Moris Tepper played guitar in the Magic Band from 1975 until it was dissolved, and is still in contect with Don Van Vliet. He makes hi own music and paints, examples of which can be seen at the site I put together for his company, Candlebone Records
This was typed in by Carlton B. Morgan and sent to me with this anecdote:
"Incidentally, I also once met Don and he said he remembered me. However I was drunk as drunk can be and just thought "of COURSE he'd remember me, I've been listening to his record for years..." and wandered off. Later I sobered up a bit and realised.... "
Interview by Mike Barnes, in MOJO magazine dated Feb. 98
Once you're safe as milk. And one day you're doing the dropout boogie. This month, the last days of Moris Tepper and Beefheart's Magic Band
I was up in the California Redwoods to check out housing and schools, and I saw Don drive by in this orange pumpkin-coloured Stingray and park at a corvette dealership.
I'd met him in LA in '72 during the Clear Spot tour, when we'd talked and he'd drawn me a picture, but I was kind of scared. I walked up to his car and went, very softly "Don" and he fucking jumped-"Man, you scared the shit out of me! Hey, I know you!" I go, "Yeah we talked once at the Troubadour" And he goes "I gave you a piece of art, I don't EVER do that" . This was all within the first ten seconds, it was really weird. Within two hours he was showing me a house next door to his that he wanted me to rent. And so I got my housing. I'd been playing gutter for years, but I was going to college and I decided that I wouldn't try to be a musician.
But for the hell of it, I started figuring out the guitar parts to Trout Mask Replica. One day he came over and I played him Dali's Car, both guitar tracks, and his jaw dropped.
After he came back from the Bongo Fury tour with Zappa, he called me and asked me to come to LA and start working on the (original still unreleased) Bat Chain Puller. It was a very foreign experience, I'd never really been in anybody's band. He's like an emperor, has a very commanding natural presence that demands and audience. He's intimidating, at the same time he's like a small child, very gentle. He was very descriptive in imagery and metaphor when conveying musical ideas. At first, it was baffling. Often he'd use colours, like “Play in a smoky, yellow room, make it more like sulphur yellow":or “play it like a bat dragged out of oil, and it's trying to survive but dying from asphyxiation". The process took some time.
He was keen to solve what he saw as problems with players from a traditional background. For example, he claimed I was humming C in the middle of my head, that I'd been listening to too much Beatles. So he put me in this bathroom closet and made me listen to this track called Red Cross Store by Mississippi John Hurt over and over, for three hours. All of it was great, magical.
It wasn't like "BOOM-today the band's done" After Ice Cream For Crow was released, Don still had people who'd go on the road and work with him. We all kept in contact, but he couldn't get a deal to get a record out and pay people. After a year of trying, he finally gave up, said "Forget it it's not happening, I'm just going to do painting for now". So that was the slow death of the band.
He'd got an offer from a record label every year or two after that, but it was small money. Up 'til about five years ago, I talked to Don a lot about making a record of his own-playing the piano or smashing water bottles or taping rain wipers on his car-the same sort of tapes the band was given to learn. So people could hear the way he worked. It would have been the best, purest record of all, but he declined, He said "Man I couldn't do that -no-one even wants to hear it with the band." When the Magic band disbanded, I was anxious to get involved in my own music. Soon after, I had the good fortune to be utilised by Tom Waits. I had a CD, Big Enough To Disappear, released; recently I've been working with Frank Black and Robyn Hitchcock and touring with my own band, Tepper.
Right now I'm producing Wyckham Porteous, and composing TV and soundtrack music. But at the same time, I spend a lot of my creative energy on painting-what I was doing when I met Don n the redwoods. I was young and tender when I started working with him: there is a freedom and self-belief that I could have only learned from knowing Don.