Pierre Antaya – 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…

From: Pierre Antaya
Sent: Monday, January 17, 2000 3:32 PM

I hope you and your family are doing well. My name is Pierre Antaya and I have been a CB&TMB fan for some thirty years. So much so that I am planning a Web site. The site will focus on the Beefheart alumni and entourage. If all goes well, it will go online sometime before the winter of 2001 and will be in three languages (French, German & English). Below are a few of the many questions and gaps that came up while doing research for the project (plus some comments). I hope you find something in there that will be useful for your book.

Lancaster/Antelope Valley produced an incredible amount of great musicians. Is there any logical reason for this?

I do touch on this aspect. I believe it was mainly due to the cultural isolation. Something new can only really happen spontaneously in an environment where people aren’t really aware of what is expected of them. If you give a child only paper and paint, never showing them a painting, they are much more likely to come up with something unique and original than a college grad who had been “taught” about art.

When did DVV start talking about ecology?

He seemed to have a bit of a leaning towards it around the time of Trout Mask. When he discovered that it was a saleable commodity after the release of the album, he focused more attention on the subject. However, I think he always had a general contempt for man’s abuse of the earth. This probably stems from his early interest in sculpting animals, especially dinosaurs, and discovering that many of his favourites were extinct. For my part, I’m a bit relieved not to have to worry about being devoured by a Tyrranosaurus. Unfortunately, I was devoured on a much subtler plane, by a host of businessmen, lawyers, and record company executives. Sometimes I think I would have preferred the Rex.

In one of your interviews you mentioned that John Parr was asked to join the Magic Band . Did he ever join? If so, for how long and what happened?

No, I have written about this in the book. John actually recommended me. He killed himself a few weeks later. It was a great tragedy and a personal loss which caused me intense grief.

This is a question that has puzzled me for years. What are the influences for the guitar style Jeff and Alex are playing in the “Strictly Personal” / “Mirror Man” period?

Aside from the obvious blues artists, I would say that Doug Moon had a lot to do with the direction the band went during these sessions. It was during the original jam of Mirror Man that we began to expand upon the delta rhythms. Also, as I mentioned before, Jerry McGee, during his short tenure, had much influence on the guitar styles and techniques. Also, we did a tour of Europe in 1967 in which we were quite unprepared, and so a lot of the influence during this period came from us “winging it” on stage. “A little paranoia is a good propeller.

In various places you wrote that you composed many of the drum parts for TMR. Were other members of the Trout Band allowed a similar kind of freedom?

No, and I probably wouldn’t have been either had I not kept it to myself at the time. It was very important to Don that he have total creative control. To answer your question, I was not “allowed” any freedom in writing my drum parts. They were written and added to songs without Don’s knowledge.

Both you and BH were disappointed with the Spotlight Kid album. Was this sentiment shared by DVV and the other MB members?

There’s a lot about Spotlight Kid that is great. I think both Bill and I remember the situation in which it was conceived and associate the finished product with that situation. The song, “The Spotlight Kid” is just too slow, as were several other pieces. There was a psychological intensity that I still feel when I listen to that album. It was an especially bad time for Bill, but overall, I would say it was the period of time when Don’s behaviour became the most unbearable. I would say that he was on an “ego trip of immense proportions” during this period.

Somebody wrote somewhere that DVV had read G.H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology. There’s also a song called “Ink Mathematics” on the last album. What was DVV’s opinion on mathematics and science in general?

Bruce Fowler was the mathematician. I have no idea if Don read the book to which you refer. I only recall him once saying, “I deplore lower mathematics.” This was usually said only in answer to any inquiry as to musician’s payments for services rendered. Don was not technically-oriented, but he seemed to exhibit a lot of respect for science in general. I think his understanding of anything technical was very limited. I recall him as relying mostly on intuition. Hence the phrase, “If you want to be a different fish, you have to jump out of the school.”

BTW, there’s a typo on page 73 of “Grow Fins”. It should read infinite quantity of primes instead of finite quantity of primes.

Hopefully, there will only be a finite quantity of typos in my future endeavours. Thank you for pointing this out. That is exactly what I meant to write. It was a great explanation Fowler gave that evening in Amsterdam, and I’m sure that if he read the Grow Fins notes, he was a bit perturbed.

In the liner notes of O Solo Drumbo you wrote that Sandy Nelson was one of your main influences. While playing with the MB were you influenced by any other drummers? If so, any cut and/or album in particular?

Elvin Jones on any of Coltrane’s album pre-Om. Jack De Johnette on a few of Charles Lloyd’s albums. Chatur Lal. I liked Ginger Baker of Cream (mostly his sound). I had also been influenced earlier by Dave Brubeck’s Joe Morello (Take Five and Castilian Drums) and Jack Sperling, an LA Studio musician who also worked with Dixieland Clarinetist Pete Fountain.

– John French

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