BOOK: Beefheart ~ Through The Eyes of Magic

John French

Few names carry such formidable mystique and rabid cult status as Captain Beefheart, who led various line-ups of his Magic Band to make the most startling, ground-breaking albums of the twentieth century.  In 1982, he retired to concentrate on painting, leaving the mythology he’d stoked himself to grow untamed over the years.

John French is better qualified than anyone to talk about Beefheart.  Joining the Magic Band in 1966 at the age of seventeen just before recording their Safe As Milk debut album, he found himself plunged into a tyrannical regime which would dominate his life for the next fourteen years.  In addition to drumming, his tasks included translating the mind-blowing avant-garde blues assault of 1969’s Trout Mask Replica into readable musical for the Magic Band from the Captain’s piano poundings under torturous conditions which John likens to a cult.

French’s remarkable memoir starts with a vivid description of the rarely documented early 60s Lancaster (California) garage-rock scene which also spawned names like Ry Cooder and Beefheart’s childhood friend and later nemesis Frank Zappa.  The latter’s numerous appearances in this book will enthrall his own legion of fans.  As his spellbinding, often shocking tale unwinds, he encounters a diverse range of characters including Ornette Coleman, Jim Morrison and Paul McCartney.  John writes with dry, sometimes surreal humour and disarming honesty about his old boss and even himself, bringing in his old Magic Band comrades and other luminaries to jog his memory.  The book is packed with revelations, rare photos and enough anecdotes to keep the Beefheart faithful ruminating for years.  Featuring interviews with all key players inside and around The Magic Band and the Mothers Of Invention, and rare photo outtakes, here French crystallises and brings to life years of legend and speculation.  First published in 2010, the book is now in its third printing in hardcover, and will be available digitally in North America for the first time in 2021.

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Few names carry such formidable mystique and rabid cult status as Captain Beefheart, who led various line-ups of his Magic Band to make the most startling, ground-breaking albums of the twentieth century.  In 1982, he retired to concentrate on painting, leaving the mythology he’d stoked himself to grow untamed over the years.

John French is better qualified than anyone to talk about Beefheart.  Joining the Magic Band in 1966 at the age of seventeen just before recording their Safe As Milk debut album, he found himself plunged into a tyrannical regime which would dominate his life for the next fourteen years.  In addition to drumming, his tasks included translating the mind-blowing avant-garde blues assault of 1969’s Trout Mask Replica into readable musical for the Magic Band from the Captain’s piano poundings under torturous conditions which John likens to a cult.

French’s remarkable memoir starts with a vivid description of the rarely documented early 60s Lancaster (California) garage-rock scene which also spawned names like Ry Cooder and Beefheart’s childhood friend and later nemesis Frank Zappa.  The latter’s numerous appearances in this book will enthrall his own legion of fans.  As his spellbinding, often shocking tale unwinds, he encounters a diverse range of characters including Ornette Coleman, Jim Morrison and Paul McCartney.  John writes with dry, sometimes surreal humour and disarming honesty about his old boss and even himself, bringing in his old Magic Band comrades and other luminaries to jog his memory.  The book is packed with revelations, rare photos and enough anecdotes to keep the Beefheart faithful ruminating for years.  Featuring interviews with all key players inside and around The Magic Band and the Mothers Of Invention, and rare photo outtakes, here French crystallises and brings to life years of legend and speculation.  First published in 2010, the book is now in its third printing in hardcover, and will be available digitally in North America for the first time in 2021.

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REVIEWS

John French is a brilliant drummer whose oddball rhythms are both compellingly eccentric and utterly beautiful. And now he's written a devastatingly honest memoir of making music as Drumbo, with the legendary Captain Beefheart -- but it's much more than that. Part confession, part analysis, full of easy conversation and sharp judgments, this is a fine book chronicling the greatest sun-baked Californian experimental rock of the 1960s. Drumbo was at the center of it all, and he remembers everything. ~ Matt Groening.
Even for those who aren’t that familiar with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, this is an amazing read. For those who are familiar, it’s the detailed story of this mysterious lot you’ve been waiting to hear, told by someone who was an integral part of it, Drumbo himself, John French. ~ Billy Bob Thornton

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