Working with Captain Beefheart has been described as hard work, often a task masker who had a vision in his mind how he wanted his music to be played but it would take days, weeks if not months for his peculiar, jaunty and adventurous psychedelic compositions to make sense to anyone else. This lack of understanding from others would take its toll on those in the Magic Band including John French aka Drumbo. Having come out of this experience with his sanity in tact French composed his much loved book Through The Eyes Of Magic that not only catalogued French’s experiences but many more who shared a room with the Beefheart.
Now updated for 2021, published in hardback for the first time by the Last Music Company, with a new intro and over 900 pages long with 41 chapters, a new 100 page track by track guide to the Magic Band’s work plus a wedge of photos, this surely must be the most exhausting and compelling account of working with Beefheart, it also reaches into the history of one of his main stalwart friends Frank Zappa. One of the main continuing accounts laden throughout the book and what has been recorded in previous interviews is the way Beefheart would manipulate and often humiliate those in and around the magic band. Name calling, mind games, being cut off from friends and family, plus almost starvation, who was a favourite and who wasn’t was the often ‘game’ played, which was often guided by the intake of drugs the band were taking.
There are slightly less stressful parts of the book including extensive detail of how the making of the music came to fruition including the failed attempts by record companies to popularize the band, there’s the tale of in the early days of the band the record label wanted the marketing of the band to be focused on something ranging from The Rolling Stones to Savoy Brown. It would appear the record label didn’t click with what the band were really about, maybe someone looked at the band rather than taking a listen to come to this conclusion, which even saw the bands material become soaked in 60’s style production, supposedly to fit in with the in crowd, which was far from what Beefheart had in his mind and would eventually be created via his masterpiece Trout Mask Replica.
This is only brushing the surface of this exhausting publication, however the general consensus is this is a must have book for any fans of Beefheart who really want to know what it was like to be in and around the psychedelic genius.
Through The Eyes Of Magic can be purchased via the following link