captain beefheart electricity

the interviews - band members

robert williams pants out

from usa early 1977 [PRIVATE SOURCE]
by scott mcfarland
is early months 1997 written interview ROBERT WILLIAMS

'wait for me' was his beefheart pseudonym.
the piece originally appeared without title at a now defunct website

part 1 - THIS is PART 2


is this an accurate representation of the 'shiny beast' tracks getting that album together? new songs developed for / by that band: 'tropical hot dog night', 'you know you're a man', 'when i see mommy i feel like a mummy', 'love lies'. songs redone from 'bat chain puller' sessions: 'the floppy boot stomp', 'owed t'alex', 'candle mambo', 'bat chain puller'. songs existing from past: 'ice rose', 'suction prints', 'harry irene'. did he play you all tapes from 'bat chain puller'? did he play you tapes of the older stuff?

'candle mambo' was not one of the tracks on the pre existing recording of 'bat chain puller'. however, 'harry irene' was one of the tracks from those sessions. eric feldman had gained access to some songs from old sessions that had never made it to vinyl and some of those songs were resurrected and reconstructed by don (some with our finger prints on them), one of them being 'suction prints'.

how long did that band have to develop and rehearse the songs, and how long to do the recording sessions?

our rehearsals lasted months upon months. most of the time we rehearsed without pay just because we all wanted it to sound as tight as possible. jeff tepper and i used to get together and i'd repeat a verse or chorus over and over so he could really zero in on his part. when i first joined the band, eric - not really a drummer - showed me the basic mechanics of a beat we referred to as 'picaro pete' which appeared in many of don's earlier compositions. it sounds just like the name. try to spot it next time you listen to 'trout mask replica'.

the recording sessions usually took a week of live tracking, a week of overdubs and vocals, and a week of mixing.

was don difficult to work with?

he was a big pain in the window. all he wanted to do was blabber and smoke. if i were to accidentally close my high hat while reaching for something, in the middle of his endless bullshitting he would scream at me accusing me of putting tin foil in his radar....

on other occasions he'd be thinking of a part for the keyboards or something and accuse someone in the room of having too much to think so he'd point at each guy and say: 'it's not you, it's not you, it's not you, and it's not you, but he knows who he is!'. of course the person he didn't point at would be the scapegoat of the day.

most of the time he'd pick on me. one day i pulled him aside and told him that i perform much better when he's nice to me and he said: 'hey man, i just do it to you because you can take it. these other guys would fall apart and shrivel away if i did it to them. do you know what i mean, man? i mean, do you? i mean, i need that tension man! besides i was only teasing'.

[you can find out who 'these other guys' really were in robert's later 'interview' the captain ws the master - teejo.]

don was a genius when it came to getting us to do what he wanted and what he wanted was often very demanding. on the other hand when it came to paying us he automatically turned into an idiot who couldn't count to three. it makes me laugh to think of it now.

is all of 'doc at the radar station' new stuff except for 'brickbats' and 'a carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond'? did 'run paint run run' evolve out of 'drink paint run run'?

they were all works in progress until they made it to vinyl. 'run paint run run' was new music. the words may have been another story. i don't know. 'dirty blue gene' was born out of an outtake from 'clear spot'.

do you have any contact with the other guys from the magic band these days?

jeff tepper and i still talk on the phone from time to time. we've tried to work together but we both have strong personalities and that prevents us from continuing..., like two fat cooks in a tiny kitchen. bruce fowler and i are currently working on a project with ex zappa members arthur barrow, tommy mars, kurt mckennick, and manhattan transfer saxophonist larry klimas on music that was basically improvised although it sounds composed. it was recorded at arthur's studio in culver city and has been edited with protools by he and i over the past several weeks. we're hoping to find a record label interested in releasing it.

why did you leave? was there much friction between you and don?

back then (in 1980 - t.t.) i was under contract with a&m records and the two schedules were conflicting. it was a difficult choice to make between playing with beefheart or doing my own record but the money to be made playing with don was nothing compared to what i would make with a&m, so i indulged myself in my own music.

most of the friction between don and i had to do with money. i know he hadn't made much money playing his music through the years and he deserved much more - however, his musicians worked their butts off for him and we were always being short changed. it was easy for him to do that because we were all fans of his and i think he took advantage of that.

for instance, he promised each of us - verbally - a half point on shiny beast and paid us seventy five dollars a week to rehearse for six weeks before the tour. as it turned out, that money was an advance against our half point. in other words, our paycheck for rehearsing his music was money that was already ours.

i believe he owes us money from that record. it had been re-released by virgin in '86 on ceedee. i'm sure it has more than broken even. i tell you this because it's the way it is, but i have no interest in pursuing it at this time. in fact, it makes me laugh to think of it now.

can you shed any light on the relationship between don and frank zappa? it seems like an interesting relationship.

from what i hear, don was very upset at the news of frank's death (in december '93 -t.t.). they were high school buddies from palmdale. it was a love-hate relationship. i know that frank highly regarded don for his original ideas but don never admitted to being interested in frank's music. i think don resented the kind of success that zappa acheived and he didn't.

one night he took me up to frank's house soon after i joined the band. we got there around midnight and left the next morning around nine. frank played us some of his old 45's and showed us some of the footage from 'baby snakes' while at his editing bay, complaining about bozzio and mars improvising on his music. i remember frank telling me: 'the world is basically made up of two kinds of people: assholes and ass kickers, you gotta bend over or lift your foot'.

as your drumming on 'doc at the radar station' is so astounding, and john french's playing in the late '60's is also so astounding, i was wondering: did you and john ever compare notes on drumming and so forth? have you ever met any other members of the old magic bands?

john and i got along pretty well. he seemed like a nice enough guy but we never sat down and compared notes on syncopated paradiddles and such, if that's what you mean. actually, artie tripp and i became pretty good friends before he moved up to northern california to open his chiropractic office. he was a bartender at love's restaurant on hollywood boulevard working his way through chiropractic school. i used to go there and hang out with him while he slid me a few drinks on the house and told some great jokes.

was it frustrating for the band when don and frank's legal problems were preventing actual records from going out? what were you guys doing, for example in 1979? you didn't tour or record that year, did you? were you guys working full time or just part time in the magic band?

don's legal problems with frank were mainly to do with releasing the pre existing recording of 'bat chain puller' (from spring 1976, so a year before robert would join the group - t.t.) which was tied up in a lawsuit frank had with warner brothers. it worked out in the magic band's favor because we got to record those songs which was the first record any of us had ever played on. not bad for our first record, don't you agree?

any favorite gigs that you remember?

november 1977 [date re-constructed - t.t.], at the bottom line in new york city with woody allen, dianne keaton, david byrne, meatloaf, willie deville, chrissie hynde, john belushi, as well as some other famous people in the audience. we opened with eric playing the bass line to 'hair pie' and directly into 'suction prints' (that was back before don decided to blow soprano sax all over it).

it was a powerful show. denny walley (walla walla) was on guitar and slide guitar for that tour. he was the real shit. he had been with don for two and a half years and was let go about a week before don got his deal with warner brothers. it was easier to manipulate the other guys with denny, the seasoned professional out of the picture. don's loss... - is how i feel about it.

i regard the beefheart music as a manifestation of brilliance and detail that i really admire - i wondered what music or musicians you admire these days.

i only listen to the news on the radio and i rarely buy ceedees of artists i'm unfamiliar with. after i did the drums for zoogz rift's new record he sent me a couple of compilation cassettes of his work and i thought it was hilarious. the lyrics are very entertaining. my zoogz rift secret is that he is actually a really nice guy. (sorry zoogz, didn't mean to blow your cover).

it must have been a very intense experience playing in the magic band. any final thoughts on the matter?

i have fond memories of those days and i'm proud to have been a part of that. the music was fun to play and i really enjoyed touring back then. now it's time to take what i've learned to the next level.

optional question if you have anything to say about him: keith levine seems like an interesting - and quite enigmatic - figure. did you work with him outside of that 'i'm searching for something' track? how did you become involved with that?

keith levine never paid me for the session i did with flea and bob forest and he didn't even reimburse me for the cartage of my drums. that song was released without my permission. he's nothing but a no talent loser with delusions of grandeur. it makes me laugh to think of it now. ho hum.

can you describe your current musical and / or other activities?

i'm currently working on a new solo record for avt records and expect to have a release in the spring of '97 ['date with the devil's daughter' eventually came out in summer '98 on another label - t.t.]. i've got my drums and a midi studio at my house in north hollywood where i work out the songs before going into a multi track studio to commit to tape. i'm very excited about this project. working on music can be fun when you're allowed to do any damned thing you want.

which of your musical endeavors are you happiest with?

the live shows i did with the magic band. those records never accurately represented the essence of the band compared to our live performances. one example of that is the concert for chorus tv in paris, france (15 november 1980 - t.t.). the quality of my copy is pretty dodgy so if you know anyone with a decent dub of that, please let me know. for that matter it would be interesting to find out what happened to the footage of the songs that didn't make the final cut.

you know, i guess deep down inside i wish that it weren't over. those were some of the happiest times of my life. i wish don was still well enough to give another go of it. it makes me sad to think of it now. i miss him.


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