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JOHN 'DRUMBO' FRENCH * O SOLO DRUMBO

japan 1998 ceedee avant avan 024

captain beefheart history - john french: o solo drumbo

john, who was don's right hand during several legendary visits of captain beefheart and the magic band to earth, actually explains it all in the extensive liner notes to this remarkable album. for a long time only known as 'drumbo' he surprises us with some essential BACKGROUND INFO on how don van vliet and he once worked together - which must be seen as important MEMORIES too.

the former magic band drummer - and later also on guitar - starts his story on this 'drums in drumbo style only' record with some trivial notes before getting more to the points we're interested in....

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based on the sole premise of finally discovering a group of people
i could truly irritate [drummers who hate solos],
i have recorded this drum solo album

the solos were recorded in november 1996, and the mixing occured in february 1997. the drums are panned 'player perspective' which means they sound in the same places to you the listener as they do to me (as 'the player'). special thanks to producer henry kaiser who made this album possible by being a great friend in more ways than i can explain. he is the man to thank or blame, depending entirely upon your position.

however, i would like to dedicate this album to don and jan van vliet. i had many good laughs with them both at various times and i think they make a great couple - thank you, don and jan, for the pleasant times we have enjoyed especially 1975

just for the record (pun intended), i certainly don't consider myself any kind of great drummer from the standpoint of technique. i think that i probably was very lucky to have had the chance to play to music that made me have to think differently about drumming than anyone else. it has been a pleasurable challenge.

to the ceedee: i tried to pick things that i thought people who know of my past work would like to hear. so, this is sort of a 'retro' approach. looking back, i realise now that everything here was created when i still had hair. the time i've gained in not having to do all that shampooing was spent perfecting these performances, so this album should be dedicated to 'baldness'.

i like to include a couple of ANECDOTES to the tracks:

ABBA ZABBA drums
safe as milk 1967 4:40

originally from 'safe as milk', i came up with this drum part one evening in laurel canyon, california as an answer to a request by don for an 'african' rhythm, at a time when i had not really heard any african rhythms. later, i heard the same rhythm on a library of congress field recording done in africa. i reasoned it could have been my 'psychic' ability. most likely, i first heard the beat on the original 'king kong' soundtrack when i was eleven, while watching the movie.

THE THOUSANDTH AND TENTH DAY OF THE HUMAN TOTEM POLE
ice cream for crow 1982 6:50

one of my favorite beefheart compositions is included here as an answer to a request from henry kaiser to play the melody on drums. i decided then to play the melody and the drum parts at the same time in order to really impress people. four hours a day and two and a half months later, i came up with this. i had to borrow a set of drums for the session because my set didn't have enough (eight) tom-toms.
i transcribed the original sheet music from don van vliet's original cassette in his trailer in the desert in 1975. it was the summer and it was hot. it was originally recorded in early 1976 on the original 'bat chain puller' album and is soon to be released (notes were written in autumn 1997, it's march 2001 now and nothing official has happened! - teejo). i think the original version is a little better than the 'ice cream for crow' version (from 1982 with a different magic band - t.t.), probably because i play on the '76 version.

BAT CHAIN PULLER: the movie
shiny beast (bat chain puller) 1978 7:07

one rainy day in hollywood, behind frank zappa's studio in early 1976, don van vliet decided to write a song from the drums up (subconsciously, i guess i have always placed drums at the bottom of the musical spectrum). as we sat in his volvo, he turned on the windshield wipers. i wrote the main drumbeat on a matchbook cover with the idea in mind to duplicate this wiper rhythm. does this mean volvo deserves royalties? perhaps an endorsement will be enough.

john french / drumbo 1968 - picture by guy webster - book 'beefheart: through the eyes of magic'
terribly bald drumbo, back in 1968
picture by guy webster
from book john 'drumbo' french * beefheart: through the eyes of magic

HAIR PIE drums
trout mask replica 1969 2:23

for the beefheart fans, only the parts have been slightly altered for copyright reasons. 'hair pie' was the first song in which i tried actually writing out my drum beats before playing them. it was a different approach, and i tried to have at least two different things going on in each rhythm. the first part took forever to learn. one measure of hell. after a while, hell became much easier.

THREE FOR 5
[drum idea 1969] 6:35

i transcribed the basic idea for this in 1969, during rehearsal for 'trout mask replica' as an attempt to play in three different time signatures at the same time. it is in 3/8, 4/4, and 5/4 and is not repetitive for fifteen measures, at which time it begins the same cycle. i have tried to play it on several occasions through the years, but never had the patience (and still don't!) to master it. actually i programmed each measure into a drum machine, to hear how it sounded, and learned them separately. later, when i put them together, my brain didn't know which time signature to follow - and it was a very odd sensation, like trying to decide which presidential candidate to believe. what is here evolves into an improvisation based upon east indian tabla rhythms.

P-K-RO P
[unused van vliet drum idea - year unknown] 4:59

don played a rhythm quite similar to this on the drums one day [whén? - teejo]. he asked me to transcribe the beat to music paper. it was very difficult for him to keep playing it, and though it took me about thirty seconds to write it down, i kept telling him i didn't have it yet, so he kept having to play it for twenty to thirty minutes. it was a little prank in retribution for having had to transcribe all those 'trout mask replica' parts for bass and guitar.
however, he was able through his simple technique to innovate one of the greatest beats on drums that i have ever heard. i approached it here with a cab calloway visits flash gordon feel, because it always reminds me of old soft shoe / shoeshine boy rhythms from the thirties and forties and yet still has a timeless appeal.

STEAL SOFTLY THRU SNOW drums
trout mask replica 1969 2:27

it is not common knowledge that i wrote many of my own drum parts on beefheart's legendary 'trout mask replica'. i have included two titles from that album here for the beefheart fans. this is not improvisation, and i tried to capture the original intensity and abandon as much as possible.

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the rest of this album is 'drumbo' style material played for the 'french-frith-kaiser-thompson' collaboration project and solo pieces for the 1996 london drum clinic he gave. but the main 'idea' behind it is captain beefheart, of course. so, what actually do we get? that is: musically, as the nice memories are unexpected additions....

COVER VERSION
THE THOUSANDTH AND TENTH DAY OF THE HUMAN TOTEM POLE
CURIOSITIES
four 'incomplete covers'
ABBA ZABBA drums
BAT CHAIN PULLER: the movie
HAIR PIE drums
STEAL SOFTLY THRU SNOW drums
unused 'drumbo' part
THREE FOR 5
NEW van vliet WORK
P-K-RO P

that's quite impressive, don't you agree? 'well-known' tunes heard from an other point of view (with the recording technique giving you the impression you're sitting in the middle of the drum kit), and a whole song - except the vocals - compressed into óne tiny drum kit! and don's never used 'shoehining' melody makes this release more extraordinary - although you really shouldn't think the rest is trash, despite the fact that this solo project drives you mad after a while if you are a common listener: it's drums and drums and drums and drums only!

MY CONCLUSION: it really impresses me

drumbo / john french - john french: o solo drumbo

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[131297 / last update 150210]

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