DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
the interviews - band members
OUR DAY WITH ZOOT HORN ROLLO
from internet HI-FI
MUNDO vol.1 #2 161297, #3 280198 and #4 150398 usa
by alex duke & rob denunzio
is 11.97 interview BILL HARKLEROAD
note: adapted from the original published by a now defunct e-zine
part 1 - THIS is part 2 - part 3 - part 4 - part 5
when you broke up to do mallard, how did that change? did you sort of become the anti-beefheart band?
no, no, no. if you listen to 'clear spot', which i think is by far a better album, it's actually a good album - i just recently listened to it, and thought: 'all right!' - that had a lot - you jumped there, we missed a part if you don't mind me staying, ok? on that one, a lot of the parts from those tunes came from me. not all of them, i'm not saying i wrote the tunes, but the thrust of what was happening were licks that i was playing, and he would build a song, or parts, around it, and then i'd still be sculpting it around, after the fact, to do the tunes and give out the parts to everybody. i mean, from 'lick my decals off, baby' on, that was my job, to control the thing.
then there was ted templeman's influence, who was the first producer we ran into who said: 'no, don, shut up, we're going to do it this way'. you notice, there are repeats, there are kind of a and b sections, and those simple things. but still, it kept some of the feel of that. so, there was not improvisation, but the parts came from that kind of mentality. and then they got memorized again, no control, he would not give up any control for any solos, but it was built from that - our playing, as opposed to him saying: 'you play this now, you do this'.
so, that album, if you listen to it, is a little more common, normal, musically, but the structure of it got changed around, to be real beefheart-y, and especially with 'big eyed beans from venus', and 'golden birdies', you know, that unison thing was our idea.
then, when you go from there to mallard, then i'm stuck - now i'm the guy. right? oh, fuck, now i've got this band i have to come up with music for, and go, how do i get a paycheck because we have this sort of thing, rather than just going up to oregon (where he lived - teejo) and hiding in the woods. which is really what i wanted to do. so, i was listening to more fusion type things - a lot of weather report, herbie hancock, miles davis, and those things that were happening. i was always listening to thelonious monk, and john coltrane, and things like that. so as those things were influencing me, the tunes - i actually wrote tunes, and there were solos, and i played free...
would you consider that your first big chance to do improvisations as a performer?
no, live, excuse me, live with the beefheart stuff as we evolved and started falling into things, like just doing blues things, on the spot, and him pointing and saying: 'play a solo', 'whoa! seven years, and now i get to play a solo!' and there's like, thirty seconds of me going: 'really? do you really mean that?' and then playing.
no, that evolved on stage. we were doing stage stuff towards, probably '72 / '73, there was a lot more of that. still, not a lot with me, very little with me. partly because of what my musical part in the band was, i was the guy that was there (pounds fist into palm in tempo) and my parts held it together even more than the bass player. if you listen to a lot of the bass parts you can hear it.
live at the bitter end, west hollywood, usa mid december 1970
so a real role reversal.
in a way, yeah. so we would have elliot ingber and these other guys who would do solos, and again i'm going: 'let me do it, goddamn it'. so that evolved, in the context that you're talking about, that was where i started improvising. i mean, i was playing blues and shit at thirteen, fourteen years old. but in this big time - or, mediocre time - experience, yeah. and then the mallard thing just was because i was writing tunes that didn't come from 'we have to be art dudes', right? so it was a little more standard stuff.
when you went in to work with beefheart, did you know what it was going to be like?
when i joined the band?
no. i had no idea. when i joined the band, what i had known was 'safe as milk', and i had played with the band, a little fifteen, sixteen year old kid, that's why i ended up in the band. i could rip b.b. king off. i expected it to be the next level past 'safe as milk' - have you listened to 'safe as milk' at all?
when you keep the date in mind (1967 - t.t), it's a pretty cool album, i think. i expected just that logical extension of what actually became 'strictly personal' - without all the phasing and the weirdness - it was like blues meets africa meets lsd meets.... so when i joined the band, i expected that next step, just to create and lay down a blues line into, i guess, what i would call psychedelic rock, something like that. because, i knew he had an association with zappa at that point, i expected somewhere in between.
so, in retrospect, being in both situations, do you think it's better off letting one sort of control the whole show, or to have a group that makes equal contributions?
i think both are totally valid, in that: what are you trying to come up with, what are you doing? you're looking at it after the fact - which way would be better by a choice of if you like the music. but in the process, if something comes out cool, however you got there - as long as there wasn't bloodshed. who gives a shit? if it's creative, i think - 'trout mask replica' wouldn't have happened if he wasn't that way.
and, being there as it was built, i don't hold it in the esteem that somebody who would come out and listen to it, but i probably would have if i weren't a part of it, because of how different it is compared to: 'i know the pain it took to do it'. i knew the bullshit and the holes in it, i saw the swiss cheese there. when you're looking at it afterwards, and were a total person controlling it, it creates a pretty unique thing, it's like daydreaming or something.
but at the same time, the bad side of it is, you lose the energy of that, and it gets really - it doesn't breathe. so i think there's valid things to both things. i mean, if it's just a bunch of really ripping players, and you go: 'go!' - that's pretty cool. but what if you got a bunch of weak links? either way is valid. a longwinded explanation, but...
from your experience of meeting musicians as you go along, have you met any musicians who you thoroughly respect as musicians, and know they have a lot of technique and talent, yet still like to play in a way that might sound haphazard?
yeah, ornette coleman is a great example, meeting him was like, perfect. absolutely, absolutely. but his thing is really brainy, cerebral, he's got harmolodic stuff, lydian-chromatic, all these things that he has worked his way through, he is a musician that worked there logically, and filled in the blanks. he didn't just jump off a cliff and go: 'i'm a cool art jazz player'. and it's not just because he has paid his dues that i will listen to him, it's probably because when i met him, he was such a really nice guy, and sitting down and i'm playing and he starts playing some old blues licks on the horn, he knows all that shit. and it sounded good to me, too. i like those free sounds.
when did you play with him?
just when he was coming, and hanging around us, when we played in new york a lot, '70, '71, '72. he and don became big time friends. yeah, it were interesting gigs we had with all these, you know, pharoah sanders, charles mingus, and all these guys standing there watching these young white weirdos. i'll never forget asking mingus if he liked the - did i tell you this story?
he's standing there with his wife, and she had blondish hair, and he's looking like he's wearing the bass under his shirt. i knew exactly who he was, i got off the stage, and little billy walks over and goes: 'did you like the show?' and he wouldn't even look at me, he just kept looking at the stage, and his wife leans around his belly and said: '‘he liked it a lot'. that was it. that was about my whole time with charlie mingus. it was pretty funny.
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