Tag Archives: Denny Walley


A Chronology of The Magic Band

Magic Band Tree 2016


A Brief History of The Magic Band

Here’s a press release I drafted up and offered to the MB at the start of the big tour, 2014.

They declined ………………………………………………………………………..the fools!

A Brief History of The Magic Band.
Formed, fifty years ago during 1964, in the Mojave Desert’s Antelope Valley enclave of Lancaster, ‘Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band’ was originally a young blues band of fierce local repute.

Over the ensuing seventeen years, due to the despotic behaviour of their leader/singer, the band saw 49 different musicians pass through its ranks; some more than once. During this time they played 500 performances, both in the USA & Europe, saw Top Twenty Album success in the UK and recorded a total of thirteen albums on a variety of labels between 1967’s seminal debut ‘Safe as Milk ‘and their swansong released in 1981.

The band finally imploded following the ‘Ice Cream for Crow’ recordings, with Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, making the decision to withdraw completely from music, in order to be taken more seriously as a painter.
Magic Band no more!
Van Vliet died in December 2010.

However, back in 2003, following a twenty two year furlough, John ‘Drumbo’ French, who had previously left and re-joined Van Vliet, on three separate occasions, decided and managed to reform ‘The Magic Band’ using musicians from right across the timespan of its long and chequered career.
This initial line up involved French, with the two guitarists, Denny ‘Feelers Rebo’ Walley (Bat Chain Puller) & Gary ‘Mantis’ Lucas (Ice Cream For Crow), being joined on bass by Mark Boston, aka Rockette Morton.
Boston had made his original debut on the ground-breaking and influential Trout Mask Replica and stayed on, in the band, for another four albums, up to and including  Unconditionally Guaranteed, whereupon following a long ongoing (and ultimately fruitless) pay dispute, the entire band upped and left Beefheart, to his own devices, immediately prior to a 1974 European promotional tour.

The band’s most famous UK champion, BBC DJ John Peel was quoted as describing that particular album, Trout Mask Replica, thus “If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work.”
Meanwhile writer and cartoonist, Matt Groening of The Simpsons, both a fan and benefactor, is on record as calling it ‘the greatest album ever made’.

To put those remarks into some perspective, in 2011, Trout Mask Replica was added to the United States National Recording Registry, by the Library of Congress. (along with John Fahey’s ‘Blind Joe Death’, Professor Longhair’s ‘Tipitina’ & Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” – august company, indeed!)

Since reforming, The Magic Band, with a variety of personnel, has released four albums:

  1. Back to the Front (All Tomorrows Parties,2003)
  2. 21st Century Mirror Men (Proper Records ,PRPCD026, 2005, )
  3. Oxford, UK – June 6, 2005 (Sundazed, SC11212, 2011)
  4. The Magic Band plays the Music of Captain Beefheart live in London 2013 (Proper Records,PRPCD116, 2013)

Elaine Shepherd’s documentary Crow’s Milk, featuring interviews & 2003 rehearsals accompanied by footage of the complete London Shepherds Bush Empire show, was released in 2006.
During this busy and fertile period, John French has also recorded a well-reviewed solo album City of Refuge (Proper, 2009) as well as writing the 800 page, sometimes harrowing but always joyfully detailed account of his period(s) as Beefheart’s drummer, within what occasionally appears to be as perilously close to a cult, as it does a band.
“Beefheart; Through The Eyes of Magic” long since sold out its original print run but has recently been reprinted in hard and paperback. (Proper)

The current line-up, playing tunes from all but two of the Beefheart album canon, are:

John “Drumbo” French – Vocals, Harmonica, Saxophone, Guitar, Drums.
Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley – Slide Guitar
Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston – Bass Guitar
Eric Klerks – Guitar
Andrew Niven – Drums

2014 will see the group tour the UK, ‘debut’ in Australia and West Coast USA as well as playing many Festivals, including Zappanale 25, in Bad Doberon, Germany.

If you have yet to encounter this band, make a point to do so, as soon as you can. You are in for a treat; you will never see or hear anyone else like them.
This IS The Magic Band!

…..and as Matt Groening said ‘True Beefheart Believers, …REJOICE!

Like father, like daughter………….

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Stockton Arc


We travel 1st Class on East Coast Rail Edinburgh to Newcastle, which was cheaper than non-1st Class!!! Anyway, wasn’t too impressed. The staff were at best surly and, by the state of our seats, incapable of operating a  vacuum cleaner.

We alight at Stockton, an unmanned affair and run, through the deluge, to the nearby Station Bar to use their toilets and call a taxi. It was one of those moments like in a western where the piano player stops and everyone in the bar swings round for a gander. There appears to some unspoken gender apartheid underway. The men mostly wearing short sleeved plaid shirts are all sat at one end of this cavernous room, the women at the other. Throughout our short stay we are serenaded by Dire Straits, Eurythmics and U2. The barmaid, an affable soul, explains that a double G&T costs less than a single. Well!

I indulge in a pint of Exhibition and am transported back to the Seventies as my taste buds get all nostalgic for more innocent times. Small problem. Although I am carrying a wallet that would trouble the throat of a horse, all my notes are of Scottish provenance. Seems the Station Bar’s owners have dictated that their staff should never accept these “ Which is of course highly illegal” advises the friendly barmaid as she calls us a taxi. Between us, we manage to scrabble enough ‘shrapnel’ from a variety of pockets to pay for our drink.
Should the Scottish people vote YES in September, I shall most likely saddle up a horse, lead an army of woad wearing brigands South and raze this place to the ground.

Our taxi driver, a pleasant young chap advises that he knows nothing about, and actually doesn’t like, any music at all. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone like that before and can’t think what that must be like. Fortunately, he doesn’t bat an eyelid when I give him a Tartan Twenty.

Quick ‘check in’ to The Premier Inn, with a wash and change of clothes. I call and reserve a table for two at an Italian, Carpaccio’s, located right across the street from tonight’s venue The Arc.

Another taxi takes us there and the driver gives us a potted history of the area en route.

He, and all the other drivers we used over the weekend, seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to receive a modest tip at the end of the journey. It seems as if that practice doesn’t happen at all here.

The restaurant is completely empty, I’m so glad we booked. A garlic, chilli prawn linguini (with hindsight, not the best choice for talking close-up with strangers) is washed down with what tastes like a slightly diluted Moretti. In the meantime, a good candidate for The World’s Most Boring Man has sat down at a table close by and proceeds to read aloud to his partner the content of the entire menu , a fairly lengthy tome by anyone’s standards and in what can only be described as a spectacularly dull monotone. He is only silenced by the sight of Drumbo entering the place and coming over to shake my hand and say hullo. I had already seen and acknowledged Eric. The band, delayed by van mechanical failure, file in and disappear to a table with awaiting meal upstairs.
We mosey over to The Arc which is an amazing facility adrift in an ocean of kebab shops, bookies, closed carpet warehouses and tyre fitters. To my delight they have Doombar on draught. It’s a seated theatre style venue with a few tables strewn around the place. The setlist has had a major makeover since 2013 with some ol’ favourites and crowd pleasers now being ‘rested’IMG_8183

I don’t recall which song triggered it but suddenly people got up, moved to the front of the stage and started to dance


At the bar for the interval I speak to an enthusiastic dancer who asks if I had I ever seen the band with Don. He’s amazed when I say yes, April ’72, and he correctly spits out the tour band of that time and has a fairly good stab/guess at what they would have been playing. I tell him this was very impressive and clearly long before he was born and he agrees, “I was born in ’96”. It was my turn to be amazed. I’m fairly certain I have some socks that are older than him!

After the show, we briefly chew the fat with Denny before he goes off looking for their performance fee. Another beer is called for, however the Doom Bar is long gone, so I settle for the barman’s selection Theakston’s OP.

Andy appears and we discuss the Australian tour and the current climate in his home town  LA (one hundred degrees F)

We head off to the pub next door The Storytellers and remain there until chucking out time. We share a cab with new pal Rob who says he’s going to go to Newcastle the next night…..we never see him again