Basil Storey pt 2 – John French’s Q&As 2000/1

In early / mid 2000 John French called on Radar Station visitors for some help writing his book, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic…

Name: Basil Storey
Sent: Sunday, April 02, 2000 1:40 PM

Did the band rehearse every day?

When I get a question like this, I always refer to the Trout House times and you may be thinking of a different era, or a time when I wasn’t in the band. During the “Trout” era, the band didn’t necessarily rehearse every day, although we rehearsed every available day. I often went for weeks without actually being able to do much practice or much rehearsal either, as I was busy with the transcriptions much of the time. I carried sort of a triple load during Trout Mask, transcribing, arranging and teaching parts, and drumming.

How were the musicians recruited?

After reading through several interviews, and recollecting my own experience, I believe Van Vliet was a bit intimidated by truly professional players, and also put off by the fact that they might challenge his domineering approach as bandleader.

The “recruitment” situation varied. Sometimes, we were actually recommended to Don. I believe I was recommended by Don Aldridge, a mutual friend. I recommended Jeff Cotton. Jeff and I recommended Bill. I’m not sure about Mark. Don did sometimes decide to hand pick musicians on his own, which was sometimes a mistake. Don would pick people with which he had a rapport, as in the case of his cousin, Victor Hayden (The Mascara Snake) and Jeff Bruschele, the “fake” Drumbo who replaced me. Neither were actually really capable of playing his music, or at least playing arrangements, although Bruschele, in the short time he played actually did make amazing progress.

Later musicians were sometimes picked for their reputation, as with Art Trip or Roy Estrada. Some were actually suggested by Frank Zappa. Denny Walley and Bruce Fowler are good examples of this. Both Denny and Bruce are incredibly gifted musicians with a great deal of knowledge, though Bruce was more of a reader and Denny more of an intuitive player.

Don eventually chose to pick people less for their musicianship and more for their loyalty and willingness to his cause. This seemed the case with Jeff Tepper, an ardent fan who was a raw, undeveloped talent recruited for the original unreleased Bat Chain Puller. Jeff knew Eric Feldman, who was a stronger player initially than Tepper, but also quite flexible and definitely a Beefheart fan. Later, Richard Redus, another fan, and adequate but raw talent, was recruited to replace Denny Walley. He was a friend of Tepper’s.

Gary Lucas was a different story. He did have the ardent fan quality, but was also a superb musician. However, I think Don saw more of Gary’s business/management potential. Obviously, Gary helped Don the most in his music and art career. Lucas lived on the East Coast, and so had little dealings with Don on a personal level. More than a personal intimate musical relationship, they had a business / friendship rapport that worked for several years. Van Vliet owes much of his personal success to Gary’s tenacity and business savvy.

Robert Williams, also a different story. He was a very adept player, but also because of being raised in a large family situation, had less tolerance for Don’s artistic whims, and inadvertently posed a constant challenge to Don’s control.

Cliff Martinez, a stronger fan, more easily adapted to the “musical leader as dictator” atmosphere which permeated the band. He first contacted Jeff Tepper and then was later recruited when Robert Williams was fired. Although he never toured with the group, he played on the final album, Ice Cream for Crow. He took a few drum lessons from me during this time, to help him understand the “history” so to speak.

– John French

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