Bill Harkleroad writes about Don

My friend Art Tripp nailed it head to toe and I just can’t say it any better.

Time erased all the injustices and I am left with all the incredible lessons learned.

Such a rare and tremendously creative talent.

I have to say it has taken me many years to recognize how truly rare a person he was.

You have to be here awhile, or at least I did, to know Don Vliet’s don’t just happen.

Don’s gone but look what he left us.

Don’s gone and we’re next.

Bill Harkleroad

19 December 2010


  1. Hey Bill, you were just too close to the fire and what a fire it was.

  2. Thanks for holding the lunar note for so long.

  3. Thanks to Bill for such wise and gracious words…. but now I am crying again!….

  4. Thanks Bill, for all your magic back then, and your wise words now. Would it be too much to ask for an impromptu rendition of One Red Rose That I Mean – upload it to YouTube or something, go on, please, for Don, for us…
    All the best either way,

  5. A Tin Teardrop forms. Thank you Don and Bill for that Long Lunar Note

  6. when i was seventeen {1975) i knew no other music than Deep Purple The Stones etc but I knew in my hart there must be music i really liked then i heard Clear Spot on a Dutch radio show from there on i was addicted thank you Don for all the good times and electricity

  7. It's the Blimp, Frank, It's the Blimp…….

    where's the beef?

    My friends and I have listened to Trout Mask Replica since it 1st came out when we were 14 and 15. Still quote from the album in daily conversation and I'm 55 now……

  8. Thank you, Bill. Your words, like Art's, John's, and others, have been a great help. Thanks for taking the time and for all of those wonderful records and nights.

  9. Thanks Bill. – – Is there a link somewhere to John French's thoughts?

  10. All fans know that Don left a gigantic musical footprint…
    All members of the Magic Band are
    a part of it…Some more than others. I hope as John French did.. Don's musical vessels continue to put out their own music..
    I'd love to hear another Bill
    Harkleroad solo project….
    Also John…more music won't bring
    you much "success" but those that
    know Love Over Gold feel rich whenever you compose……
    Sure Nuff and yes I do hope that
    all Magic Band members continue to be magic…….
    A skeleton makes good….

  11. Dear Mr. Harkleroad,

    The Magic Band hasn't earned the rewards, financially but also critically, they deserved. I hope you can take consolation in the great number of people whose life has been tremendously impacted by what you did back then.

    Consider this: if people's lives are worth living because of the music you've made, then how valuable must be the life you are living.

    Thanks for all the good moments

  12. You stayed for the music. Thank you. There was only ever one magic band. And maybe you always knew he was taking a heavier toll on himself. Reading what is being written now across the world shows me something I already knew ~ loving your music is like your music. It transcends all known norms. {Saw you play once ~ Sheffield City Hall …1969 ?}

  13. Hi Bill, wise words you wrote. All my respect to the members of the Magic Band who didn't get the credits….I hope this inspires you and other former members of the Magic Band for new musical masterpeaces ….we fill the voice with our imagination….good to know that your guitar playing inspires a new generation musicians….for instance my son…
    A Dutch Paco Taha

  14. Hey, I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing The Magic Band in the next life. I guarantee you that the music will be even better.


    1. I saw that this website grabbed my blog and posted a link to it. That’s cool, but I deleted it shortly after I wrote it, because I wasn’t happy with it. At the same time, I don’t want to leave people hanging. Instead of repeating what I wrote, I’ll write a condensed version here, since it mentioned this page.

      Shortly after I started taking lessons with Bill, about a year ago, I read “Lunar Notes.” Every so often, I’d read an anecdote and think, “I was in a band with THAT guy!” Remove the famous band and the recognition, and a lot of my experiences were the same. It’s almost like there’s a how-to for people out there. Without going into detail, there were some painful experiences, and to say that I had resentment for them would be an understatement.

      It put me in a bit of a dilemma, because I was concerned that it would push me away from the Beefheart music that I love. The Harkleroad/Boston years are my favorites, so I had to deal with some of those feelings in my head, which I never brought up during guitar lessons.

      One day, I happened across the Mike Bugbee entry, which featured a link to this page at the bottom. I liked how Mike drew a distinction between the “Captain” and “Don.” In a way, I see them as two separate entities who ended up needing each other. While I’d probably not have wanted to meet the Captain, I certainly may have liked to meet Don.

      So then I found THIS page, and I have to say that it helped me immensely. To put a timeline on it, I found both of these entries months ago, but just recently got around to writing about them, and then deleting what I had written. I’m a picky writer, as well as a strong editor, even though I do not always edit myself.

      Bill, as I’ve said, I’m not a fan of anyone or anything, because it leaves one open to certain things. Also, since I spent decades pursuing a music career, I made friends with “famous” musicians along the way. Acting like a fan would have done more harm than good, so instead I would find an appreciation for their craft and what they bring to it all.

      I have a great deal of respect for your abilities as a musician, as a songwriter, as a guitarist, and as a mentor and steward of the guitar. I’ve made progress over this past year, some of it more subtle, and I ended up on a path that I never even knew existed, thanks to your guidance.

      More than that, this entry has given me a more healthy perspective on “Lunar Notes,” and has helped to set me free from some people who were living in my head without paying rent.

      As I’ve said, one of my goals is to “find my own lunar note.” I know that it will take a long time, lots of work, and dedication. It’s also for no other reason than my own personal fulfillment. I am grateful for your time, knowledge, guidance and inspiration, both on the guitar and in life.

      This is the way I’d like it to get together
      These ARE the kind of thoughts I like to keep

      1. Author

        Thanks for posting this although I thought your original piece was an interesting read too. The concept of the ‘Captain’ and ‘Don’ being different is quite right. This partly explains why John French would keep going back to work with him despite the bad treatment he received. The Captain thought he had to treat the band in this bizarre why to achieve what he did with Trout Mask Replica, but I reckon it could have been even better if he’d been less confrontational with them. But what happened happened and it’s now one of the great stories in rock!

        1. Steve,

          I never knew anyone had read it, so thank you for reading it.

          It is interesting to consider the idea that the Captain had to treat the band that way in order to get those results, and I do agree with that.

          I think that, at least in the specific case of Trout Mask Replica, even though the musicians had their respective levels of proficiency with their instruments and abilities, this album was not about being a solid guitar/bass/drum player, so much as it was about getting good at playing Beefheart. Being conventional or traditional was not going to work. Deconstruction enabled their reconstruction, and subsequent introduction into this unique universe.

          It also supports the notion that he had an idea of where he wanted to go, even if the Captain himself could not have predicted exactly where. Even though he generated the storm himself, he could not measure how far the dust would blow forward or blow back.

          John French is one with whom I relate on a very personal level, because of his frequent exits and entrances. Historically speaking, I had been the musician who doubles down when there has been any kind of similar treatment. It was my ability to relate to French, as well as my respect for Harkleroad, that generated the conflict for me on a personal plane. I consider it case of an excessive abundance of empathy on my part.

          As hard as the stories might be, they are a part of history now. History cannot be changed. The silver lining that is Trout Mask Replica has expanded to, as you say, this becoming one of the great stories in rock history. I feel fortunate to have been able to witness this piece of history.

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