the MAGIC BAND reunion
BAND #4 -
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by grahame bent
is ±19.06.04 interview john french
* used by permission, but i permitted myself some editing by correcting typing errors and facts
* also shortened the text, and used other parts of it on different pages
* all additional pictures were taken at the 070704 john peel live show
THIS is PART 1 - part 2 - part 3
'when i first heard the name 'captain beefheart & the magic band i thought it was the stupidest name i'd ever heard and i laughed really hard.' - john 'drumbo' french
sometimes extraordinary things really do happen.... washed up bands way beyond their sell by date getting back together for one last big payday is one of the oldest and most overused tricks in the book. frequently name-checked and much emulated but never equalled, captain beefheart and his magic band were never anything even remotely resembling a regular band. with the captain (don van vliet) having long since retired from music in favour of concentrating on his art career and sadly now suffering from the degenerative effects of multiple sclerosis, the prospect of any kind of magic band reunion was never seriously entertained by even the most brain-scrambled of the band's hardcore aficionados.
even as recently as two years ago if someone had predicted that a selection of former members of captain beefheart's magic band would one day be touring the united kingdom to widespread acclaim he would have been laughed off the block and escorted to the nearest psychiatric clinic. but sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction and what has to be one of the unlikeliest reunions of all time made its much anticipated debut at last year's all tomorrow's parties at camber sands when four distinguished alumni from the numerous configurations of captain beefheart's magic band - john french aka drumbo, mark boston aka rockette morton, denny walley aka feeler's reedo and gary lucas - miraculously emerged from the void to play what was at the time scripted as the first of two special reunion shows.
but that, as the cliché goes was then and this is now. five hugely successful reunion shows later french, boston, walley, lucas and 'new recruit' michael traylor are back in business with a ten date u.k. tour including an appearance at glastonbury festival and a live session on the john peel show. what started life as something that was originally intended to last for a mere three shows has now mushroomed into something way more substantial thanks to the allure and mystique that continues to surround this most revered and atypical collection of misfits and outsiders.
not only that, but the signs are a fully blown magic band cottage industry has sprung upon the wake of the reunion shows with firstly, last year's release of the back to the front album of re-visited magic band classics coupled with the news that john french is currently at work on a book chronicling the ups, downs and assorted in-betweens of life as a member of the magic band with the latest addition to the catalogue - a double dvd - set to appear some time over the next few weeks. suddenly, against all odds, the promise of a whole new career as the reborn magic band looks to be theirs for the taking should the guys in the band chose to pursue it.
playlouder took time out with john french - drummer extraordinaire, vocalist, harmonica player, unofficial band historian and tireless spokesman - to reflect on a quite extraordinary eighteen months or so in the life of an extraordinary band and, in the process, touch on some dark secrets from the life and times of captain beefheart and his exceedingly magic band.
denny walley / feeler's reedo
when we first spoke a couple of days ago you were in the middle of rehearsing 'click clack' in the garage. have you been rehearsing again today?
no, i thought i'd take a day off. there's so much to do because we're flying to amsterdam tomorrow. but usually i run through the material every day because i feel it's really important performance-wise as you get so distracted on-stage by unforeseen things and i think it's really good to know the material inside out so you're not throwing anyone else off because believe me this stuff is hard enough to play as it is. the drum parts are no problem. i have instrumental versions of all the songs we're doing and i use my in-ear monitors when i'm rehearsing so i can make sure i remember all the lyrics and stuff like that.
talk me through the process of how the reunion came about and how you went about tracking down everybody, finding out where they were and what they were doing?
i actually started tracking down the guys when i was writing the booklet for revenant's grow fins collection. i think it was robert williams (aka wait for me) who hooked me up with denny walley. i knew that jeff cotton (aka antennae jimmy semens) had been living in hawaii for a while so i tried contacting him there but he had moved. i finally caught up with him but he's really secretive and doesn't want anything to do with the magic band, and he doesn't even want anyone to know where he lives now.
i had kept track of quite a few of them and had some addresses but mark was the hardest person to find. in fact, i thought maybe he had died or something because i hadn't heard from him in years and i couldn't find any information anywhere. i even had a private investigator who volunteered to check out every lead i had and he still couldn't find him and i thought: 'oh my god, maybe he has died!'. it turned out he had been living in northern california, and i was just so relieved when i found him but it was too late to interview him for the box set.
so what had mark been doing all this time?
he had been building a studio down where he lives now in south carolina and he found out that his mother was on her death bed basically and so he rushed to northern california clear across the united states - something like a 2,500 miledrive and he got there to see his mother for what he thought would be the last time and it turned out she perked up and he wound up getting a job there and was taking care of her which i thought was pretty selfless.
but some of the later members of the magic band wouldn't talk to me which i found pretty distressing.
mark boston / rockette morton
can you say which ex magic band members wouldn't speak to you?
the two main people i really wanted to talk to from the later line-up of the magic band were jeff tepper (jeff tapir / white jew) and eric drew feldman (black jew kittaboo) but neither of them would do an interview with me. eric did send me an email and said he felt it would hurt don's feelings if he spoke with me. it was amazing to hear that don still had that kind of influence over him. jeff basically just remained very aloof. he said nothing except 'no thanks', and sometimes he wouldn't answer my emails but i did see him when we played the los angeles all tomorrow's parties at long beach and he came up to me and said it was great to hear the music again. i didn't get to see jeff's show because i ran into a fan and he started asking me all these questions and ended up buying me lunch.
wasn't bill harkleroad aka zoot horn rollo involved with the first reunion show?
no, he actually came along to the first rehearsal. we got a little funding so we could get together and see if it was feasible to try and do this stuff. so bill flew down from oregon and denny and mark came from the east coast. they both live near each other - denny lives in a suburb of atlanta so they flew down together and we just rehearsed here in my little garage studio. i cleared everything out, borrowed some amps and it was great.
why did bill pull out of the first reunion concert - was it purely because of work commitments or were there other reasons?
everybody had agreed to do it but bill was the most reluctant and he was kind of negative about it at times. bill is involved with his own music and projects and he's a guitar teacher so for him to get away for any periods of time would have been tough anyway. but i think the main reason bill left was that the guy who was organising the los angeles show we were supposed to be doing kept moving the goalposts. if we were a band that was touring all the time and we had an accountant and a lawyer and a manager and all that we could have just handed it over to them and said: 'ok - what do you think?'
between ourselves we didn't want to take the chance of committing ourselves to something we might have lost money on, so i withdrew from the deal. then four months went by and all tomorrow's parties contracted me and the ball got rolling, but in the meantime bill decided to withdraw. he was no longer interested which was really disappointing to me because bill, mark and i grew up together and we all knew each other really well. then, about the same time gary lucas went down to play a concert in atlanta and denny invited him over and they got to talking. so i called gary and we decided to try it out with him. although i had never actually worked with him i knew he was quite a guitarist.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo