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

From: Bob Jennings
Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2000 1:11 PM

I am especially interested in the design and manufacture of that “conga’ drum set Drumbo played at the Warehouse in New Orleans in 1971, but I am also interested in any of the equipment aspects of the Magic Band. Gear issues are always left out of biographies, but it would be cool to know what kind of guitars the Magic Band played in their Post-Szabo Archtop Period.

Bob,

Post-Szabo Archtop Period??? YOU HAVE DONE YOUR HOMEWORK! And I love that phrase. Anyway, about the set. In 1970, Band manager, Grant Gibbs, told me over the phone to put together a set that really worked for me and represented who I was. I was walking through music stores looking at drums and I couldn’t find anything I liked. I was looking out the window leaning on a Conga Drum. I reached down and hit the drum and I had never heard anything that sounded so good. I checked the manufacturer, which was Gon-Bops. I called the company, which was in East Los Angeles and a guy named Mariano Bobadilla answered the phone. I asked him if he could build me a drum set. “I can build anything!” was his humble reply. I drew up plans and brought them to him. His factory was in his back yard in little sheds. He had about eight guys working for him and he was selling drums all over the world. He and I really hit it off. However, I was never really happy with the set, because I wanted to use regular drum heads on the kick drums, and I didn’t want the rims raised like conventional drums, so that I could play them with hands or sticks. However, visually they were quite a hit. They were extremely difficult to play, as the sound was far lower in volume than regular drums, and I couldn’t hear them well on stage. The heads were so thick on the bass drums that I bent the bass beaters every night and had to replace them about every two weeks, because they would break.

As far as the post -Szabo Archtop Period, I can only say that a pre-CBS Stratocaster became the guitar of choice with Classic Telecasters coming in a close second. Don demanded that everyone use really heavy gauge strings and this I always felt was a big mistake. Denny Walley had one of the best sounds of any guitarist who played Beefheart compositions, and he used a fairly standard light gauge string popular with most guitarists, yet he got a really fat sound. I think his string gauge was equivalent to Super Slinky. Not knowing much about guitar, I apologise. I will try to find out more about this.

The Fender Super Reverb Amplifier was a favourite of many Beefheart Guitarists, with the Fender Twin Reverb (my personal favourite) coming in a glorious second. I always felt the Twin was too loud. Elliot used a Twin in the 1975 tour, but he worked with the preamp settings until his amp was very warm and not too loud, bless his heart.

Mark preferred a Danelectro Bass because of the fat mid range qualities and played through a TNT amplifier if I recall. It was a stack of two speakers and a huge system. Mark also had an odd-shaped Gibson bass called a Thunderbird he liked to use. It was, as I recall, quite heavy and so he didn’t use it for full sets but would switch basses occasionally.

In the early band, I know Snouffer used a Fender Bassman piggyback amp, about a 1961 or 2 model. He played Stratocaster and so did Doug. Doug also had an old Gibson archtop. His amp was a little guy with a 15 inch speaker. It was a Fender. Doug wound his own pickups. I’ll have to put that down as a question for Doug.

– John French

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