DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
the interviews - band members
BILL HARKLEROAD TELEPHONE INTERVIEW
STEAL SOFTLY THRU SNOW #4 010994 england
by john ellis
is first half 01.94 usa interview BILL HARKLEROAD
note: held on the occasion of the 'beefheart remembrance day', an annual usa radio program around january 15th [once i hope to come across the details again]
part 1 - THIS is PART 2 - part 3
i want to take one example [of the songs on 'clear spot']: 'crazy little thing', what i always loved. what i really like is the "dove-tailed" opening and closing: that guitar riff, that's you, isn't it?
is that something you bought to it - or was that something in the original composition?
to be 100% accurate: i can't remember. umm....
was it one of those gray areas?
no, what i would say is that - like a lot of it - it was a lot of both with him having the final say. so, at the time of coming up with the parts.... so, in other words, he might have whistled an idea to me, i start to working it out and he goes: 'yeah, that's cool' - but, you know what i mean: who played that? and as i extended it into other parts then all of a sudden i'm taking it to a further conclusion - and where does his stuff start and where does ours? you know what i mean....
right, right. artistically good collaborations are like that: you get to the point where you really don't know, and that's when it gets really good because you have these minds coming together.
these were usual collaborations, but this was all hím. supposedly he taught me how to play, so there was, you know, he again. so i respected the non-musician artistic idea, the feel. his keeping working through things and he would try to go into things - his rhythmic thing has been something that still lives in my playing: the stuff that i picked up from him rhythmically. but as far as sticking parts together: having any kind of continuity to anything, he never had that.
i know he claimed in some interviews that he taught the band note for note every single....
he couldn't remember note for note from one day to the next! i'm not putting him down for that, i'm just saying that he had... - you know, his paranoia created a lot of creativity that really wasn't true, a creativity as far as what he had control of. his general feel was great, but the inner workings: he didn't know what was going on there. he wasn't a musician enough to know, he just - you know, it's just like his vocals: basically i think 90% of anything he recorded vocally, probably was terrible compared to what i heard at the time of rehearsal. what he could do when no one was around, was really fantastic!... what he did on stage?: 50% of the shows he would be complaining about monitor systems and stuff!...
i didn't get to see him until 1980 but he had a lot of problems with - he developed this sort of phobia about yellow lights: he said: 'turn that off, it feels like it's peeing on me...'.
right, so it's a creative way to hide his total insecurity at having to go out there and sing your shit.
yes, i have always thought in this funny way he was shy.
absolutely, absolutely.... this big shy person that put on some other front - that's why i like him. i wouldn't have put up with near as much stuff: it was a little kid in a lot of pain out there, a really creative guy.
did you ever come across this quote that jimi hendrix once called you among the greatest guitarists in the world?
in an interview he did! i wondered if you ever met him? i know -
i met him once - but under a really funny circumstance.... but i can't remember thát, i would need to see that.
someone asked him who were the best guitarists and you were on the list.
well, that was really nice of the guy. he was a really nice guy the time i met him, anyway.
meeting him, is that a circumstance you can talk about?
yeah, it was just one of those weird circumstances in 1968 or something. we were backstage and we smoked a joint and it wasn't like i hadn't smoked pot before - that particular night it hit me real heavy. i started dancing around, almost hallucinating, and they had to walk me out to the back - this club we were at - and sit me down! i started passing out - and it wasn't like anything usual, it was just one of those times when it really hit me funny.
maybe you were picking things up from him...: an extra contact high.
no; i don't know - i'm not into that you know. i think he was kind of a cool player, but i think there are players of infinitely more talent. but anyway, he was a nice guy. what was cool about it, was that he was low key. he was a nice guy and i learned his tunes when i was 15 or whatever. so i'm going: 'hi jimi, how ya doing!', you know. for me it was always amazing that these stars were always little guys - i expect him to be big.... but me at 6' 5" (196 cm), these guys are 5' 7" (170 cm) - or whatever always seems like 'you're really a star? - how did you get so little...'. but anyway --
actors are like that too, particularly movie actors tend to be short: they frame better.
robert de niro!
exactly! robert duvall, i think.... i heard that there may be a cd issue of the mallard lp's?
well, this is a real good one: real current. i'm supposed to be writing the liner notes right now for a two-on-one cd.
you can use this interview.
well, maybe -
we'll talk.... (laughs)
they are more interested in the mallard stuff. it's been real hard to sit down and do it because they are going to pay me a couple of hundred bucks to do this - and for the insult and the rip-off of the record deal that happened, there it is not even worth taking $200 for it.... i got ripped pretty majorly in that deal and i never signed the contract where they wanted me to pay back all the recording costs out of my publishing. i signed a deal that said i would do a 50/50 publishing deal with them, we went into the studio, then the contract after the studio when we came back to sign was totally changed....
so now they reissue this stuff i'm never going to see a cent. so it's kind of an interesting thing, so on one hand it's ok: good it has my name afloat - i keeps me in touch with the music business. so forth which i may be trying to reinstate some of that stuff. thinking about playing again in, wíth other people - as opposed to my bedroom 'midi' thing [the track 'mid-mashie' on the various artists cd 'slide crazy!' - t.t.]. so i'm thinking of doing that, but at the same time it's like a bad taste, if you know what i mean.
sure, sure. so much of the music deals i hear about tend to be like this.
well, now they screw you up front. you know you're getting screwed....
i think the laws have changed: they have to spell it out to you that they are screwing you now.
'you're being screwed - this is the deal - we get all the money...', so you know what's going on. then they said: 'here is what you got', then - wooosh! - when you're not looking it isn't there.
then i heard too, that there is a possibility you are going over to england to do a television thing?
again our mutual friend said something about 'a british television thing had contacted you'.
they haven't called me or told me about it, ok. no i got a phone call i think - when was it?
the bbc may be doing something on beefheart - they did one on zappa. [eventually became the documentary the artist formerly known as captain beefheart - t.t.]
well, this stuff always comes up. but it's hím: you know, usually these interviews are centered around him and my complaint was before - over the years of doing this, it has been that - what people want to hear about, is hím. we were the side-guys and if we say something that doesn't fit the program it either gets deleted or put into a light where we look kind of foolish. yeah, i was foolish to take the abuse i did for so long: i should have quit in the first year - but, umm, it's just a real funny situation we keep doing these interviews....
so this thing in england is going to be about the beefheart band, right. well, hé is the guy and it is just like we were plug-in people supposedly. so it has just been a tiring experience, i'm sure, for john french and for me or whoever has done the interviews - it's probably... -
yes, john french spoke to me and says it is very frustrating that he could get european tours but they want him to play beefheart material.
they weren't interested in his own work which he said was quite different.
how could you be a progressing growing musician and it nót be different twenty years later? give me a break and that's the problem about all this. you brought up this british thing they... - actually somebody called me from germany: they are doing some guitar thing for a week of guitarists. it was like their version of 'pbs' [play-back show? - t.t.], and they were going to record it and have it on tv or film it - i'm not really..., i didn't get all the particulars - but it was a real nice deal: all i have to do, is go over there and do one show! never done solo guitar work before - i mean, i do it all the time at home, but you know: in a performing sense.... and i'm thinking: 'well, maybe i should do this', but you know what they are going to want to hear out of me? they're going to want to hear a bunch of old slide guitar blues-based beefheartian riffs - you know, i haven't done that in 20 years and so it's a bit frustrating.
i know you were on a compilation that henry kaiser put together: it was issued in france, called 'slide crazy!'.
what was your cut on that - was it something you were talking about - did you enjoy doing that?
well, it was something semi-quickie. it was really nice of henry, i felt like he was throwing me a bone up here in oregon, you know: 'country boy, here's something you can do'. it was a nice christmas pay-check. it was very clean and efficient. it was just something where i had... - just did some 'midi' work, put some slide guitar tune together. it was all midi stuff and guitar; i called it 'mid-mashie' and put just one tune on that compilation. i thought it was really nice of him to call me up and ask me to do that.
i'll try to play it before or after this interview if we can get our hands on it.
i haven't heard it since i did it. so i have no idea. i can sort of remember what i did.
what else was i going to ask? have you kept in touch with any of the other ex-magic band members?
john and i talk a lot - not a real lot: not every week or so. i keep in touch with john because he was trying to get some music thing (ceedee 'waiting on the flame' - t.t.) together: he had given me charts and stuff, so i would talk to him about it.... another friend of ours who is currently playing with bruce hornsby, john thomas, was going to be involved and i see john... - i have seen him a couple of times recently, and i keep in touch with him about that, and he just called me and he's doing something else about now - a book, i believe - and wanted me to give my input because i was there.
is that like a novel or a creative book or --
i don't know: call him and find out - i'm sure.
and do you know what happened to, err -
mark boston? [aka rockette morton - t.t.]
mark boston, last i talked to him - it has been about three years now - was in fresno: he was a working musician down there. jeff cotton was in hawaii and i don't know like he is a minister or something? i haven't seen jeff in a long time, i would really like to see jeff. the last time - i mean, we were very young guys, but jeff and i hung out a lot before we were both in the beefheart band. well, actually john french, jeff, mark and i all did - because we were like the local little teenage hotshots who one by one ended up in the band. but jeff and i hung around a lot. when he left the band, it was under ugly circumstances - never really you know spent any time with him after that.
i don't know if i read this or i think i read it or someone told me - so it may be a rumor - i heard there was some sort of falling out and he came into the studio and shot arrows?
no, absolutely not.
shot arrows.... ok, so it's one of those ridiculous stories.
ridiculous stories.... there were some ridiculous stories - things that happened, but - and violence was not excluded, but not to that point: we just used to beat the crap out of each other!
sounds like..., sounds like brothers.
it's like a comic-book 'mansonish gestalt therapy' kind of thing; i don't know.
i don't know whether you know: virgin issued a compilation of beefheart called 'vu' which was - i forgot what that is an abbreviation of [virgin universal - t.t.], but they did it on several artists - it had all these quotes from people, and the ry cooder quote was really striking. it was: 'captain beefheart is a real nazi: just being around him makes you feel like anne frank'.... [the meant cd is 'a carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond', an obscure 'best of the virgin years' - only interesting if you don't have heard the 1982 instrumental 'light reflected off the oceands of the moon'. - t.t.]
.... (laughter) ....
ok, do you keep in touch with him?
no: only at the time that he was still coming around our house and he showed up with - what's that guy's name - jack nitzsche?
he would show up with him and then the tour we did. it was cool like i tried to learn what i could about slide playing from him because i thought that he was thé guy. no, but i didn't keep in touch really.
who else? winged eel fingerling?
elliot..., i haven't seen him in a long time. just when i was starting the mallard band i ran into elliot because i was in the los angeles area. i heard various stories that he's doing well - still lives in the same little place down in hollywood. but no, i would like to see elliot: he was always a very sweet-hearted great person. but how many people out of... - i don't know how old you are... -
well, i'm almost 40....
well, i just turned 45 just a few days ago.
happy birthday, belatedly.
thank you. actually what's today?: beefheart's birthday maybe?
yes, we do this [radio program -t.t.] - so far we have done this the third year - somewhere around his birthday.
right. 14th or 15th, right?
i think it's the 15th.
something like that. anyway, what is he? - 52 now?
yeah, 52. 53.
53? yeah, that's right. 53, you're right.
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