captain beefheart electricity

the interviews - band members



from fanzine STEAL SOFTLY THRU SNOW #4 010994 england
by john ellis
is first half 01.94 usa interview BILL HARKLEROAD

note: held on the occasion of the 'beefheart remembrance day', an annual usa radio program around january 15th [once i hope to come across the details again]

THIS is PART 1 - part 2 - part 3


this is bill harkleroad that i'm talking to and thanks very much for doing this interview for us. the first question i want to ask - which you've probably been asked before - was: how did you become the guitarist for 'trout mask replica'?

for 'trout mask replica' or for captain beefheart?

well, did it start before then?

well, actually: yeah. i was in the group before 'strictly personal' came out [which was in november 1968 - t.t.] and recorded some of the tunes that... - we were going to redo that album - i'm sure that you know the history because of our past conversations....

i have heard some really convoluted stuff: that it was recorded for mgm at one point --

i recorded two tunes in the studio as my first studio thing. zappa was the engineer and producer of that. we were going to redo the album - then a guy called bob krasnow kind of put out the album without anyone knowing! so we dumped what we had.

he is president of elektra now and i have actually heard from him that he is interested in like reissuing that album - the unmixed album. i also heard that someone [...] said that capitol or emi had got hold of it and might be putting it out on ceedee.

'strictly personal'?


before he added all the phasing and stuff?


interesting. anyway, so your question was the 'trout mask replica' thing.

can you remember what the two tracks were? because that is like my...--

'kandy korn' and 'moonlight on vermont'.


'moonlight on vermont' was going to be on that album, but ended up going onto 'trout mask replica'.

very interesting. so zappa was the producer of that, so he probably has the tapes -

probably, yes. i guess i don't know what is happening with this stuff now.

our mutual friend that connected us told me that the band - when you were at that house where you rehearsed 'trout mask replica' - that you had some famous visitors?

famous visitors?

yeah: he mentioned specifically mick jagger.

you know, i don't know whether he ever showed up at the house or not - i mean, we ran into him a lot. i remember him calling the house a lot - but i don't know if he ever turned up at the house, to tell you the truth.

yes, i think people don't realize that the band was already big in england, and had this following....

yeah, definitely over there. well, i think the day i tried out for the band we ended up in this jam session in zappa's basement. and jagger was there, and he appeared to be pretty awestruck. like myself. actually zappa was the one. i thought he was just thé deal and i was pretty much too scared to death to even play! i was 18 or 19 - something like that - and i was playing with him and jagger who was a big star but i didn't have any feelings about, musically. there was 6 or 8 of us - actually art tripp, who i ended up playing with a lot later, was there. and so i think that was the sort of the beginning of this. err, jagger had this thing for vliet and his voice; what his background was; what book of black magic he was into that week.

yes! now there was a story too - i wonder if you could verify this: it was a rolling stone cover story that [....] said something about paul mccartney had tried to sign you all to 'apple'.

that could have happened, but that would have been before my time. there was a relationship there, for sure - but that was just before my time.

i think i told you that i had found a warner brothers promotional magazine which mentioned that an entire tour - i think i was '71 - was filmed. it was you: ry cooder opening for you. the ry cooder film was going to show up on public television and apparently they were going to issue the beefheart film as a feature - do you remember that?

yeah. as a feature? i don't know how they could do it. i remember some of the filming like i was telling you on our previous conversation: i remember dodging the camera an awful lot because it was just always there. but somehow i remember zappa connected to that, from being around. i wonder if he just turned up.

i wonder if he financed it?

i don't know if he did that, because at the time he was pretty - well, no: bizarre/straight was with reprise at the time so it was pretty connected. to tell you the truth: i can't remember - it was so long ago.

yes, 25 years.

ry's first tour, where he was opening up.... so we were both filmed a lot - and i just remember frank showing up at a lot of places. maybe we just ran into him because he always had a camera, so maybe it was just seeing people with cameras and it was another one for me to hide from.

and a friend of mine remembers seeing - there was a talkshow in washington dc, a local talkshow and beefheart was the guest for half an hour. and he showed clips from a fictional thing been filmed, said were going to be part of the film - do you remember anything about that?


they may have been something like the cover of 'lick my decals off, baby' which had been staged in some sort of strange -

we did a tv commercial in los angeles.

yes, i have seen that on video. that's wonderful: the 'lick my decals off, baby' ad with the flicking cards.

right, right.

a friend of mine found a copy of that: apparently they tried to repackage it for 'the spotlight kid' too. he found a copy with 'the spotlight kid' cover on the end.... you were saying that zappa always had a camera, so did he film you as well: did he film your concerts?

not necessarily concerts: just when he was around. i mean the footage; the photos of 'trout mask replica' were photos that frank took of us at the house - i just remember.

i have seen a clip, too - didn't have a soundtrack - a clip that was apparently done for 'trout mask replica'. everyone was in the costumes, those strange costumes - strange sort of blue, it's very dark: sort of light blue and black, kind of tinted....

yeah. i remember that: fairly recently on vh1 [satellite tv program - t.t.] they had i don't know maybe '200 motels' - this thing that zappa did - then all of a sudden i see myself as this teenager on the tube! it was this thing from zappa's basement.

wow, this may have been the same thing. it must be very strange to see yourself and don't remember?

yeah, i remembered it when i saw it, but it was sort of woooah! it was always like going on what we were doing was so intense, sort of like this vacuum environment that was. it all kind of runs together outside of what our environment was. i just remember zappa having cameras, and laughing a lot: you know, just doing his thing.

someone told me too, that 'clear spot' was composed about the same time as 'lick my decals off, baby was - that there was a sort of discussion that you might even record that in 1970, that you did it live on a couple of dates to try out or something - do you remember that at all?

no i don't. that doesn't sound right to me either.

and i've also heard that a lot of the songs that showed up on later albums - even as late as 'ice cream for crow' - were composed then.

yes, definitely: a lot of those things which...- those aren't albums i have gone back and listened to - as i read titles on them were titles of things that were, erm, who knows, i mean it was sort of like this stream for don. and, erm, what was this one?: something irene....

'harry irene'?

yeah, 'harry irene'.

someone told me it was about a pair of lesbians -

not that i remember!

someone told me it had these puns about a couple of lesbians; that's what the whole thing was.

well, i remember most of his stuff was pretty open ended. let people run with it.

open to interpretations, yeah.

that tune existed even before i was in the band. he just rambled these things and then they finally turned into songs later, whether they were finished.... how much was written at the same time? half of it he stuck together with another piece.... you know, it was a kind of cut and paste thing at times.

what was the actual composing process? i mean, i talked to john french once and he told me beefheart shoved a shoebox full of things - well: scraps of paper - and said: 'turn this into a song'.

yeah, that's...- john was..., what time are we talking about?

i think that would have been like '68 or '69.

ok, that would be 'trout mask replica' - because john was pretty much at that point the, err, deliverer of parts to the band members.

yes, he said he should have been credited as an arranger. at least on 'trout mask replica' - he thought, from what he had done.

it's tough to say. at some point, yes, at some point everybody should have been; at some point - how do you call that?

it would change with every song?

no. the bulk of that was, err, his piano ramblings and john kind of in some coherent fashion turning them into something that could be turned into guitar parts. now, whether john did most of that: we áll did some of that. after john did it we would do that ourselves to make it even playable - his things.... starting with don you know like what i thought of it then, is totally different than how i see it now in retrospect. i don't know how much is hindsight thinking, but basically the feel, the elements, the texture of things was very important to him - he did control that. that was the positive experience for me working with him.

you're talking about don van vliet?

right. as far as knowing what he had done, he didn't have any idea: we could have changed the parts totally and he would never have known - because he couldn't remember from one song to the next, unless he had heard us rehearsing it a lot. for he always heard us rehearsing it a lot because he was in the next room sleeping or laying around. anyway -

when john french left -

which time?

that's right: he did leave several times. was there ever a point when you or someone else took over that function?

yes, i was the guy that did it from then on.

oh, i see. did you do it for 'clear spot'?

yes. i did it for 'lick my decals off, baby', 'clear spot'. with 'the spotlight kid' john came back. 'the spotlight kid' was really great music but a horrible time for the band: performance-wise it was one of the worst experiences for the band.

are you talking about live concerts or the recording of the album?

about the recording.

it's very funny: i have a test pressing of that album which sounds so much better - i don't know why.

well, you know how that all goes. but still as far as the band - we were just emotionally beat to death, and at that point we were letting ourselves get beat to death by his particular environment and, um, the stress started to show. as far as when we got to 'clear spot', the band had more juice. i felt personally a lot more empowered. i was able to say: 'fuck you, i'll do it this way'! which was, you know, a transition from being a teenager and having some type of idol person to a point where i realized the guy was really talented but full of shit - and so the band played more powerfully.... i think the material was great on 'spotlight kid' - we were playing really anemically and it sucks (laughs) because of that.



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