Tag Archives: John Peel

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!