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
part 1 - part 2 - THIS is PART 3
has any one of the five shows you've played since the reunion stood out for any reason?
the all tomorrow's parties show at long beach, california was my favourite show we've done so far. the interesting thing is that during the time we were playing there was a full lunar eclipse going on. it was a beautiful night, it was perfect balmy weather right by the ocean and the city lights were reflecting off the bay and right in front of me was the original queen mary [cruise ship - t.t.]! that was a wonderful night for me because five weeks before the show i had fallen off a roof and broken my back.
and what kind of shape is your back in these days?
it's better. i'm going to the chiropractor and getting it readjusted because it really whacked me out. i was in the hospital for five days and for two of those i was on morphine. everybody was calling me, going: 'should we cancel the show?', and i kept saying: 'no, just give me tén days'. that still gave us three weeks to cancel. so they gave me ten days and i got up and came home. the day i got home as soon as the nurse drove off i went out into the studio and set up the drums and played through the instrumentals. so i knew i could play and if i could play i could sing.
well, it turned out singing was the worst thing because i had actually contused my right lung really badly and when i started singing i coughed up a mouthful of blood into my hand and i thought: 'oh my god - i'm not going to be able to sing!'. i had already told the guys i would be able to do it and so i thought about it and i said: 'well, i'm just going to have to sing real lightly and gradually build myself up', and i was able to do it. that was a tough one for me because i was really out of breath but that was a special night for me because i felt like i'd come back from the dead.
is there any realistic prospect of new material coming from the reunited magic band?
not with the magic band and i'll tell you why. the logistics of trying to get four guys to agree on original material given the history of this band would have been really tough. the magic band was the singular vision of don van vliet. now, we all have contributed to this vision but it was hís vision, and for anybody else to try and assume that role would be impossible.
you can't have john french contributing two songs, mark boston contributing three songs and gary lucas contributing two songs. it wouldn't be the magic band. it wouldn't be the vision. i feel i'm probably closer to knowing that vision than anybody else in the group and have written some stuff that could probably fall into that category but i don't think i could ever convince the other players and i wouldn't even want to try.
so no new music, but would you ever be tempted to do a follow up to the back to the front album and reinterpret some more old magic band material?
that might happen. i don't like to project the future, but what i'd like to do is find some younger players whose heart is into the music of the magic band who live around me and do my own material and release it as drumbo and if it's good enough and if people like it then maybe we could cover with the magic band. part of the thing with me - and i'm being very careful with this - is that i've sort of been the guardian of this, you might say, and i want to maintain the integrity of the magic band as being dedicated people who work hard and who are non exploitative musicians. that's something i will guard with my life if i have to because it's the one heritage that i have.
how much will you be varying your repertoire on the current tour?
not much, we've only played five times. we've got about thirty songs in our repertoire now, so that we're going to try and vary things from night to night, just to keep it fresh for us and also to give everybody a slightly different show. it's difficult to come up with new material when we live as far apart as we do. that's the main problem. i'm here in california, mark lives in south carolina, denny is in a suburb of atlanta, georgia, and gary lives in new york city. they're all east coast and here i am 2,500 miles away on the west coast. if we all lived in the same city we'd probably be doing a lot more different material but because we're so far apart we have to do everything by email and telephone.
has there been any response to the magic band reunion from don van vliet himself?
the last time i heard from don was when i found out that 'trout mask replica' was going to be re-released on cd. that's how long ago it was. it must have been some time in the mid 80's. so i called warner bros and i said: 'i want my name on 'trout mask replica'. i deserve to have my name on there because i played on the album.' i talked to a guy called carl scott and he said the only person who could give him permission to do that was don himself.
i had been given a number by mark which was supposed to be a current phone number of don's but i had never called it. so i called it and don actually answered the phone and he seemed fairly happy to hear from me again. we had a really long conversation about music and he had me laughing the whole time. then he did his usual thing where he said: 'listen to this, man' and put on a record and set the phone down by it for half an hour and i was left sitting listening to this music.
gary lucas (and michael traylor)
then he came back on and i said: 'look, the reason i called is because i really feel my name should be on the re-release of 'trout mask replica' when it comes out on cd. i told him 'it wasn't right for you not to have my name on the album to begin with and you should do that for me. don't you think that's fair?', and he went: 'yeah, i'll call them'. so carl scott called me the next day and said: 'yeah, don called me and had me put your name on it'.
so that was the last time i talked to don. as a matter of fact, if i remember right we were on the phone for over three hours. it was a kind of shame we couldn't stay in touch because although i didn't enjoy working with don i did enjoy his company on a social level. i always thought we'd be friends and that's the sad part for me.
did your instincts tell you that the captain would approve or disapprove of the magic band reunion?
my instincts told me right away that he would not approve - especially with me singing.
but wouldn't he be happy to know that the gospel of captain beefheart and the magic band was alive and well and still being played to the audiences at the reunion shows?
it beats me. i never knew what the problem was in don's mind with a lot of things he found himself in opposition to. but i believe it may have to do something with what he was talking about when he told me that he had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. maybe somehow in his mind he thinks this is a bad thing or it's an attack on him, but it's not meant to be that at all.
and the irony of ironies is that you've probably made more money with the reunited magic band in the last fifteen months or so than in all your previous years with the captain?
i made more money off the 'grow fins' set than i did off the entire time i was working for don. it's sad to put all that energy into something and get nothing out of it. it's sad but at the same time i can't blame anyone but myself.
how would you like to see the magic band remembered?
as people who put the art before the money. as people who weren't interested in making a living. as people whose hearts were into what they were doing and it wasn't a business thing and it wasn't hype and i think that's the ultimate with anyone. the magic band isn't just us four guys, it's really everybody who ever played in the band.
the magic band is more about the spirit of the music. it's something to open people's minds. you know, they hear the same drudgery and the same tedious crap on the radio every day and then they hear the magic band. when you hear the magic band you're hearing something unique and there's only a handful of groups who ever do things that are unique. all the time people tell me: 'listen to this band - they sound like the magic band', but i've listened to them all and there's no love or dedication in what they do. it's just not there.
you know, anything is possible as long as you don't worry about who gets the credit.... i remember i saw that somewhere and i thought: 'hey, that's the story of my life!'.
go to the SUMMER 2004 TOUR
or read more
pieces from this interview scattered in
2veedee live in concert & crow's milk
book beefheart through the eyes of magic
memories drumbo's old dress
with many thanks to GRAHAME BENT for his splendid job !
click clack to the power station, the news or the other THUNDERBOLTS
captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo