DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
the interviews - band members
OLE SWOLLEN FINGERS VERSUS
the big fight
the brittle yarn of a group's liquidation. the split wasn't amicable
from NEW MUSICAL
EXPRESS 190775 england
by chris salewicz
is ±05.75 interview BILL HARKLEROAD
counterpart to the opinion of don van vliet ('ole swollen fingers') about the split of captain beefheart and the magic band
scared dogs bark the loudest, says duck harkleroad. he takes up ninety per cent of the air in a room
captain beefheart (aka don van vliet) moves in sufficiently mysterious ways for me to believe that zoot horn rollo (aka bill harkleroad) may just possibly be very, very close to encountering some bizarre psychic punishment for daring to tamper with the subject of mallard (aka the magic band).
you know, when someone is capable of coming out with: 'there are only forty people in the world and five of them are hamburgers', and calls in the tree surgeons in case the recording of 'trout mask replica' has caused the california pines any discomfort - as the captain has stated and has done - a certain amount of unease is perhaps justified.
why, only the other day, the magic band had phoned don in the states and made him a financial offer to use the collective musical name plus their own personal 'noms du disque'. 'fine. fine,' don had agreed. the very next day don had his telephone disconnected so precluding further discussion of the matter.
now this really was something of a problem. don van vliet, you see, legally owns not just the name 'magic band' but also the names 'zoot horn rollo' and 'rockette morton' with which he christened bill harkleroad and mark boston for the liner notes of 'trout mask replica', 'lick my decals off, baby', 'the spotlight kid' and 'clear spot'.
anyway, early last year the magic band held the captain together for the necessary three days it took to make 'unconditionally guaranteed' - the first beefheart album released in this country on the virgin label. a few days later, and only days before a british tour was scheduled to begin, the band split from van vliet causing the captain to replace them with (mainly - teejo) members of 'buckwheat'.
and now magic band 1 is here on forty-five day excursion tickets laying down an album near newton abbot in devon on jethro tull's mobile studio courtesy of 'an anonymous backer'.
with much reluctance - 'it'll mean we have to start like a totally unknown brand new band' - messrs. rollo, morton and art tripp (aka ed marimba) plus sam galpin, a singer they dug out from the supper club circuit (and who had never heard of captain beefheart and the magic band) have relinquished their hold on their original collective title and are intending to let themselves be known as mallard, the title of one of the tracks recorded in devon (although the track eventually wasn't used for the released album - teejo).
harkleroad doesn't lend too much credence to what he sees as the sell-hyped 'powers' of captain beefheart. leaning back in an oak rocking chair atop a decidedly funky five-storey hampstead house and bemusedly tossing around the subject of captain beefheart as singer with the current frank zappa band (during the 'bongo fury' tour - t.t.), his concern is less with the genius of his former supposed maestro-leader than with his sanity.
zappa told art tripp about two months ago that there was no way to do it. thát dón wás tóo núts!
he shakes his head in bewilderment and then rushes in the qualifications.
although frank wouldn't have said that, you know, frank is too careful a person to do that… no, i'm not saying he's nuts. but he's difficult, man. he is like the kind of person that would take up ninety per cent of the air in the room. i definitely thought he got a lot of credit for being a genius when it was pure bullshit.
and, of course, beefheart has always claimed that all 'trout mask replica' numbers were worked out by himself in one eight and a half hour stretch. and that he wrote them on piano without ever having previously touched the instrument….
right. true. he had never played the piano before and he didn't then. it was eight hours of this: (simulates chopstick keyboard playing). and then níne mónths of the band putting together the music.
the music was put together by the band. not by him. it was to-tal-ly arranged by the band. at one point he said: 'here, play this chord to me'. and there happen to be ten notes in the chord and i play guitar, which has six strings, right? so i said: 'hey, it's a little hard to do.' and he said: 'well, you'd better come up with the other four strings'.
in attempting such feats the magic band - zoot horn rollo, rockette morton, antennae jimmy semens aka jeff cotton, and drumbo - got themselves into a busy little schedule practising some…: twénty hours a day. don van vliet, meanwhile, was foregoing such arduous self-discipline, maintains harkleroad. in fact, he states that during his whole six year musical career as zoot horn rollo he saw the captain turn up at maybe six or seven rehearsals, maximum.
but twenty hours of rehearsal a day? isn't that perhaps just a little extreme?
i was nineteen years old. i was ready to conquer the world.
as a lyricist he is one of the best i have ever heard in my life. he's not a musician…. he got credit for doing a lot of music that he never did. it came from the band….
the guitarist's voice becomes faintly citric as a relevant pause is delivered.
it says 'words and music by don van vliet' every album…. let's take 'clear spot'. i had a lot to do with the music on that. i virtually wrote a couple of tunes with his later putting his…, whatever, to it. and the record we just did. i think when you hear that you'll hear the similarities because it came from the musicians.
as did the arrangements which were supposedly worked out between harkleroad and ted templeman, the producer of 'clear spot'.
and the way that i did it is very odd. don would expect me to know how each tune was supposed to be. he would say: 'this is how it's supposed to be'. and he didn't know and he didn't want to say. but all that telepathic…, all that whatever. all that escape from the situation… - but i'm getting a little harsh now.
so it's captain beefheart as little more than a machiavellian music business strategian tucked away behind the appropriate mask?
yeah (sighs). yeah. he knows exactly what he wants. but he is running scared. the dog that barks the loudest is the one that's most afraid. well, you know how loud he barks. that's how afraid he is.
i just think it's a lot of paranoia - he is even paranoid about success. i'm not totally negating that part of it because yes, the man had (nb. use of past tense - c.s.) tremendous capabilities. he was intelligent, very intelligent. but the way it came out and the way it was together - the patterns were very broken.
this virtual fight
between don van vliet and zoot
horn rollo took place
* more than a year after the fact
* in england, notably
when captain beefheart would play at knebworth's
and bill harkleroad worked on the 'mallard' album
click clack back to the history or return to the power station
captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo