THE MAGIC BAND
BAND #2 -
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the SECOND VETERANS MEETING
while we had long forgotten about the original idea to create a trout band replica, it occurred that some people with bigger budgets had talked three of the musicians into a second attempt, based on performances at the uk and usa 'all tomorrow's parties' festivals. the (lesser) magic band, with gary lucas replacing bill harkleroad, used the opportunity to also release a commemorative album and get booked for some further live appearances:
GROENING DRAWS ON HIS ROCK PAST
from LOS ANGELES TIMES 101102 usa
don't look for cartoon music at the second ucla all tomorrow's parties music festival in june  just because 'the simpsons' creator matt groening is serving as curator. the animation mogul was a rock critic long before he sired his tv broods. his passion for music outside the mainstream is clear with the booking of the keystone act for the four-day event: a reunion of the MAGIC BAND which backed outsider icon captain beefheart and helped realize his distinctive vision. at groening's urging, the group will reunite - more than twenty years after beefheart, who won't be part of the reunion, retired from music - to play the june 19-22 festival. the band will make two other appearances: in the uk in april.
'it was a great opportunity,' groening says. 'i love that music. i don't know how many times i saw that band perform, but it's the most hair-raising rock music ever made.' the magic band will be anchored by drummer JOHN 'drumbo' FRENCH and bassist MARK 'rockette morton' BOSTON, both of whom were featured on beefheart's essential album, 1969's 'trout mask replica'. guitarists DENNY 'feeler's rebo / walla walla' WALLEY and GARY LUCAS, veterans of later editions, are also on board to perform the group's complex music.
some shows will take place at the ucla campus, others at three classic movie theaters in downtown los angeles. in keeping with the ornate early 20th century decor of the theaters, groening plans to echo that earlier era in the shows themselves. 'i'm trying to put in some vaudeville acts in between the music,' he says. 'it won't just be pouting, sullen rock 'n' rollers.'
gary 'no mantis' lucas
from MOJO #110 010103 england
intro (somewhat hysterical, i think - teejo)it is with considerable excitement that we report on the return of captain beefheart's magic band. the news that four ex-band members intend to re-present don van vliet's music to new ears is a boon to anyone who values unorthodoxy in rock but who feels shortchanged by the lack of surprises currently on offer. beefheart's absence will deprive the affair of its obvious icon, but if the group honours its intention, then a dose of fresh inspiration could be on the agenda for 2003.
His Magic Band returns but Captain stays at home
captain beefheart's magic band, arguably the most innovative musicians to work within the rock medium, are reforming for a series of concerts (by the next line-up - teejo) and an album. it will debut april 6th at the all tomorrow's parties music festival, with follow-up shows in london at the shepherd's bush empire (april 7) and at the atp festival in los angeles later in the spring.
according to john french, beefheart's long-serving drummer and often the conduit between the group and its leader, the captain - now reclusive fine artist van vliet - could never be tempted back into the public arena. 'i haven't spoken to don since the release of 'trout mask replica on cd,' he says. 'we had a great talk, but he has since changed his number and become even more private.' another notable absentee is guitarist bill harkleroad, alias zoot horn rollo. 'we rehearsed a few things last october , when the idea was to recreate instrumental versions of material from 'trout mask replica' and 'lick my decals off, baby'. but re-learning those albums is not an easy thing to do, so i decided not to remain involved.'
his replacement, gary lucas, spends 'three or four hours a day' rehearsing parts for the shows and says that the regrouped line-up will now draw on material from all eras, 'some with vocals too!'. in line to hit those low notes is john french. 'tracks like hair pie and steal softly thru snow stand up as instrumentals. but something like big eyed beans from venus really needs a vocalist. i think i'm gonna make sure my voice is mixed low, though!'
from THE WIRE #230
by mike barnes
is late02/early03.03 telephone interviews
note: edited version, with pictures taken from (defunct) internet sites
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
in early february, four musicians assemble in a rehearsal room in palmdale, california, usa to practise a repertoire of twenty-one songs. even though they used to be in the same group, this is the first time in fifteen years that all four are together in the same room. in preparation, they have spent months relearning - or mastering from scratch - musical parts of a singular complexity, in honour of the group's absent former leader. seeing that no one here has spoken to him for at least ten years, that individual is now to all intents and purposes incommunicado.
picture by tim sutton
nonetheless, for the occasion, the men have dusted off the names given to them by don van vliet, aka captain beefheart. and they continue to use van vliet's name for the collective: the magic band. but in the interests of accuracy, drummer john 'drumbo' french argues, they should call themselves á magic band.
'to me this music is like a play that is meant to be performed time and time again,' he says. 'less important is whether the original cast is assembled.' 'it was an absolutely incredible feeling,' he continues a couple of weeks later, recalling the reconvened magic band rehearsals. 'i can equate the experience as being some of the best days in my entire life. i walked away from this feeling as though i had the strength to conquer any obstacle. the 'trout mask replica' stuff was incredible.'
his fellow members speak with equal enthusiasm. it's as if playing the music again has tuned them into its long dormant, primal energy, which they plan to unleash on cd and through a series of live shows, including an appearance at the los angeles leg of all tomorrow's parties, curated by simpsons creator matt groening, an avid beefheart fan. groening dropped by the palmdale rehearsals one afternoon. 'he said it brought tears to his eyes hearing that music again,' relates bass guitarist mark 'rockette morton' boston.
the omens were already good even before, says guitarist denny 'feeler's rebo' walley, recalling when he and colleague guitarist gary lucas worked on their parts in isolation at his home earlier this year. 'the first thing we played together was 'steal softly through snow',' he adds, 'and at the end of it we were just looking at each other with our jaws down as the notes were hanging in the air. we actually started and finished in exactly the same place. from then on we knew we were onto something.'
'i love it, it's total ecstasy to play,' enthuses lucas, about the piece. 'after rehearsing together, we were very confident. it's the classic rhythm section, and to hear that bottom and percussion with the guitars, so propulsive and cutting through, was a big thrill to us. we didn't think it would sound this good. it's totally ass kicking and contemporary sounding. i can't wait to play it live. we all fell in love with each other - that's the truth - and bonded. it was like a lovefest.'
in their enthusiasm for the music, the magic band comes across as though they have just started out, rather than a bunch of veterans playing material that is mostly more than thirty years old. and now that they're older and wiser and no longer in the thrall of van vliet, their mission to play his music is as pleasurable as it was first time round, but without the element which made it an ordeal.
mark boston, who was in the front line from 1968-74, explains: 'this time we basically just got together and took care of business. we didn't have no band meetings or band talk. i hate to say it, and i think the world of don, but sometimes he tended to disrupt things more than help. one day we were talking about the songs or something and don said: 'who's thinking in c? somebody here is thinking in c'. i said: 'no, i wasn't'. and then you sit there trying not to think in c....'
'i think he did that half the time just to mess with us. he's a highly intelligent person and he had a funny sense of humor sometimes. he'd try to act real intimidating, but he is really just poking people to see what they would do. he's an intense person. it's like standing next to a nuclear reactor. you don't know what it's going to do next but you can feel the energy there. i wish he was up to coming and singing with us.'
gary lucas started with the group as a 'featured soloist' in 1980, while somewhat reluctantly fulfilling the role of manager. he feels that van vliet himself wouldn't disagree with his former band members' judgement of his leadership. 'i can guarantee that don would be the first to admit it. he had a line: 'i displace a lot of water, man'. i wouldn't take an iota away from him as the creative genius, the driving force, but sometimes the rehearsals in the past would degenerate into abuse sessions of various players in a daisy chain, day after day. it would be: 'whose turn is it to be in the barrel?'.'
'don would also go off on long discursive rants that had nothing to do with the music. he would walk off sometimes after hours of this and we wouldn't have played a note, just listening to his fulminations. i remember during 'ice cream for crow' we would all meet together without him to say: 'ok, we've got to organize this now - how many bars do you think he meant of this part?'. sometimes he wasn't clear on the instructions, so it was extra work.'
recently, john french - who did some 'incidental' projects after he left the group - has come close to giving up playing, due to a combination of few opportunities and 'financial constrictions'. what prompted the present resurgence? 'in 2001, after working on my book through the eyes of magic for a couple of years, i found myself being reacquainted in a refreshing new way from the outside in, as an objective rather than subjective listener of the music. the internet-sparked resurgence of interest also played a pivotal role in my return to my own musical roots.'
'i mentioned my idea for an 'instrumental reunion' to elaine shepherd, the producer of the bbc tv documentary the artist formerly known as captain beefheart, and she spread the word to a few interested parties in the uk and more or less sparked the flame. when actually approached, i was a bit startled that there was a chance my little dream could come to fruition in reality.'
picture by tim sutton
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo