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

From: Eric Clark

Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2000 8:48 PM

Greetings John,

I have played a long time myself and respect what you do. Please talk about how the drum parts were developed. How much “freedom” you had within the framework of what you were given. And about the tuning of your drums, choice of cymbals etc. Were these things that you controlled or were others instrumental (oops and ouch for the pun) in directing the drumming and drum production. How about the recording process, were there drum overdubs? How many takes of songs did you do? Live sound issues with drums. Was the sound good live for you or was it difficult? Hope I’m not wearing you out here.

All the best to you, Eric Clark


Thanks for your questions and especially for your respect. I worked very hard at my style, and it’s nice to be appreciated. The drum parts will be discussed in detail in the book. The whole evolution of my drum style and how it developed and how much influence Don had over my drumming and vice versa is too much information for a simple note, but I think you’ll find most of what you want to know. I will say that I had much more freedom in the earlier days (Trout Mask and before), but later, Don was more conscious of the “I wrote every note” approach to copyright and writer’s credits, so he became more involved in the drum parts. The later drum parts were usually much simpler and less-challenging than what I liked to play, but I enjoyed many of them for their sheer uniqueness especially “The Thousandth and Tenth Day of the Human Totem Pole”, which he wrote by “singing” drum ideas to me, which I would then translate to the set.

Regarding the tuning of the drums: I worked for hours on tuning drums, and I liked several different sounds I was able to achieve. I always like the sound of tabla drums and so for a long time, I tried every conceivable type of approach to achieve a tabla like sound. I always liked low-tunings, which require looser heads and are hard to “cut through” the music in a mix, tending to make the overall sound “muddy”. Also, looser drum heads don’t allow double stroke rolls as in the style of Art Tripp on “Spitball Scalped a Baby”. I couldn’t do the “pinwheel” type of articulation achieved there on my set, although I had played in a similar style in the past.

I really didn’t have a choice in choosing cymbals. I have never once really had the money to buy exactly the set I’ve wanted. If it were up to me, I would play Yamaha Drums Red Natural Wood Finish, 18″kick, Susp. Toms – 6,8,10,12,13,14 Floor Toms 15,16. I like a simple Ludwig Chrome snare standard size. No piccolo’s. I use a Gibralter Rack system, which is a brilliant and time-saving device. I would have a throne with bicycle type seat with a back. A double foot pedal. I have a simple Remo Hi Hat pedal which always works well. Cymbals are Zidgian 20″ Ride, Zildgian 18″ Crash/Ride, Zildgian 16″Crash, Zildgian 10″ splash, 13″ Zildgian Hi Hats, authentic Chinese ( not a Zildgian “pang” or whatever they’re called) that sounds like a trash can lid. I usually use a cowbell and I want to add a woodblock and a remote Hi Hat on the right side.

Re Production and Live sound: I always liked low toms with a lot of slow decay with a lot of compression. Hardly EVER did anyone listen to what I wanted to do. Soundmen usually have one way of dealing with drums, because it is a complicated issue to deal with. My set back then wasn’t as big as now, but it was still a royal pain just to mike. Most of the time, they just “ran out of time.” Seldom did I ever achieve a sound I liked. Closest is probably Mirror Man on Strictly Personal.

Usually, live sound was difficult to achieve because of soundmen problems mentioned above. My dream set would have internal mikes with pre-set sounds controlled from the stage by a digital mixer and triggers so that I could use samples and effects. It would cost over $20,000 which the national defence budget would never even miss. So, please write a letter to the President of the USA today!

– John French

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