Art answered a few questions via the Fire Party discussion list which I thought I’d include here for more fans to read.
Derek Laskie asked:
Was your stage headgear a trophy of some sort, or was it personally styled for you by DVV?
I thought the panties would be both suggestive and practical. One ponytail hanging out each leg hole, and one out where the crotch would be. It also kept my hair from flapping around too much. It remains one of the most favorite stage costumes I used. No trophy. The first pair were from my girlfriend. Subsequent ones were store bought.
Elliot Rogers asked:
Did you play any improvised percussion with Beefheart or Zappa? And is that you on “An Evening with Wild Man Fischer”?
I didn’t do any improvisation on marimba with Beefheart. The parts were either previously composed guitar parts, or parts written specifically for marimba. There was much more improvisation on vibraphone and xylophone in Mother’s concerts. There was also some on MOI records, although I don’t recall which albums. I think somewhere in the YCDTOSA series.
Most of my drum work on Decals was improvised, then later used by me as drum parts in concert — although not verbatim. After John left I learned his drum parts he played on Trout Mask, etc. by listening to isolated drum tracks and writing them in rhythmic notation, then memorizing them. The newer parts were written by either Don, Bill, I, or a combination. “Spitball” was always free-form.
In the Mothers practically all the drum parts were improvised, except for the chamber music stuff; while the majority of the marimba or vibraphone parts were composed by Frank.
Yes, I played all the percussion on “An Evening With Wild Man Fischer”. If you have the LP album, there is a picture of me with the MOI on the back cover appearing between Larry’s legs as he leapt into the air. That may have been taken at the Rose Bowl.
Mike Barnes asked:
I was wondering, Art, how the drum parts were organised for “Lick My Decals Off, Baby”? Particularly the title track and “Bellerin’ Plain”, when the snare clatters in the second half). Did you have licence to play what you liked over what John French was playing? The beat here sounds like it’s being well and truly nudged, although it’s obviously quite different music from the syncopated rock’n’roll of Clear Spot. Also, how were the marimba lines arrived at? Is “Bellerin Plain” from Don’s piano? Some of them are so fast and complex it seems hard to think that this could be the way they were composed. Like the (“Golden Birdies”) unison bit at the start of “The Clouds Are Full Of Wine”, the brief end section, and the cascading solo section in the middle of “Flash Gordon’s Ape”, for example.
I don’t recall how John arrived at his “Decals” drum parts. Presumably they were inspired by his parts from “Trout Mask”. John was an expert at playing in that style, and I believe most of his parts were derived by him. I was responsible for 1 or 2 of the originals (for example in “Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop”) prior to my switching over to marimba when John re-joined the band. All of my drum parts on “Decals” were my own concoctions. I had pretty much been into free-form playing in those days. However, I soon realized that this approach would skyrocket us into obscurity. Later, we mostly left free-form to “Spitball Scalped a Baby” encores.
Most of the marimba parts were simply transposed from the 2nd guitar parts. Bill played them for me, I wrote them on staff paper, transposed them, practiced them until memorized, rehearsed them with Bill’s parts, then rehearsed with the full band. Where did Bill get them? It would serve no purpose to bust the Beefheart legend, so I’m not going to let too many cats out of the bag. However many of Bill’s parts were primarily of his own composition or structuring, inspired by something Don had played or whistled.
Bill and I played several “duets” on “Decals”, consisting of us playing the same part. What’s interesting is that in the session, we played them unaccompanied from different rooms. The marimba had to be isolated in a separate room to prevent leakage from the guitar speaker into the marimba mikes. So we couldn’t even see each other. It was done purely by use of earphones.
The marimba solo interlude in “Flash Gordon’s Ape” was compiled by me based on a tape of Don’s piano noodlings. I took considerable “license” in its structuring, and everyone loved it. I wish I had kept the music score.
Michael H asked:
There is something about the single-stroke rolls down the toms in a certain section of Big-Eyed Beans From Venus (Clear Spot) that just kill because they seem to be trying to slow the song down (not that they do, or even really want to, but the effect is absolutely amazing).
That’s very perceptive of you, Michael. I always played on the back of the beat in order to keep the band from rushing, and also to give it a more powerful feel. It was relatively easy in the studio (keep in mind that this was pre- “click track”), but more of a challenge in concert. We usually stayed back, sometimes we didn’t. However, I think that the music on the last couple of albums and tours had a much more solid sound. The “time” on UG was pretty much right on, even though the unfortunate album turned out to be a swan song.