captain beefheart electricity

happenings - books about


zoot horn rollo's captain beefheart experience

THIS is part 1 ENGLISH ORIGINAL - translations


england 1998 book saf publishing isbn 0 946719 21 7
172 pages - 16 pictures - front cover picture
paperback - 15,5 x 23,5 cm

            horn rollo / bill harkleroad - book 'lunar notes (zoot horn
            rollo's captain beefheart experience)' - english original
to the left, that's him !

if you're practically known as 'zoot horn rollo', it's very difficult to become bill harkleroad - the guy he was when he was born. because if that guitarist hadn't played a long lunar note in captain beefheart's magic band, he never would have written a book. for he is no writer - as he agrees with me. but he can tell a story or seventy and an observation, and he uses a nice humour for it. so a tape recorder and billy 'ant bee' james helped him to realise a dream as a sort of slide (logical, not?) presentation: memories pasted together to settle with his 'zoot' past.

the fact that captain beefheart & the magic band made 'music from another dimension' (henry kaiser in the foreword), finally - after thirty years of growing requests - forced him to 'tell all' (matt groening aka bart simpson in an advertising quote on the front). now, the latter isn't true of course, because 'captain beefheart' started before bill's entrance, and went on after his departure [both chapters worth a book too, indeed]. but especially the earliest years he spent in the band, no doubt are the most historic and shaking ones. and it's always so damn fascinating to read about the 'trout mask replica' fun and torture from someone who was inside....

but at first bill didn't have any notice that he would be part of that incomparable happening. although: his early youth seems to only have been filled with music - he played bariton ukelele, for instance - and his later youth too, amplified with fear for death in vietnam, considerable amounts of soft drugs (but who didn't?), and the hope to play in captain beefheart and the magic band. when that finally happened he left his parental home head over heels and fell right into thé musical explosion of don van vliet: 'trout mask replica'.

it was the year of house arrest, endless practising (also at 'brain flexing' sessions), hunger, fights, motherly supply with money: voluntary lunatics working on an impossible anti-sound! don van vliet, artist - and the boss, did the composing, relaxed besides some sax and clarinet playing, and eventually mightily sang the lyrics to the finished 'directed primitive free noise paintings'. the more than full time band members did all the tremendous rest: translate his piano banging to a kind of playable guitar and drum tunes, and give the music its unique outer-space feel (that's why they were called magic).

that masterpiece brought them the status of weirdness, but no money. more albums with (in general) lovely music followed, and again: fame without bucks. after five and a half years - and some periods worse than vietnam - the spark suddenly died when the captain decided for a musical direction straight to the cliffs. bill, disappointed about don's course, had to jump off the magic ship he had become the steersman of....

it's no wonder that mister harkleroad - oh no, don beefheart had said: 'i just call you zoot horn rollo' - has mixed emotions about his 'captain beefheart experience'. he even fears people only wanna read his memories because it deals with that said-to-be genius (because he lived in the desert?) don van vliet too. he's right! for we beefheartians all want to find out how irritating don could be, and several times even kind of despotic - or just damn stubborn. and indeed: that's all in here! as well as other stories never told....


additional picture
bill harkleroad / zoot horn
              rollo - back cover 'we saw a bozo under the sea' solo
              album 2001
zoot horn rollo in 2001


for the first time: the social background of the members of the 1968-69 'trout mask' band, their psyches (through the eyes of bill), as well as a look at the cultural and underground scenes they visited - not to forget their shared 'enlightened vision on life'. also don's view (through the eyes of bill) on the art side of music: "his idea was to use sound, bodies and people as the tools". the process of 'sculpting of the sound', as don had no musical knowledge: he explained his more precise ideas through artistic comparisons like drawings! in fact: he couldn't remember any melodies he had played, except his own whistling and harmonica and sax sounds.

poor van vliet also was handicapped by impetuous passions and obsessions such as teaching everyone how to hold a cigarette - a fabulous memory - and cultivating his off-stage image of being 'cooler as albert einstein'. and on his human side by his enormous sleeping talent and his hidden fun with the miami dolphins (no, they're an american football team). or what about his desperate need to attract women to his music? in short: inside don and the magic band things were a little bit different as to what we are assumed to think. of course: they once were waylaid, their equipment got stolen, they met sex on their tours, and beefheart always complained about the spotlights, the sound system or the audience - but thát's all normal rock 'n' roll....

and although a lot of the 'slides of memory' that zoot horn rollo® presents us are known from the interviews he gave through the years (if you know them), this book is more than just a simple re-collection. it really contains some unheard stories: the reasons for jeff cotton to leave the shit, a failed food-thievery, their bad consciousness after the 'unconditionally guaranteed' recording which made them decide to flee. and altogether the 'snapshots' give a good overview of bill harkleroad's years with the captain, and what happened later on (the magic band continuing as 'mallard', his guitar teaching). don't forget it lasted several adventures: it also included the making of 'lick my decals off, baby' - with his favourite licks, 'the spotlight kid' - which still sucks [but then: why was he always so kind to stay?], and 'clear spot' - his lunar note, of course.

talking about those albums: a good part of the book is technical explanations and smooth anecdotes of how the beefheart songs happened, developed, and eventually sounded. so - whatever the background of this book may be - in fact you need to know the music along it (or better: pláy it). and thát brings up the question where it's all about: is this book interesting for outsiders? now, to be honest: i don't know, i haven't been one for too long....

for if i was one, i'd surely feel screwed that there are far too few pictures, repeat: far too few pics, and it has some typing errors (which turn a 'right hand man' into a 'right arm', and make franz kline 'klien'). and a lot of people, except frank zappa, pop up quite suddenly - description of their function just follows later. bút...: i'm an ínsider on captain beefheart and the magic band, and need to say that i shouldn't dare to call myself that anymore, if i hadn't had the luck to read these afterthoughts....

by the way: has he learned anything from his experience? now, as it goes, bill harkleroad will never get rid of zoot horn rollo - but my cautious conclusion is: altogether, he loved it to be him - once....

CONCLUSION: thrilling. but much too short
ADVICE: need i say?

081098 theo tieman

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even in tzummarum!


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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo