I received a very interesting series of messages a short while ago from Micheal Smotherman, one-time member of the “tragic” era Magic Band. This is what he had to say:
As a card carrying former member of the Tragic Band, I would like to put straight a few things that have become gospel somehow, just for the hell of it. I know that it is difficult to fly in the face of legend, but for anyone interested in the truth, here goes.
First of all, the original Magic Band (Zoot Horn Rollo, Drumbo, et.al) did not quit en-masse “a few days before an important tour.” Don fired them. He was not under the Svengali-like influence of “powerful record executives” in this decision.
This strange little manager-producer that he had suggested that if he went commercial, whatever that is, he stood a good chance of making more money, and believe me, as anyone who knows Don will tell you, he is not opposed to this concept.
Secondly, we didn’t just have twenty-seven minutes or whatever to rehearse. We rehearsed for weeks. I can still remember that crummy little rehearsal hall in North Hollywood that smelled like piss and cigarette butts, and thinking that if we had to do “Mirror Man” one more time I was going to start tearing something up.
It still puzzles me that Don, who was a grown man in his thirties at the time, could make a conscious and informed decision to try and advance his career, and when it went south on him it was somehow OUR fault. Like we had anything to do with anything. We were but grunts, people (and treated like it, believe me), young scuffling musicians one bologna sandwich away from the street, and even though the job didn’t pay squat we were glad to get it. I believe that we did the best professional job that we could, and under the circumstances did as well as anybody else could have.
Now having said all that, I’d also like to say that I actually had a good time on that gig overall. Don is an interesting cat, to say the least. And believe me, oh my brother, we were ALL bozos on that bus. There was Don, muttering constantly about God knows what, his wife Jan (who is a cool chick), a crazy Jamaican bus driver who quit two or three times on the middle of the freeway, a Scottish road manager who was a very righteous dude, two or three roadies from some God-forsaken place like Romania or something who couldn’t speak English and smoked cigarettes in their sleep, we Tragic Banders, drinking like circus workers, assorted record company weasels, a bunch of English blokes who were our warm-up act and couldn’t play for shit so they called it “progressive jazz”, and last but certainly not least, Frick and Frack, these crazy little tiny Italian brothers from Brooklyn who were the Captain’s managers, producers, publishers, agents, tour managers, CPA’s, house painters, and God knows what else. Think two identical Kramer’s from Seinfeld only real short and in leather jackets and on acid, and you’ve pretty much got the picture.
It’s a drag that Don got semi-vilified for taking a chance that didn’t pan out, and ludicrous that we were vilified, since we didn’t have shit to do with it.
What if it had been a huge commercial success? He would have then been lauded for taking a bold and daring step, you know? When an artist sticks to his guns and doesn’t succeed, he’s stubborn, if he does succeed he’s tenacious. A poor boy is a dip-shit, a rich boy is eccentric – same principal to me.
I saw the pictures from his exhibit in Germany, I guess, and the Old Fart At Play looked good. Sharp and comfortable, in his element. I would like to see how Jan is faring – a special person, that.
I’m glad that the Mighty Captain (as we called him) is having some well-deserved success with his art. I think, and have always thought, that it is brilliant. I hope you have the testes to print this.
Sincerely, Micheal Smotherman (Tragic Band keyboardist).
Many thanks to Micheal for sending along this insightful glimpse into this murky period in the Magic Band’s history, and for his permission to publish his comments here.