DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
the interviews - band members
PLAYING THAT LONG LUNAR
NOTE WITH ZOOT HORN ROLLO
the bill harkleroad interview
from DAMP #5 010190
by scott colby
is late 09.89 interview BILL HARKLEROAD
note: part of the 'captain beefheart extravaganza' special which also included the interview phone calls to don
part 1 - part 2 - THIS is PART 3
how soon after you guys (bill, mark boston and art tripp - t.t.) left, did you form mallard?
it was probably about two days later! (laughing) we were thinking: 'well, what do we do now? do we go pump gas or what? we haven't been 'nothing' here through all of this, so we should stick together'. so we headed back up to where were living and started practicing. and the keyboard player who had played on that last album came up with us: mark marcellino (one of the tragic members - t.t.). hello, mark, wherever you are. i kind of became the leader, because i was supposedly that guy anyway, only in calling rehearsals. it was kind of like managing a store; i had more responsibility, let's say, through quite a few years there in the band. kind of like a den mother.
so i guess it was a natural extension of that.
it was a natural thing, yeah. i was always the one rehearsing the parts, making sure everyone's thing was together. so then i called john french; i wanted him involved immediately for singing, double drums, tunes, whatever - my creative buddy. he didn't feel right with it after a bit, though, so it changed. and then i quit. i thought i didn't want to do it anymore. i had been playing with these people for years....
art tripp decided he had to leave and go to work doing something else. and without john or art there, there was nothing for me. i just forgot about it and went back down to the desert. mark [boston] started writing some tunes, and his energy was pretty important for the mallard thing. he kept wanting it to happen. i just wanted new juice, i wanted people who wanted to progress into newer things. i was listening to a lot of fusion at the time, i was teaching myself classical guitar, how to read music. i was learning and getting into guitar playing, not just how to reproduce shapes. it was a real new learning period for me. and then ian anderson (from jethro tull - t.t.) called mark and i down there, and he wrote this tune for us.
now how did that happen?
well, we had been opening for jethro tull, so we were connected, right? and they were in hollywood, or something. so mark and i went down there, and we went into a studio the next day because ian had a day off and he liked to plug in every minute.... he spent some time with us and really helped us out a lot. we flew over to england to do a demo tape in his studio, at his cost. we got the players just five minutes before we got there. called artie, and he said he would meet us over there.
so it wasn't really long in planning, it just happened that fast?
yeah, it was pretty quick, like: 'oh shit, i've gotta write some tunes!'. some were john's tunes, or john and me, or mark and me, or mark and john.... i wrote a couple with david wagstaff, a lyricist friend of mine. i was writing a song called 'mallard ballad' when we needed a name for the group in a hurry, so....
well, the fact that it was done on such short notice, just makes it more impressive to me, since i think that that first album 'mallard' turned out great.
really? it was really thrown together fast.
that reminds me: artie told, shortly after returning from recording that album in england, that on 'winged tuskadero' he had thought he was doing a recording level check of his marimba volume, which you then informed him was his solo on that song!
(laughing) yeah, i tricked him into that one! he wouldn't have played a free-form solo, so we said we were just getting a good level on him, and then we made it the take.
i thought the album turned out really well. the only song which seemed to, well, stick out as being, umm, obviously different from the rest -
was 'desperados waiting for a train'.
it was weak, man. (laughing) but the idea was to include the singer, and give him space.
we haven't mentioned him yet. how did sam galpin enter this line-up?
three days before the flight over to do the album. we had been interviewing singers, and i talked to a guy named jackie lomax, and some guy from the james gang.... there were all these guys with leather pants and attitudes, and we thought: 'these guys are dicks'. and then somebody said he knew a guy that did joe cocker demos, and i said: 'alright! a raspy throated son-of-a-bitch, that's just what we need'.
i mean, the idea wasn't necessarily to cop a beefheart clone, but just to find somebody who did this raspy shit, because that's what i was doing. and it came out..., like it came out. the guy didn't know what we were doing, and we had to do word-by-word drop-ins. he was a country singer, really. we got to know him after getting over there.
his background was not the same stuff you were trying to do, but he had the right voice for it.
well, i know that for a lot of people that was the one thing that bothered them. they would say that it sounded like someone trying to sing in one part of don's range and style.
on a lot of the songs, i thought he worked out fine. i thought 'she's long and she's lean', for example, was a particularly rough and nasty sounding song where his low, gravelly voice really sold the lyric of a guy who 'wakes up on the floor, and defies gravity finding the door'.
how was it different to be writing, arranging, and rehearsing material for this project, and also touring, by comparison to what you had done previously, besides the obvious fact that don wasn't involved? more panicky?
it was panicky, but mostly more enjoyable. i found it hard to take myself seriously. it was not my show, but it wás my show - the buck stopped with bill, you know? it was a new responsibility, and on the second mallard album ['in a different climate'] it really hit me and it was tough.
the second album definitely has a different feel from the first one, as opposed to just being a continuation, a 'mallard, part two'.
oh, definitely. most people that i know like the first one better.
you can include me.
i like the second one better. it was more where i had been going. i had moved away from raw, scratchy guitar and blues things into more melodic lines. i thought it came off sounding kind of plastic, anyway - the second record.
partly because of the drumming.
well, certainly the change in drummers made a big difference in those two records. (art tripp had left after the first album - t.t.)
oh yeah! a major difference in propulsion, and when you are playing propulsion music.... but i liked the album better because it wasn't just: 'well, this is what i know'. there was starting to be some real musical creativity, and i have always liked músic, though my past didn't show that at all. and that was the first time where i kind of tried to write some músic.
so it was fun, and there were some things which were a little closer to my inner feelings that came out of that, as opposed to: 'hey, i'm pissed off, and she's a bitch, and fuck you!'. there was a little more inner soul and a little more painting going on. also, [keyboard player] john thomas had joined the band. he was a young beefheart fan (who later would play in the 'bat chain puller' band - t.t.). we picked him up while rehearsing for the second album. he added a lot: he is a real good player.
the second album also reflects your interest in fusion, but it was a different direction in fusion than other people were taking. it was more of a blend of fusion with country rock.
well, we had one country tune in there, 'harvest', and the 'old man grey/texas weather' thing, which was actually blues-based, but it had that country imagery. i wasn't into country, really. it was just kind of giving space to everybody involved. i had nothing to do with the country tune, other than playing guitar on it; actually it was an okay tune. but those were spaces for the other people. for me, the album was 'bigfoot', 'green coyote', 'heartstrings', 'your face on someone else' and 'mama squeeze'. those were coming from me.
since there was space for everyone's input, why did the band split up after the second album? how long was the band together?
the band wasn't really together. we just went over there again to do the second album, and then we ended up having to play six gigs. so we rehearsed every tune we could do and went and played them, but there was no band. we came back and i wanted to get new members to play in the band. the album was starting to chart, then virgin records changed hands. some money came for us to tour, but it ended up in some guy's pocket in new york, and we never heard of him again. the album was dropped in the new distribution deal, so it fell off the billboard charts.
so i got majorly screwed then. virgin changed the record deal i signed with them. everybody else got paid; i didn't get paid. so this was more of the same shit i had been through before. and it was a real tense time for me, doing the record: it was over budget, everybody else had gone home after they played, and now i had just two hours to do all the guitar solos. and it was one of those days where you just can't play shit. and simon draper was watching his watch as i was trying to play guitar solos and do all my overdubs for this album which had taken so much time because the drummer was weak and we had spent all this time on it - and now i've got ten minutes to do this solo. it's excruciating for me to listen to the guitar solos now, but the ideas of the tunes i kind of like.
was the distribution situation with virgin - who were relatively small then - the reason for the second album coming out in the united states while the first one had been available here only as a united kingdom import?
probably. i can't remember exactly all of what went on, but i was thinking: 'i'm fucked, the album was doing okay and now i am being shit on again. fuck the music business!'. and my girlfriend at the time was a schoolteacher; we went up to oregon and she found a job up there. we said: 'cool, this is the great escape. goodbye, everybody'. if i could have kept plugging along, i might have done okay. i made some big mistakes by not hanging in there, career-wise. but i was just so worn out and burnt from all those years. it was like being in vietnam: being in the beefheart band. i just had to get away.
but you didn't give up music entirely. you taught yourself classical guitar....
and i taught guitar for years. the classical guitar got me into reading music, and then practicing for hours every day. that kept me playing, and then i played with some top 40 bands. i got into a really good situation for two or three years with a drummer and a bass player, and various other people were involved, but basically those two people. it went on longer, but those years were the best period.
we would just get together two or three times a week and try to play tunes that were way beyond our ability as a trio. it was like music 1-a. it was just a great situation in this gymnasium, real casual. we would go in and play a bunch of yellowjackets tunes or old chick corea stuff, or it was: 'what game should we play today?' with vocalists. and i would try to learn all these keyboard parts on guitar - again! (laughing) trying to learn all those melody lines, i really grew as a guitar player during that time.
what was it like giving guitar lessons? what did you teach?
whatever they wanted to learn, as long as i had the ability to teach that. what i teach usually ends up being my 'blue collar method of easy guitar': get the most out of a little knowledge. which is the way i approach it. definitely learn five major scale patterns, learn the arpeggios that go with them. learn the idea of those modes; learn that you're only ever playing a major scale, whether you are playing in harmonic minor, melodic minor, melodic minor from the fifth, when you're playing over a dominant chord resolving to the one. it can be really simply thought of as a major scale. if you know major scales, you can learn modes in a month and be fluent with them.
other than the trio situation, and the occasional top 40 gigs: what have you been involved in most recently?
i am still teaching a few students who beat my door down, but i am trying not to do as much as before. i am managing a record store for a very good friend who i'm also in business with on a music situation. he is a journalism major who has come into music from lyrics and some drum history. he has been taking care of a lot of the midi stuff. we've got a partnership and we are trying to do as many things as we can. we put as much time as possible into working on some pop tunes: rhythm & blues, funk with a little sprinkling of miles davis attitude in there, with vocals - 'we're pissed off, we hate you bitches, you suck, and buy my record! (laughing) you fucked everybody, so now fuck you!'. we are doing that and i want to keep it guitar-laden so the midi stuff doesn't take over. it is a new feel that's just creeping into the rhythm & blues market. so we're trying to integrate that, and i'm just starting to get into some more slide and open tuning things.
i hope to do some more commercial things, film things - i did a few little guitar bits for this computer company here that works with espn and does graphics for them. i would like to get more involved in documentaries and film, that's what i hope to be able to do eventually with the midi set-up. you know, you can play your jazz, blues and creative things at home; you don't have to go to a beer bar and smell the beer and barf to do it for less than $50 apiece.
it's not so much that i am really into this pop music thing; it is a challenge, it is fun. it's like: 'okay, here is the film, here is what you need musically. come up with it'. it demands you to be creative as a writer, a painter of music. i like that new challenge. at fourty years old, i am just not gonna sit home and practice six hours a day on some new mode or scale equivalent, or synthetic scales. i don't work that hard anymore. but i want to musically use the tools i have ingested to write tunes or do some commercial things.
will you be trying to submit these tunes you are writing to publishers or artists, to get other people to use them - or will you try to do something with them on your own?
i'm not sure how we are going to do it. it's getting to the point where we have got enough material for half an album. we may want to shop that, to see how that is. maybe we'll try to get private funding so we can do it ourselves without incurring a large cost, or maybe we'll sell the tunes to make some money. there might be some little label somewhere that would give me a shot, just because of history. i don't know..., i sure haven't done much to keep that happening. i am trying to stay committed to this, to see it through, to turn it into a viable business. the idea of a cottage industry music thing is thrilling to me. especially living up here. i won't live down there [in the los angeles area], i can't: i have reacclimated. it would be life threatening to me.
you have gone through a lot of changes...: what is next?
i don't know.... tell them to give me a call! (laughing)
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