This interview is from a generic set of questions I passed along to the Ant-Bee who is working with Bill Harkleroad on a book about the Magic Band. Bill typed in the answers to a number of topics, and sent the answers back to me.
I've reprinted his answers exactly as typed here, with the question being answered in bold. Check the Ant-Bee site for more information on what's happening with the book and Bill Harkleroad.
When did you first hear of Beefheart?
In 1964 I was 15. At that time Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band were a pretty straight forward blues band doing Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker stuff. They were "the band" in the little town just north of Los Angeles called Lancaster. I was already playing in bands at that time so it was pretty easy to take notice of the band.
How did you come to join the Magic Band, and when?
I joined the Magic Band late june 1968. When I was 15 & 16 I used to go & play at a lot of jam sessions. They were "old" guys - mid 20's - and we'd be at various parties thjat were having jam sessions and I would sit in & play. So they eventually noticed I could play. As time wore on more guys that I was playing with - John French & Jeff Cotton - ended up in the Magic Band. They were both a year older than me. So I pretty much know I would eventually end up in the band - which is what I wanted at the time. So I was hanging around playing and finally the call came I went down & did the audition for Don & got the gig.
Which albums and tours did you perform on?
I performed on Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals Off Baby, Spotlight Kid, Clear Spot, & Unconditionally Guaranteed.
The tours I did were everything from 1968 through 1974 - which wasn't a lot. The main tours were '71 and '72. On the early tours Ry Cooder would open up for us. On later tours Little Feat would open - mainly colleges on the east coast.
What was it like working with Don? Is he that hard to get along with?
Was Don hard to get along with - mostly yes. He was very creative - hardly ever there. In the early stages it was actually very good - exciting working with him. As I got a feel for the not so positive feelings circulating in the band it got less & less exciting and more & more drudgery - extremely hard. I worked my butt off!!! He wwas a very creative force - but his creativity wasn't so clear cut as far as being very musical - or in music in general. It was more the mentality of a sculptor using sound and odies & people as the tools. From there we had to turn it into music - something playable.
How did you find out about his retirement from music?
I figured Don was going to retire the day we broke up the band. [When the Magic Band left in 1974 - Justin] I don't know why he did the tour right after we quit. I didn't find out about his retirement in any particular way. I guess he hung on until he had some other way to support himself.
Have you analyzed the music you played in the Magic Band? What did you think? (Be plenty scholarly, here.) Also, contrast if possible the way you looked at the music growing up vs. once you joined the band.
The way the music was before I joined was basically a blues band & after I joined it was Trout Mask Replica. The way I looked at it, it was standard issue - very cool stuff which is why I originally wanted to join the band. When I got there it was very different and I kind of grew into it and actually appreciate what we did - but that wasn't what I expected at all!
Were the guitars tuned in standard or some other tuning, and if different tuning, what?
Guitar tunings - I would be tuned in regular tuning - G tuning - D tuning - I always had three guitars on stage, of course for slide.
What recording studios did you record in?
Some of Trout Mask Replica was recorded at this studio I think in Burbank that had the organ from Phantom of the Opera in it. We recorded at the Village Recorders & Record Plant a couple of times. Clear Spot was recorded at the in house studio for Warner Bros.
What were rehearsals like? Did Don run it, or was it more of a collective effort?
It was work your ass off - come up with the parts and make them work. early on it didn't feel that musical. Later on as we got a little older it became musical - caring more about sound as opposed to "hold your breath & go".
Can you comment on the relationship between Don & Zappa at all?
Don and Zappa's relationship was on again - off agin. They seemed very friendly at times and usually when I was there very friendly. Then at times Don would have problems with what Frank was doing. I wasn't really privy enough to that info to know what particulars there were. There were falling outs here & there but quite honestly from my viewpoint Frank was always pretty nice to us. He was always very cordial to me. All I remember there was Pepsis, cigarettes, peanut butter sandwiches and splicing tapes as far as with Frank.
After this experience with and without the Magic Band, what do you think about the music biz?
I got screwed majorly and I can't blame anyone else but myself being a naieve young person not taking care of business. To expect anything else out of the music business is silly. I recieved no money ever from any Beefheart albums. As far as with Mallard I recieved an advance to sign with Virgin Records and that was it. I never recieved any royalties from the albums sales or CD reissues.
And of course, could you provide a discography of your music before/after being in the Magic Band?
I have been teaching guitar the past 20 years - constantly playing. Recently I've recorded four tunes for an english company that does film score music, also I've recorded a track for the new ANT-BEE album called Electronic Church Musik. The track is an acoustic slide piece in the Delta blues vein with sort of a Trout Mask breakdown in the middle and features a growling Jimmy Carl Black on vocals. The tune will be produced to sound like an original 78 record from the 30's. I also did a track for a slide compilation on Rykodisc. [Probably Slide Crazy! - Justin] I haven't played in front of an audience for 10 years - I don't miss it. I miss playing with people - not in front of people. But I've kept playing - teaching has been my main interest. I really enjoy it!!! I did a few tracks for John French's album which ended up different then what I sent to him - a bit disconcerting. A lot that I've done I haven't kept up with, I pretty much did the sessions & let them fly.