captain beefheart electricity

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the interviews - band members


 

BILL HARKLEROAD TELEPHONE INTERVIEW

from fanzine 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 - part 2 - THIS is PART 3

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well, what else do i have? zappa's death [the month before - t.t.] was such a shock for people; do you have any particular memories of him?

shock? why was it a shock?

why, just that someone who is 50 years old - so well-known - and had access to health care, would have died so... -

prostate cancer is something that is like, you know what i mean: people don't go in and get check-ups and go: 'oh, i have this; let's catch it'.

yeah.

we have all known about it for the last four years or so.

yeah, well: i think i first heard a year and a half ago -

it's been quite a while that i've been hearing about it - when he was doing the tipper gore thing.... he was a cool guy. i differed with him on certain things. he was involved - you've got to respect that.

yes, when he died - he actually got projects dóne: i definitely think he deserves credit for 'trout mask replica' - maybe this would be better for you to confirm that - i wonder if 'trout mask replica' could have possibly been made without somebody like zappa behind it. if it would have been issued - it could have been recorded.

at that time - that's true. i mean, but i don't know how much different he saw that album from wild man fischer - you know what i mean?

yes, yes.

so it was all frank's big cartoon. you know, if you went to his house and saw the entourage of people there - it was frank's cartoon party, sort of like this rock 'n' roll fellini....

yes: the circus. definitely: sort of fellini circus.

for me it was cool. because he had already done something in 1964 - whatever it was when 'freak out' came out that went like: 'hey, fuck: you listen to this. you know the beatles? give me a break'. you know, it was great.

that's what i have always loved: my favorite album of his has always been 'we're only in it for the money'.

the first three....

well, 'freak out' is wonderful too. and i thought that 'strictly personal' was the same sort of thing in a way: that it was a reaction to 'sergeant pepper' - or particularly 'beatle bones 'n' smokin' stones': almost vicious. you know, supposedly john lennon got very upset about that. i have never been able to find it, but supposedly he gave a front page interview to melody maker where he denounced the song - or something.

yeah, and beefheart's thing was that it was about the insects after the holocaust - right.

oh no! i never heard that before!

it's right. it works. it's a good... --

i have always said it's a wonderful put-down of psychedelic lyrics and it's also this brilliant psychedelic lyrics song at the same time.

oh yeah, exactly. what it was, you know, like cockroaches and the beetles are going to live through this shit - and the stones smoking - you know, for the nuclear holocaust or whatever. i mean: i could understand that, but i'm sure he could be very brutal and meant it the other way too - side-stepping that one.... it was a good tune.

i love it. i don't know whether you have ever heard the british issue of 'strictly personal' the single lp version? [you mean the non-gatefold? - t.t.] i found out that and it's not - there is some distortion, but i think it's deliberate, like when the mirror is singing back to him on 'son of mirror man'. it sounds much better: closer to what was originally intended.

i have no idea - i would have to hear it.

i would be glad to send you a tape of it. it's this incredible - it's almost as good, i don't know whether you have heard the 'i may be hungry but i sure ain't weird' ceedee that came out - that had all these versions of 'strictly personal' that were recorded for buddah - but the sound on those takes was quite good.

hmmm. no, i haven't heard any of that - i just remember it was altered, the phasing and stuff. the psychedelia that was thrown into the album after i had heard some of the tracks - because i was supposed to be learning those songs; right those tunes....

you had heard the tapes?

yeah: we had all those work tapes from the original unmixed tracks - because i was learning them. 'kandy korn' and whatever - i don't know what's on that album, to tell the truth... - 'feel like i said' and a few things like that: learn all these slide parts.

'trust us' and 'safe as milk' - which is like my favorite song: such a great song.

well, yes: they were great tunes. they were very blues-based with an african feel to a lot of the rhythms. it was cool stuff. and yes: the later elpee didn't sound anything like that.

i have turned up a 'qui' magazine that someone sent that picked the u.s. 'strictly personal' as a good make-out record because it was so quiet: like it was one of the top ten records to put on when you wanted to seduce someone.

very weird.

that's how screwed up the mix was.

right, like barry white: both 'walruses of love'.

now, these again may be rumors: people have told me some pretty interesting, strange, probably untrue things - do you remember ever backing up sunnyland slim?

no.

may have happened before you -

think it probably was. i remember hearing the name. but before me.

i ran into someone who claimed he was an ex columbia executive, who said that beefheart and miles davis had recorded together --

nope - i seriously doubt that.

and that columbia wouldn't issue it, and there was a representative of liberty in england who - do you remember 'zig zag' magazine? which i think was named after 'zig zag wanderer' - that had a sort of gossip column thing that they printed - this was somewhere around 1969 - they claimed this guy told them that they had duets between beefheart and howlin' wolf in the vaults....

i don't think so. he died in '67, right?

howlin' wolf? he lived till '73, '74. there is even a live album that was recorded in '71 - i mean he was in poor health, they said every time he went on stage he was taking his life in his hands because he had a bad heart.

he was like 'my man'.

oh god, yeah! he's so incredible.

there never was any connection with wolf.... now, muddy waters was involved and there were like jam sessions and things that happened just as i was joining the band, but i never saw any -

wow! were these recorded?

no - not that i know of.

oh, what a shame.

yeah, i know.

did you ever meet son house?

no.

he is - i just think he's so incredible.

he was. another guy that's just great was bukka white: some of the earlier things i've heard.

and that robert pete williams album, that 'grown so ugly' comes off: that's just incredible.... is there anything you want to say to sum up your experiences? i think you sort of did it earlier - does it come out to a plus all together? are you glad you did all of it in retrospect?

this is kind of - probably unfair of me - but it is like imagine what you did 20 some odd years ago. how could you even remember whether it was a plus or a minus? everything becomes a plus: a car runs over your leg and it hurts like hell, but the emotional growth that comes from it 20 years later - you go: 'jeez, i really grew from that!'.

that which doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.

it's not something i would get in line to have happen to me. it was an excruciating experience, umm, most of the time, but i feel extremely fortunate that i was able to meet someone like ornette coleman or some of the people who were doing some - what was that guy's name? jean pierre hallé or something like that: lived with the pygmies.

that name sounds very familiar.

the guy who worked with the whales; salvador dali, harry partch - more the people who weren't rock 'n' roll people - because i started off playing 'trout mask replica'.... rock 'n' roll went out the window in 1968 for me, so it was more the chance to meet these people. playing with various people was the good part of it - sure i learned a hell of a lot about music in an artistic sense; not in any type of formal training; i had to do that later - but all in all it's strange now. i look in a high school yearbook picture of me and i can vaguely remember where my zits were - it's like 'what!'. it is really weird.

what's strange is that i still get phone-calls like your are calling me - i had three calls this month, you know, like it's getting bigger - it's like right now i should be getting royalties on all these albums.... he owes me money! he owes me money! he is supposed to pay us the percentage of the royalties for those things that are selling more now than they ever sold!... i mean, i manage a music store: i know how often we have to re-order - and this isn't people who know who i am.

when you were talking of the trouble you were having with the mallard album - do you think he has been getting royalties?

sure, why wouldn't he? this is warner brothers records.

well, i don't know. i remember reading when rolling stone chose 'trout mask replica' as one of the 50 greatest albums ever made or something, they listed the sales. it was in print for virtually till ceedees came out, then it was in print as a cd - they said it had sold something like 100,000 copies....

right!, that's probably fairly accurate.

then why did they keep it in print? that is what i couldn't understand.

well, that's a good question. they didn't pay much for it: it's all profit - costs them a dime to make the thing. i mean, we recorded it in one day - that's a lot of studio time.

that's amazing.

we spent 50 grand on 'clear spot' or 40 grand to record that. i mean, it was - why did they have little feat? they never made a dime on them till way late, they cost them money - there are certain 'critic gives them a good name' type of albums.

right. like they used to call those samplers 'loss leaders' - almost like that.

absolutely. it's like this: 'we're cool, but we're going to pump out this pabulum and sell it to make our money'.

i always wondered too. reprise was started by frank sinatra, he started the label, kind of his - i wouldn't say: vanity - label, since i'm sure they make money. i wondered - i mean, he must not have been involved with reprise by the time you all did - or are....

i can't imagine. who knows: at that level? to me the business at that level - now that i'm at the retail end of it - i'm working with it and really seeing it at a street level to where i see it as these huge conglomerates that are.... i mean, who knows if john giotti owns it or not, you know - mca and the connection there with the mafia. i mean, it is just like they are this little bastard son of the movie business and it is just like this creepy little insidious little thing and they are just selling 'tide soap': there's no art involved in it at all.... don't think there ever has been - i mean, there was some for me if i looked at ecm records of the 70s. man, they were doing some shit - those were real musicians playing free, just having some freedom to do some art; and they didn't make any money except for some keith jarrett albums.

yes, he has vanished commercially lately.

yes, he has been doing some classical stuff like shostakovich and some other things - by the way, ecm is being bought up by bmg so some of the older albums are going to be released. because i have been waiting for some eberhard weber who is one of my favorite things - so they're just selling shit. who knows, or almost who cáres you have just got to peek through the cracks and find things you like - it's kind of interesting.

one last thing: are you available? what are your new music aspirations?

nice way to put that!

was that clumsy enough?

no, it was very good: like a topped five iron golf shot. anyway, yeah: i'm for hire. send me money, give me a job! no, it's: i have been doing this bedroom midi thing for a while and before i get too old to get up, walk around and plug in an electric guitar, i'm thinking about 'i would like to be doing some playing with human beings again'.

i don't necessarily miss playing in front of people who you know couldn't care less about the custodial musician on the stage - but playing with people actually getting paid a little bit to do that, would be a lot of fun. so i would be up for a gig. i even went so far as to answer the red hot chili peppers advert, but i figure i wasn't young enough to be naked with tattoos....

well....

they called me back though!

they did, i'm sure.

they said: 'meet garth the roadie behind some building and he will see if you're cool or not...', and that's when i decided: 'no!'.

as i told you when we talked before: most people that i know of who are into beefheart are also big fans of the band individually, so maybe - well, new york, there you are! it's out there.

right, new york! oh, the big one.

yes, so maybe the big apple will bite you.

oh, oh. as long as they get me a safe little room - drive me around....

again: thanks very much for talking.

you bet.... yep.


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