DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
the interviews - band members
HELLO GOODBYE (#11):
moris tepper & beefheart's magic band
from MOJO #51 010298
by mike barnes
is late 1997 usa interview JEFF MORIS TEPPER
one day you're safe as milk. and one day you're doing the dropout boogie. this month, the first and last days of...: moris tepper & beefheart's magic band
i was up in the california redwoods to check out housing and schools, and i saw don drive by in this orange pumpkin-coloured stingray and park at a corvette dealership. i had met him in los angeles in '72 during the 'clear spot' tour, when we had talked and he had drawn me a picture, but i was kind of scared. i walked up to his car and went, very softly: 'don', and he fucking jumped - hit his head on his car roof! he said: 'man, you scared the shit out of me! hey, i know you!'. i go: 'yeah, we talked once at the troubadour'. and he goes: 'i gave you a piece of art, i don't ever do that'. this was all within the first 10 seconds, it was really weird. within two hours he was showing me a house next door to his that he wanted me to rent. and so i got my housing.
i had been playing guitar for years, but i was going to college and decided that i wouldn't try to be a musician. but for the hell of it, i started figuring out the guitar parts to 'trout mask replica'. one day he came over and i played him 'dali's car' - both guitar tracks - and his jaw dropped.
after he came back from the 'bongo fury' tour with zappa, he called me and asked me to come to los angeles and start working on [the original, still unreleased] bat chain puller. it was a very foreign experience; i had never really played in anybody's band. he is like an emperor, has a very commanding natural presence that demands an audience. it's not the same as celebrity. he is intimidating, at the same time he is like a small child, very gentle.
he was very descriptive in imagery and metaphor when conveying musical ideas. at first it was baffling. often he would use colours, like 'play that like a smoky, yellow room, make it more sulphur yellow'; or 'play it like a bat being dragged out of oil, and it's trying to survive but dying from asphyxiation'. the process took some time.
he was keen to solve what he saw as problems with players from a traditional background. for example, he claimed i was humming c in the middle of my head: that i had listened to too much beatles. so he put me in this little bathroom closet and made me listen to this track called 'red cross store' by mississippi john hurt over and over and over, for three hours.
all of it was great, magical....
it wasn't like 'boom!: today the band's done'. after 'ice cream for crow' was released, don still had people who would go on the road and work with him. we all kept in contact, but he couldn't get a deal to get a record out and pay people. after a year of trying, he finally gave up, said: 'forget it - it's not happening. i'm just going to do painting for now'. so that was the slow death of the band....
he would get an offer from an independent record label every year or two after that, but it was small money. up until about five years ago, i talked to don a lot about making a record on his own - playing piano or smashing on water bottles or taping rain wipers on his car - the same sort of tapes the band was given to learn. so people could hear the way he worked. it would have been the best, purest record of all, but he declined. he said: 'man, i couldn't do that: no-one even wants to hear it with the band'.
when the magic band disbanded, i was anxious to get involved in my own music. soon after, i had the good fortune to be utilised by tom waits. i had a ceedee 'big enough to disappear' released; recently i have been working with frank black and robyn hitchcock and touring with my own band 'tepper'. right now i'm producing wyckham porteous, and composing tv and soundtrack music. but at the same time i spend a lot of my creative energy on painting - what i was doing when i met don in the redwoods. i was young and tender when i started working with him; there is a freedom and self-belief that i could have only learned from knowing don.
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