The Magic Band

Because the Magic Band changed their line up so much, it will be impossible for us to do their biography justice without missing something out. Below is an outline but to receive a full insight please visit the informative www.beefheart.com and this will answer all your questions.

Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley

Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley is a slide guitarist extraordinaire with a flair for syrupy and soulful blues tones rich in the heritage of his Delta Blues heroes.   His family had moved from the East Coast to Lancaster California – home to both Frank Zappa and Don Van Vliet -- in the  late fifties.  FZ brother Bobby became one of Denny’s best friends and this experience gave him an inside look at the early days of Zappa’s pursuance of new and unique sounds.  Having a special driving permit, Walley was able to occasionally drive Frank to rehearsals of the Black-Outs -- Frank’s integrated R&B band -- in which fellow Lancaster resident, Jim Sherwood played.

      Bobby Zappa and Walley listened to blues records constantly, both forming quite a collection.  When Denny later moved back to the East Coast, he began playing guitar, and quickly developed mastery of the slack-key slide technique for which he is today known.  His discography is to vast to print in the space available here, but needless to say, after he moved to Hollywood in the sixties to pursue music he has left quite a mark.

      At first he was playing a lot of clubs and doing session work, much of it for African-American artists.  He then had a short stint with Geronimo Black, Jimmy Carl Black’s group, formed after the Mother’s disbanded in 1969 and is listed in the album credits.  Jim Sherwood eventually caught up with Denny and immediately recommended him to Frank, who, after hearing his mastery, signed him to play with his newest group, which included as lead singer, Don Van Vliet aka the avante-garde “Captain Beefheart.”   Walley appeared on the “Bongo Fury”  tour and album and went on to join Beefheart’s group in  September 1975 to do a Fall tour of Europe.  Upon their return, Van Vliet recorded the unreleased “Bat Chain Puller” on which Denny performs highly-memorable solos on such pieces as “Ode T’ Alex” and “Bat Chain Puller.”

      Simultaneously working with both Zappa and Beefheart, his tenure with Beefheart lasted three years – just prior to the release of Van Vliet’s “Shiny Beast,” on which he was replaced due to scheduling conflicts.  Walley says that the Magic Band music was something he truly enjoyed and that there was nothing else quite like it, so when the reunion idea came to light, Walley enthusiastically jumped on board, bringing his own special Magic back to the music.

      John “Drumbo” French

      French grew up in Lancaster, hometown of Van Vliet and Zappa, but didn’t cross paths with Van Vliet until 1965.  In ’66, he was invited to join the group to replace retiring drummer “PG” Blakely.  John had previously played only semi-professionally, in Garage Bands with names like “The Maltesemen,” “The Intruders,”  and most importantly, “Blues in the Bottle,” which contained three future Beefheart Alumni: Jeff Cotton, Mark Boston, and French.   French fronted the latter band and sang, having been both influenced and inspired by Van Vliet’s growling vocals.  The Magic Band member with the longest tenure – eight years over a period of fourteen --  broken up with several periods of pursuing theatre, dance, and composing and art -- French was the spearhead of The Magic Band reunion idea.

      “Drumbo” has appeared on many of Beefheart’s landmark albums including “Safe as Milk,” “Strictly Personal,” “Mirror Man,” “Trout Mask Replica,” “Lick My Decals Off, Baby,” “Bat Chain Puller” ( unreleased), and finally “Doc at the Radar Station,” on which he played primarily guitar, along with bass, drums, and marimba.  He was also the unofficial transcriber/arranger of Trout Mask Replica” and “Bat Chain Puller.”

      Contacting former members, he finally hit upon a combination with Denny Walley(Gtr.), Mark Boston ( Bass), Gary Lucas ( Gtr.) , and Robert Williams – who was eventually replaced by drummer Michael Traylor.  From 2003 – 2006, The Magic Band toured annually reviving the repertoire for new audiences including Glastonbury Festival 2004. 

      French’s drumming has been recognized as unique and original, and his hard-hitting polyrhythmic style was a perfect fit for Beefheart’s angular compositions.  He has been recognized in Music Connection magazine in “A lexicon Of Undervalued Drummers,” and was recently featured in a “Modern Drummer” article.  His recent CD, “City of Refuge” – an album written in The Magic Band style – was recently given great revues by “Uncut,” “Mojo,” and “Record Collector,” among others.  His emulation of Beefheart’s vocals and harmonica playing have received favorable response.  His book, “Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic” ( planned for release January 2010) describes the tumultuous experience of bringing Van Vliet’s concepts to fruition.  He’s left the drum throne to sing, and play harmonica and sax. 

      “I felt like Van Vliet’s music was important, and participating in this reunion is my part in bringing it into focus once again.”  French says.

Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston

 Originally from Salem, Illinois Mark's family moved to the High Desert town of Lancaster in California in 1963. His father worked in a local grain factory and also played bass as well as steel guitar. This perhaps explains Mark's ability on the bass - he's one of the few rock bassists who really know how to use the instrument.

      In 1965, Boston played in B.C. & The Cavemen with Bill Harkleroad on guitar. By 1966, Mark was playing bass in John French's “Blues In A Bottle” band alongside Jeff Cotton on guitar.

      French, Cotton and Harkleroad all got their call up to the Magic Band. Finally Mark was offered an audition after bass player Gary Marker decided against a full time stint in the band. Mark had expected to be playing the blues based material he had heard from the Magic Band and wasn't prepared for the shock of the Trout Mask songs but as he'd managed to strum a long to 'Steal Softly Thru Snow' all the way through, which was better than anyone else had done, and he was given the spot!

      Christened “Rockette Morton,” Mark developed his own aggressive style of bass playing using three metal fingerpicks and a standard flatpick that shredded the wooden guitar body. His introductory bass solo -- complete with metal toaster strapped to his head, lighting up a Rio Six cigar, and irrepressible energy -- were an unforgettable part of many Magic Band concerts.

      From 1969 to 1974 he and Bill Harkleroad ( aka Zoot Horn Rollo) were the mainstays of the Magic Band until lack of finance and Don's failure to acknowledge their contribution to the music forced them to leave the band and seek other outlets.

Eric Klerks

      Klerks was born in Southern California.  At age 14, his family settled in the San Francisco Bay area where he began to seriously study the guitar.  Raised on classic rock, blues, classical music and R&B, all of these styles slowly crept into his playing.  Eric traveled to Europe with his high school jazz band to perform in various festivals.  Eventually, Eric moved to New Orleans to pursue a degree and learn jazz from its roots.

      At Loyola University, New Orleans, he honed his musicianship during the day and at night he sat in at clubs; balancing academics and playing with about four hours of sleep a night.  Katrina’s surprise visit in August 2005 left him homeless, possessing only a suitcase and a few of his guitars.  Arriving in Los Angeles,  he made arrangements to spend a semester at the California Institute of the Arts,   later returning to New Orleans where he graduated Cum Laude.

      In 2007, he moved back to Los Angeles to pursue a master's degree at Cal Arts, where he met Scott Collins and Daren Burns.  Scott introduced him to John French in the fall of 2008, and the rest is history.

      Eric has studied and/or performed with Charlie Haden, Brian Seeger, Alan Broadbent, Larry Koonse, Tony DeGradi, Darek Oles and many others.  Bands include Sound for the Organisation of Society, Gov't Majik, Bodesattva, The Kelcy Mae Band, The Soy (with Jane Carrey), The Other Planets and various other projects of varying size and duration.

Craig Bunch

Influenced by his brother Marshall, a gifted musician who was always let him sit in with the groups he was playing with at the time, Craig, primarily a self taught musician, has been playing drums since he was four years old. The years of playing with his brother, in garage bands, and to his favorite records eventually led to him attending Musicians Institute in 1983 where he studied with Ralph Humphrey, Joe Pocaro, and Maria Martinez. Throughout his career, Craig has played and recorded with many different artists including Geron Davis, Darrell Mansfield, Tommy Walker, Justo Almario, Rufus Philpot, Wadada Leo Smith, guitar player Steve Trovato, and most recently Drumbo.