captain beefheart electricity

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 - part 2 - THIS is part 3 - part 4 - part 5

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when you were around doing the ‘trout mask replica’ stuff, or when you first started playing, who was out there that you really thought wasn't just show-off, art type of people?

zappa's band. he controlled things, but he also, by his directing thing, he was controlling, but they were playing shapes and whatever came out of them. they weren't memorizing parts. so, in a way, they had that, and he always had players that could do that. definitely frank.

did he make any musical contributions when he produced ‘trout mask replica’?

he didn't produce it per se - he produced it by sitting there.

oh, ok, so was he just sort of... --

...a name on the sleeve?

well no, he was the effort that helped don connect and sign with his record company. he paid our rent a couple of times, bailed us out of jail once. no, he was around, but at the exact time of the recording, it was a done deal. we were going to record 'trout mask replica' at home. that's why there are a couple of tunes with the rustling leaves and stuff, and don got the idea of: 'no, you're trying to do a cheap job'. and as frank says in his book, which i just read, he was thinking of it as some anthropological deal, right? a little bit condescending, huh? (laughs.)

doing spot recordings.

right, doing field recordings of the beasts that live in this house. but anyway, it was his idea, and i think it was a valid thing, however condescending or whatever he was thinking of at the time, i think it was a valid way to approach what we were doing. because, who live in a house for nine months, playing twelve, fourteen hours a day these same tunes?

right.

but, by the time we did the studio thing of ripping through these tunes, i mean, what did he have to do? dick kunc was engineering, so he would go: 'ok', and we would go (makes gargling sound to represent entire album being recorded in a few seconds): 'done', 'ok', and twenty-one tunes later, we were done. frank was just sitting there. he didn't really produce the album. there was no musical input, nothing.

ok. so he didn't help to iron things out...

nothing. he gave don the freedom, which is the way to look at that. he was really cool about that.

so when you were doing ‘trout mask replica’, was the focus the product or the process? was the focus what came out or what you were doing to make this album?

during the recording, i mean, you have to remember, this is an evolution over a nine month period of putting this stuff together. and one day of recording. so are you asking, during the recording, what was my mindset, or... --

during that nine month span.

most of it was like: 'what the hell are we doing?' at first. the first half of it was: 'well, this is pretty weird'. then you go down the same road every time, it becomes pretty familiar to you, and it's comfortable. even with these big holes in it. and so i got very comfortable with that sound, it groomed me after playing it that much, and trying to play such difficult things, that was how i thought. pentatonic solos just weren't in my mindset anymore.

so, we were groomed by him to see the big picture of 'we are the important art dudes, and everybody else sucks'. couple of thelonious monk's and maybe a coltrane solo here or there, maybe. or stockhausen, or harry partch - anything that we could find on the outskirts, and us. we were the heroes. so there was a conditioning going along that kind of did that. i was a kid, alex.

captain beefheart - live picture bill harkleroad / zoot horn rollo - athens, georgia, usa, coliseum concert 280472
live at the coliseum, athens, georgia, usa 280472

so, was it difficult, did you have problems in the beginning going from classical training --

normal.

-- blues guitar player, into what ‘trout mask replica’ was. which, by all accounts, is pretty non-classical.

mentally, no. i just went for it, because here i am, some guy without a job, didn't go to college, just some drug jerk. then all of a sudden, i'm in my favorite band. it was like being plucked up by the golden hand and dropped into the perfect situation.

so you were aware of beefheart before he asked you to --

like i said, when i was fourteen, fifteen i was playing with him and jamming, and they knew, that's why they asked me into the band, because they knew i could play. he just waited until we were all old enough. the whole band, all four of us, that were on 'trout mask replica', were all guys that were in bands together, and he gradually got rid of the old guys, that were like old school. so we all got in there.

and the conditioning really pulled us along, the evolution of his control at eight years older than us, and doing this, being famous, and: 'wow, were in a band and got records out!', you know, and all that crap. because at that time, that was powerful. everybody has released a ceedee now, but not then. so it was like: 'wow, i don't have to go to college and get a job, bitching! the babes will dig me and - maybe they won't be playing this shit'.

so that's the mindset, it was like, well: 'wait, wait' - and then, i mean after doing two weeks of doing this drudgery, there was no more mindset about what it used to be, and what was going to happen. i gradually grew to that what was happening, and that was great.

so, when you were sitting in with the band, and not really a part of the band, were you still playing blues stuff?

that's what they were doing, too. this is pre-'safe as milk', right, so they were a blues band. they were doing a lot of howlin' wolf and muddy waters covers and stuff, and well, you know, it's real hard to sit in on a twelve-bar blues.

*

when you got brought in for ‘trout mask replica’, did you have to learn these complicated parts or did somebody show you, was there somebody teaching you a little bit more about how to play? or did someone just hand you some sheet music and say: 'go sit in a closet for nine months'?

good question, when i first joined the band, we were doing the transition group of tunes, we were going to do 'strictly personal', which is much more open-tuning, slide, and more traditionally played parts, but the way the parts went together wasn't so traditional. so, it was real creative stuff. in the process of learning these older tunes, which came from guitar players, not from don, being sculptor dude - the album came out, bob krasnow came out and stole the album, so we all went: 'what?'.

‘strictly personal’?

yeah.

so, it hadn't come out.

it hadn't come out yet.

and you were going to redo it.

i did redo it, and i just found this on the internet the other day, a guy named gary marker, who was the bass player in the original taj mahal band, with ry cooder (who also once was a magic band member - t.t.). marker played bass, jeff cotton, me, and john french, the 'trout mask replica' guys (though by that time mark boston was on bass - teejo), we went in and recorded three tunes that were going to be on 'strictly personal' - it were 'veteran's day poppy' and 'moonlight on vermont', which actually ended up on 'trout mask replica', and 'kandy korn', which was on 'strictly personal', and that was zappa as an engineer - so we redid that one recording session.

so, real normal, normal-ish stuff, and then the album had come out, so 'oh, no!' shit hits the wall, horrible things had happened and he put all this shit on it. so now, the reaction to that was to the next level past that, which was 'trout mask replica'. and the piano parts, and john french doing the parts, and showing them to me, and playing them and going: 'no, wait, that doesn't work, let's move that note there' - does that answer the question?

(*)

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