournaments!

    There could be three-legged races: a member of the community teamed with someone the MBA considers “a member of the community.” The hilarity ensues.

    Okay but if this takes off, we might have to distinguish OUR official logo/artist/comic/metal/god brand by calling him Ground Chalk. Put Chalk It Up on the map. His band plays the festival. A sister city chalk fest b/w Hot Italian and the tradition in Italy … more culturally creative word play on Tourette’s and “tourist”….

    Ya gotta laugh. Especially if you been around since the days of the cat OldManFoster let out o the bag. O no he di n’t!!!

  8. avatar

    By eLmike on May 6, 2010 | Reply

    o carbs. Chuck is a punkrocker. violence lifesavers gimme a box of those muggs.
    give this man your money but 1st your respect. Chuck is intelligent and an Anarchist, to be one you must have the other.dont label Chuck (or the music chuck likes) like i just did cuz he will violently ,nonviolently send you scramblin. dont fuck with Chuck or you’ll be stomped out. pay Chuck and dont fuckin patronize him cause your a tourist , hes a fixture and a mental sabateur. he will slip his thorn- ed cadmium crimson, penis in your mouth while you laugh. If your a girl fuck and take care of Chuck. lovingly tuck 20’s in his jean pockets.grab for his genitals and milk, remembering that your tenderness is forgiven by the master. DTv

  9. avatar

    By Marion Millin on May 6, 2010 | Reply

    Great article, Dennis. YOU rock. Love the Chuck/KJ convergence and in-depth view. Thanks.

  10. avatar

    By Keith Lowell Jensen on May 6, 2010 | Reply

    I don’t remember a time in Sacramento before Chuck. For as long as I’ve been here he’s been around cheering on anyone doing anything creative. The comics at Luna’s are always thrown but then delighted when they get a “Fuck Yeah” and the horns after a good joke. That kind of enthusiasm is not common in stand up, but when Chuck’s around it’s infectious. As for his stand up, it’s silly, clever and then dips into personal, honest, vulnerable and right back to silly again. He is a wonder to behold on the mic and I’m glad to hear that he’ll continue to pursue stand up. He’s a natural. As most of us work to “find our voice” I think Chuck would struggle to suppress his. “Hey, I’m Chuck and I have turrets so, if you’re dicks I’ll split.” Best opening line ever. Sorry if this is a bit gushing but I’m a huge fan. Chuck has enriched my life and I’m always pleased but not surprised to hear that I’m not the only one.

  11. avatar

    By msmidtown on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    I miss the days of having a fantastic chalk drawing on my sidewalk courtesy of Chuck. For years he would surprise myself and my roommates with a lovely example of his generous spirit and creative soul.

  12. avatar

    By Marion Millin on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    Pretty cool that Ground Chuck is in MM, Kevin Seconds is on the cover of SubMerge, Jerry Perry — fresh from his future/retro, multi-band, rainy Earth Day cowbell epic tour de force — is cranking up another season of Concerts in the Park, all in the same week.

  13. avatar

    By Andre From Sacto on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    Ground Chuck! You pic is on my fridge to remind me of Sacto. From Ventura Happy B-day!

  14. avatar

    By Libby Sanchez on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    Dennis, what a lovely tribute to our friend Chuck. Your statement about kids feeling they’ve found a kindred spirit in Chuck couldn’t be more spot on. Ours adore him–eagerly anticipating their weekly sidewalk chalking tutorials (mostly Skull and Crossbones focused)–and crestfallen when we arive at Rubicon and Chuck and his chalk are not there.

  15. avatar

    By Brian LeVene on May 21, 2010 | Reply

    Nice piece, Dennis (yes, I just got around to reading it). Thinking about Ground Chuck forces me to think about my own existence in downtown Sac over the past 20+ years. Hanging around the Burt House, playing activists on the Capitol steps. Hell, he was at my first wedding and was right downstairs when my oldest son was born. Chuck has, is and we’ll always be my brother.

  16. avatar

    By Jean-Marie Carrier on May 14, 2011 | Reply

    Chuck and I were pretty good friends, and before I left Sacramento for Seattle-he was there for me, when my idiot (ex) fiance (Brian…BAT53) went and knocked up that Julie Chick and his parents gave them a shot-gun wedding. I remember sleeping on his floor for a few nights in a row, and goofing around with him at Java City (before it turned into a dive) the week before I hitched out of SAcTowN. I wondered how he was doing…thanks for writing this…and please tell him Rhoadie says “HI!”

  17. avatar

    By JsphSmsph on Sep 9, 2011 | Reply

    Geezus. Talk about a fixture. Last time I saw Chuck, his hair was quite different and he was in the parking lot off the alley next to the Loft banging a drum stick on an old radio yelling at the band. Those present all knew (and liked) Chuck better than the band. Good to hear he’s still around after all these years. A good dude.

  18. avatar

    By Harvey on Mar 1, 2012 | Reply

    When ‘outcasts of society’ broke up, chuck moved into ‘the Driven’…
    Carl Chaos – Vox
    (me) Harvey Hardcore – Bass
    Rocker Randy – Guitar
    Ground Chuck – Drums, Buckets, and suitcases…lol

    fun times, good guy

  19. avatar

    By INDIAN ERIC on Feb 4, 2013 | Reply


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