The Magic Is Still Safe

9 April 2014 | 10:58 am | Dan Condon

"The whole reason for us reforming the band is that this music is too important to go away, it needs to get to more people’s ears."

"The whole reason for us reforming the band is that this music is too important to go away, it needs to get to more people's ears.”

Guitarist Denny Walley says the rationale behind five members of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band deciding to reform was simple. Sure, it was 21 years after the final album with their name attached – 1982's Ice Cream For Crow – when Matt Groening got them for his 2003 All Tomorrow's Parties event, but the demand was there and enough former members were keen. “We were cheered on by people when they found out this was happening,” Walley says. “[Beefheart's] music would have died had someone not picked it up and tried to bring it to the masses again. It's challenging, some bands were trying to do it but the music is so difficult, and to have it be acceptable to the people who were really fans, it had to be played verbatim.”

Perhaps the person least excited was Don Van Vliet – Beefheart himself. “He was not thrilled. He didn't want anything to do with the music business anymore and his health was failing as well, that was the main reason for him bowing out. He had MS that was progressing so he was unable to tour. But he wasn't happy, Eric Drew Feldman [keyboardist] told me that, when Don was asked about how he felt about us doing it, he was grumpy about it. But, nonetheless, we persevered. The music is too important to let it fade into the sunset.”

Walley didn't join the band until the mid-1970s, so he had that moment of hearing 1969's Trout Mask Replica for the first time just like the rest of us. “We had just gotten through doing the Bongo Fury tour – I was playing with Frank Zappa at the time – and Captain Beefheart was the guest artist on that tour. At the end of the tour Frank said, 'You oughta play with Beefheart.' So Frank gave me a copy of Trout Mask Replica and said, 'Go home and listen to this.'

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“I listened to it and called Frank and said, 'Frank, are you mad at me? Why did you give me this? I can't even find a guitar part! What notes do I play?' I had to listen to it about eight times to finally see the intricacies of it and pick out who was playing what. I loved it, there was just so much there and the poetry was fantastic.”

The band cover some of Beefheart's most challenging material. “We do the stuff that used to make people run screaming into the night. People are so conditioned to the I-IV-V-IV, the 12-bar-blues, you listen to a lot of things on the radio and you can predict where the next change is gonna be. So when you hear something that throws you off balance, that you're not familiar with, it makes you uncomfortable. Either you are repelled by it or you are drawn into it because it's a place you haven't been before and maybe you wanna give it a try.”