NAA Interview with John “Drumbo” French, THE Beefheart Drummer

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band (John “Drumbo” French on drums), live in Detroit, 1971 (photo © 1971 Robert Matheu)

content © 2015 Joshua Warren / No Apologies Allowed


In the US in the late ’60s, there was a tremendous tide of psychedelic music that initiated a further assault on Judeo-Christian values. Empowered by drugs and under the dual guise of freedom and exploration, bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones began to write songs and feature album art which contained both overt and covert references to illegal substances and occult texts and practices. (You can see such an example of the latter for yourself by picking up a Zeppelin III record and looking at the core matrix on the vinyl. Find out what’s written there.)

It was also around that time, fostered by an atmosphere wherein all manner of experimentation was the norm, that concept albums also appeared. One such album — a double album no less — was “Trout Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, hailed even today as an avant-garde musical masterpiece unlike anything before or after it. (So much so that it was inducted into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2010.) With its legendary and enigmatic frontman, Don Van Vliet (known as “Captain Beefheart” in the music world), and young, oddly named and oddly dressed band members, famed producer, composer, musical genius Frank Zappa set out to provide the environment where the Captain’s creativity could flow unhindered (though not without invaluable assistance).

The process of the record’s creation is almost mythological now. Stories of starving musicians (literally!) sequestered in a tiny house for months, working non-stop to memorize and master bizarre music that sounds completely unpracticed upon first listening. Even more noteworthy is that fact that without John French, that album could never have been done, since he transcribed / translated Captain Beefheart’s musical ideas into things the other talented musicians in the band could comprehend.

In such an environment — avant-garde music, drugs, the occult — one would not be surprised to hear more of casualties than conversions in the aftermath. However, like the music of Captain Beefheart, John French (“Drumbo” as nicknamed by the Captain), famous member of the Magic Band for most of its existence, continues to defy conventions. The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, and author is an unabashed Christian who lived to talk about it today.

Now, a few short notes:

Few associate Christians with rock. Some may claim that no Christians would play rock, while others in the business may say that Christians don’t know how to rock.

Sorry to both groups.

If the unorthodox nature of his career indicates anything to contentious reader, then such a person won’t be surprised that John “Drumbo” French isn’t going to fit into anyone’s little boxes. Not only has he been challenging the boundaries of music since his involvement with the phenomenon that is Captain Beefheart (beginning with his 1967’s “Safe as Milk” album, which I’m listening to as I write this), he is also challenging what people expect of Christians in the overly dark world of music.

Perhaps the good reader is wondering why I’m interviewing a gifted musician and songwriter for a Christian apologetics blog. Fair enough. Simply put: He’s a Christian and he has been involved in the music industry for decades. Besides, how much sway do music and musicians have in modern culture? How many people were inspired by the late ’60s work of groups like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones to experiment with drugs? Or to try transcendental meditation? Or to get into Hinduism? (Note: That’s why, by his own admission, George Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” in the deceptive manner that he did.) So, like it or not, a large majority of people find either substance or support for their beliefs and opinions through music. A lot of music is actually just preaching whatever worldview the singer / band may hold with a steady beat and some fuzz tone. With that said, we should value the opinions of people with years of experience in the music business. Furthermore, if the person also happens to be a Christian in such a notoriously dark industry, we should try to support them in practical ways. (See more ways to do that later.)

John will challenge concepts of aggressive evangelism. He’ll point out that Christian music might actually not be all too Christian. And he’ll also remind Christians that sometimes God’s will doesn’t take you down the easy, comfortable path.

It is my distinct pleasure and honor to share this interview with John “Drumbo” French for your reading pleasure and consideration. He didn’t have to answer my questions, but he went above and beyond in his detailed responses. That he was kind enough to take the time to do so made this a double blessing for me and I hope readers, too.

Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in the introduction are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of John French. The appearance of John French’s name here doesn’t mean that he endorses anything on the blog and vice versa.

The John “Drumbo” French Interview

(1) Could you share some details about how and when you became a Christian?

My mother, Pearl, was a Christian and my father wasn’t. She told me when I was very young, probably six or so, that it wasn’t going to church that made you a Christian, it wasn’t reading the Bible that made you a Christian, and it wasn’t being a good person. She said, “Being a Christian means one thing, that you have accepted Jesus as your savior from sin and death.” Those words were powerful and stuck with me my whole life. My brother, Phil had me recited the “sinner’s prayer” when I was nine, but I really wasn’t ready and not old enough to really understand what I had done. Later, I went up at church and asked and they said if you had recited the sinner’s prayer, you were “born again.” I accepted that, but felt nothing.

Then, at thirteen, I became more aware of the world around me and started asking the age-old questions. What about children raised as Hindus, or under Islamic rule, or Lamaism? What about people who never really understood the Gospel? Etc. I fell away from Christianity for the most part from then until my thirtieth year. Because of the fact that Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) was not a Christian, I took a lot of mockery because of faith (buried, though it was) but when I first joined the band and moved in with them, I was suddenly in a household completely exempt from any faith, and I could immediately see that there was a lack of order that had been present in my parent’s household due to my mother’s faith.

It was a clear indication to me that there was a substance to the faith of my mother, and it had manifested in a certain order, which to me felt like security. There was a hope that was now missing.

During some of the period of working with Don and the band, the world seemed completely devoid of hope, and at one point I considered myself completely and totally an atheist. During this period, I also felt the most empty, and often, when things were really bad, I would still pray for some kind of relief from the unhappiness and the feeling of being trapped.

Later, after a very disastrous first marriage in 1978, I stumbled into a Bible study at some friends’ house totally by accident. I wanted to leave, but they had all seen me. That day, I had been out in the desert, lying in the dirt and asking for God to speak to me. I finally heard two words: “Fear NOT.”

As I came into this study, I was a broken man, and everyone sensed it as I broke into tears. They gathered around me and prayed silently for some time, and then a woman put her hand on my head and raised the other up in the air as though she was trying to receive a word for me.

The first words she spoke were “Fear Not!” I was shocked to hear those words, as I had thought it to be my imagination, but there were those words again, confirmed by this woman, Lisa Scudieri.

I can’t remember another word she said that night, but I left there a changed man. That, I believe, is when I was truly “born again.” I think the earlier “sinner’s prayer” experience had given me salvation, but God wanted to me to see what the world was like without a loving savior, and I did, for seventeen years.

(2) We often hear about the dark side of the music industry — sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll; souls being sold; Satanic exploits; etc. How have the people and the industry treated you? Was there any difference between before you vocalized your faith in Jesus and afterward?

I have mostly kept my faith to myself. I’ve tried to live it the best I could, but I do not do a great deal of preaching. The Lord told me that I was a seed sower, which meant to me that I wait until the season, say what is directed of me, and then shut up. I’ve see so many well-meaning Christians turn unbelievers off and actually offend them by trying to be a “bold witness.” There are times that we should be a “bold witness” but a lot of Christians seem to think that means strongly and sometimes angrily or overbearingly spewing out a lot of information that is seldom heard, because the person’s pre-conceived attitude makes them spiritually deaf.

Christ told the disciples he would make the “fishers of men.” I haven’t done much fishing, but I did go with a friend once to a place called Littlerock Dam near where I live in the Antelope Valley. He had a rod, reel, and bait. I had nothing, so I asked him to cut a piece of line about 8 feet long and give me a hook and a bit of bait. While he fished, I walked halfway around the lake, finding a short stick on the way. I looked for a deep, still pool, in the shade on the East side of the lake, because it was morning. I fastened the line to the stick, crawled on the rock ledge to keep myself from being seen, and carefully dropped the baited hook into the pool. Within seconds I had caught a fish.

I approach spreading the seed in the same manner. I need to be invisible, and the person needs only to be aware of what I am introducing to them. At the right moment, the Holy Spirit opens my mouth and says exactly what the person needs to hear. It has happened to me quite seldom, but it has always been a miracle to me, as things I said were things that were NOT on my mind at all.

Jesus does not need a sales pitch. He doesn’t need a “plan” of how to approach someone. The Holy Spirit knows all that is needed for each person. All we have to do is be willing to wait upon the move of the spirit.

The music industry is dark. It is full of liars who claim to be your friend. They claim to be “your biggest fan” and then exploit you as much as they can. However, it is the same with any industry, I’m sure. I’ve had to do a LOT of forgiving to get past the horrible behavior I’ve witnessed, and the times that I didn’t, I was shamefully the person behaving horribly.

I’ve had to learn that the music industry is NOT my source. God is my source, and will supply my needs as long as I listen to him. My worst enemies have often been other Christians.

For instance:

“John, the music industry has not treated you well, therefore it could not possibly be God’s will for you to be involved in it.” My answer, “Then why did God only open this door and no other? And, if Jesus would have thought this way, he certainly wouldn’t have gone to the cross!” Can you imagine Jesus saying, “God, I’m not being treated well here, I want to come home! I’m tired of this sacrifice stuff.”

“How can you stand being around all those unbelieving Christians?” Jesus said, “It is the sick who are in need of a Physician.”

One lady wrote a note to me and had the waitress pass it up to the stage. It said something to the effect of, “If only you would turn you music over to the Lord, he would use it for good.” Two things I reply to this. The first is that the church mostly treats their musicians horribly. I know guys working in the Christian music industry who endure HORRIBLE verbal abuse in the studio, and get paid next to nothing for their worship playing – IF they get paid at all… The second is that the church has become it’s own culture, and everyone gathers together and listens to their own worship music (while criticizing the other churches) and so they have compartmentalized their lives and become a sub-culture. I get to be around all kinds of people, and by not saying much, I get to hear a lot of varied opinions about the church and Christians that no one in the church gets to hear because they are too deeply involved in their sub-culture. Not that they don’t do a great deal of good, but they can’t reach the same people I can reach in my position.

The lady who passed the note up to the stage had left before I read the note, so I never got the chance to explain my side of the situation or know who it was you sent it.

I think what troubles me is the fact that so many folks stereotype me. For instance, as a guy who believes the earth is 6,000 years old, dinosaurs didn’t exist etc. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:2 reads, “And the earth was without form and void.” The words “tohu and bohu” are the Hebrews words for “without form and void.” Later, in Isaiah, God says “I did NOT create the earth ‘tohu and bohu” – so there is a whole group of theologians who believe that the earth was made “tohu and bohu” by a serious cataclysmic event that wiped out what had been created meaning that there is a huge gap – time-wise – between verse one and verse two.

Einstein stated that time didn’t actually exist but is an illusion. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end.” To me, this specifically says that God and Jesus are both supreme beings who are not caught up in a time continuum as are we.

The description of Jesus’ conception is that a woman who was a virgin conceived a child. Do I think that supreme beings have the ability to implant a DNA-Specific fetus into a woman? Of course I do. The “Star of Bethlehem” could easily have been a craft of some kind, leading the wise men to the place of birth. Angels and demons could simply by UFOs. Who knows for sure. “We see through a glass darkly.”

The bible states that man is created “in the image of God” which means we probably look a bit like him. A man and woman were created and put into a garden – a special place that had been given protection from the harsh rays of the sun. They were nurtured in a controlled environment, but when they chose to go outside the will of God, they became unable to communicate easily with God, and became trapped in time and the aging process. This is “the fallen state.”

I live in the desert and we have “Swamp Coolers” (evaporative coolers) that pump air from a tray in the bottom up along three or four troughs that evenly disperse the water to flow down pads through which air is drawn by a squirrel cage. This cools the water in a dry climate and is quite effective in cooling homes 25 – 30 degrees. The big problem is that the tray is constructed of metal, which is eventually corroded by the water. Slowing this process down is achieved by using an “anode” – a very pure piece of metal that becomes a sacrificial metal by taking on the corrosion. It is wired to the metal frame, immersed in the water, and separated/insulated from the metal by being left in it’s plastic tray.

I installed one in my cooler one year and the following year, when prepping the cooler for the following Summer, I noted that the metal had completely turned to a white powder. It surprised me just how much damage was done to this small piece of metal. As I was looking at this, God spoke to me and said, “This is what my Son did for you!”

Suddenly, I got it, in a very scientific way! In the same way that this metal was sacrificed so that the rest of the metal could be free of corrosion, Jesus, the perfect man without flaw, drew all the corrosion ( sin ) of the world into himself in a one-time sacrifice once and for all. All we have to do is believe on His name to receive this redemptive gift. By becoming “born again” in essence ( Jesus said “you must be born again”) we were hooked up to this drawing power and cleansed once for all time.

All these little realizations do one no good, however, without the individual humbling himself before God.

(3) Ry Cooder relayed some rather “colorful” uses of “God” in the Captain’s angry vocabulary (essentially it was just an expletive to him [see “The Artist Formerly Known as Captain Beefheart”]). I was curious: Did Captain Beefheart ever express any genuine interest in God or Jesus? Did he ever address them either overtly or covertly in his work that you know of?

Not much. He had a sort of hodge-podge of ideas that he threw together that was sort of his spiritual philosophy. Much of it, to me, was far more unbelievable than the precepts of Christianity. One time, a guy came by our compound and asked him, “Did you know that Christ died for your sins?” He answered, “I don’t sin!” He didn’t understand the concept of sin, what it was, or how it could possibly pertain to him. The perception of man being in a fallen state was something he could not accept as pertaining to him. Though he recognized it in others, he did not see himself as part of the problem.

He did listen to me once or twice, and it almost seemed like I had gotten through, but then he would say something a moment later that convinced me that he didn’t even hear what I said at all. The big drawback was his overflowing pride.

(4) A long list of awkward interviews make it seem that the Captain was difficult to talk to. Could you share with us any details about what you might consider the deepest conversation you ever had with him?

Don had quite a defense mechanism. He memorized and rehearsed several dozen phrases and would pull them out of a hat during trying times. Some of them were quite clever. But, it was obvious to me that he was hiding behind these things and keeping a safe distance between himself and the public. These “catch phrases” would be thrown into a conversation to throw the interviewer off guard.

I did pull through time and again, but I would be a little wary about sharing too many things publicly that were said in private. Most of the time, I tried to stay in his “comfort zone.” I felt that my role in his life is to be a bit on the “robo” side, “doing unto others” as an example. My role with Don was in the category of making large sacrifices to my own life because someone asked me to do something for them. Jesus said that “when a man asks for you coat, give him your cloak also.” I thought this was a very unfair thing to ask someone to do, but I did it anyway.

Don usually had someone in the group to whom he entrusted/delegated certain duties. Alex Snouffer, Jeff Cotton, myself, Bill Harkleroad, Bruce Fowler, Eric Drew Feldman, Jeff “Moris” Tepper were all kind of musical “foils” ( as Mike Barnes referred to us) . My reason for doing this was not because I thought I was going to make a ton of money, but because Don “needed” someone to do it and I was prompted, on three occasions, to do this: 1. TMR era (1968-’69) 2. Bat Chain Puller Era ( 1975-’76) and 3. Doc at the Radar Station era (1980).

The first time was less a prompting than a natural flow that became seriously dangerous rapids after a time. It had grown to be an extremely volatile time and a time when I started really seeking God again. The second was more of a “Why not?” kind of thing. It was funny because a girl was trying to talk me into starting a lounge act with her as a singer. She said, “You’re never going to be on the concert scene again, you know.” I proclaimed, “If God wants me on the concert stage, he could have me on stage next month.” That was in June, 1975. In July, I was back in The Magic Band playing Knebworth Festival in England! I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I transcribed much of Bat Chain Puller in August and we toured in October through December of that year, and then a few dates with Frank Zappa culminating in a New Year’s Eve show at the Forum in Los Angeles. The band changed from the touring band to the recording band. Elliot left and was replaced by Moris Tepper. Bruce Fowler left and was replaced by John Thomas on Rhodes and Mini-Moog (for bass sounds). Denny Walley and I remained.

The album was never released until after Don’s death. It sat on a shelf, sometimes wrapped in legal disputes and sometimes just neglected. I left after Don fired John Thomas, who decided to join Mallard – the former Magic Band re-formed.

I guess it was four times. In 1980, my vehicle broke down and I hadn’t been able to fix it. I was unemployed and wondering what to do and prayed for direction. Suddenly, that “still small voice” popped up and said, “Go to Don Van Vliet and ask him to be in the band”. This was the last thing on earth I wanted to do, but I did, and as I walked in, his guitarist Richard Redus was quitting the band. Don waved me in as he was saying “Don’t do this to me, man!” When he hung up, I said, “I’m here to replace Richard.” Don said, “That’s a good idea, man.” I told him I hadn’t played guitar in a while, and didn’t even own one, except a custom Strat that was broken.

I was given a guitar, rebuilt mine, and received another Tele from Richard and though it was a really tough 7 weeks, I managed to struggle through the “Doc” sessions so Don could make his deadline.

The point is, we HAVE to listen if we’re going to hear God’s voice. Sometimes, his voice comes as a vision, and when it comes, it’s like that piece of the puzzle that perfectly fits. Too many times, I’ve tried to go by my own plan, running out of patience waiting on God. It was always a disaster when I did that.

(5) Captain Beefheart had often said that he wasn’t singing, but casting spells. Beefheart biographer Mike Barnes evens relays instances in which band members witnessed unusual, or “magic”, behavior from him, like him appearing to be controlling other people’s actions / minds. To your knowledge, was Captain Beefheart ever involved in anything overtly occultic? Were those just parlor tricks or extensions of some sort of “darker” art?

Don often said that he and Frank Zappa studied black magic. I remember him saying that one time they turned right onto a street in LA and both of them saw a witch hopping down the sidewalk in twenty-foot leaps. I didn’t ask what made them think that what they saw was a witch.

Another time, he said he was driving alone from LA and a scroll appeared hovering above the passenger seat and began to roll open. He didn’t go into any more detail than that.

I was fascinated by all this at the time. Upon first entering the band, he told me that magic was real, and that there was “good magic” and “bad magic” and he was involved only in “good magic.” I have come to the conclusion that all of it is “bad.”

I mention in my book a couple instances where I witnessed inanimate objects flying through the air. The first was when I first joined the band. I had stayed at his mother’s house that night, in a room right off the kitchen. I awoke to hear him talking on the phone with someone and he seemed to be arguing, though the conversation was mostly over by the time I was cognizant. At one point, he seemed to say something like “Stop that!” right after I saw a little clay sculpture he had done of a werewolf’s head fly out of the pantry, which was across from where he was sitting, and roll across the floor. I ran into the kitchen, looked for any possible way this could have been done by another person. He was the only person in the kitchen.

Another was about two years later in a little cottage in Woodland Hills just down the street from the house we eventually moved into when we later rehearsed Trout Mask Replica. There was a bar / counter area in front of the open kitchen with three stools. In the middle of that, sitting on a little plate, was another sculpture he had done of an alien. It, like the other, was about 2 ½ inches high and made out of the same kind of clay children use in sculpting class. He was angry with me about something and as we walked from the den area into the living room, I was viewing the counter and this little sculpture flew off the table and rolled across the floor – about 10 feet away. When this happened, he said exactly the same thing :”Stop that!”

Another time, when he was really angry with me at the Trout House, he just pointed his finger and glared at me for about twenty seconds. All of a sudden, and giant branch from a tree crashed down on the roof of the house. Everyone looked up at the ceiling, saying “what was that?” with the exception of me… I kept my gaze fixed upon Don. He asked me, in a very angry and threatening voice, “Do you know what I could do to you if I wanted?” It was quite intimidating to me at the time, and puzzling also, as I was working 10-12 hours a day on transcribing his music and couldn’t have been more devoted, as we all were, to completing the double album that still seems to be recognized as his masterpiece. I couldn’t understand why he would wish to harm me.

Later, when I was studying demonology (in the early nineties), I came across a line that said that some people are able to tap into “the latent power of the soul” and produce supernatural results but at no small cost. Because they are drawing from their own energy, rather than being a conduit for God’s energy, they wind up draining their own life force and, as a result, age more quickly.

I think this is why it is very important to “Give God the Glory” when, as a Christian, we lay hands on people and they are healed. I’ve had this happen, but I knew that I was merely a conduit of power, NOT the source. Afterwards, I felt invigorated, not drained.

The most striking example of Don “controlling” someone was a description from my book. I did not witness this, but Don Aldridge (a mutual friend and a Christian) described to me in my interview with him. He said that one night they were standing in front of his mother’s house late at night and a car came down the street. Don said to Aldridge, “Watch this!” That car kept driving up and down the street, back and forth in front of them for several minutes. It would go down to the end, turn around and come back, and repeated this many times. Van Vliet finally said, “I’ll let him go now…” and the car drove down to the end of the street, turned, and disappeared from view.

I wrote about this [next incident] in my book, but hearing it firsthand again, there were details from drummer Michael Traylor that I hadn’t known before.

He had met Don in Lancaster, California in the mid-seventies and was considering becoming Don’s drummer for a short time.  Michael was married to a very attractive woman at the time, and one night, the three of them met somewhere and Don had a long conversation with Mrs. Traylor and Michael sensed that he was very attracted to her.

When they went home that night, the Traylors got into a big argument, and the Mrs. decided to go off and sleep in a separate bed room in the house.  About 2:00 in the morning, Traylor’s wife came running in and woke up Michael.  She was shaking, panicked, and shivering cold.  He asked her what was the matter and she described a sensation of being held down and raped, yet there was no one in the room.  She insisted that she was not dreaming, and that the sensation was horrible, because she could not see anyone in the room in spite of the fact that she felt exactly as though she was being raped.

A few days later, they ran into Don at the same place as the previous meeting.  After a short talk, Michael left for a moment and while he was gone, his wife told him that Don asked her, “Did you enjoy my visit the other night?” It gave her chills, and she refused to ever be around Don again.

After the incident, no one could sleep in the room.  Apparently, guests who actually knew nothing about the incident could not sleep in the room as it made them feel “creepy” and they “sensed a presence.”
So, yes, I did witness and also had others describe certain situations in which Van Vliet seemed to have some kind of supernatural abilities.

(6) The fan-boy in me forces me to ask you: You’ve been the main thrust behind the incredibly electric Beefheart tribute band “The Magic Band”. (Beefheart fans: You won’t believe how incredible John sounds on vocals!) Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on that you might let us in on?

The Magic Band last played in July 2014 at Zappanale. Shortly afterward, Denny Walley quit the group, as he wants to be free to explore other areas of his career. He played with Zappa nearly as long as with Don, so he enjoys playing with Zappa cover groups, including “The Muffin Men” ( based in Liverpool), and “Banned from Utopia.”

The Magic Band had reformed again in 2009 to play ATP’s 10th Anniversary after lying dormant since 2006. I wasn’t really sure it was a good idea. Drummer Michael Traylor was having knee surgery and couldn’t attend, and Gary Lucas was always so busy with other projects, so it seemed like a lot of trouble. Then, I thought of Craig Bunch and Eric Klerks from my “Drumbo” group, and so they were made a part of the group.

Craig wasn’t too happy with things, so he was replaced in late 2013 by Andy Niven, who is an amazingly good, solid player. He played a late 2013 tour of the UK, The Troubadour in Hollywood, a Tour of Australia, another UK tour, and finally Zappanale with us. It was the best sound yet, and everyone kept telling me that they “couldn’t believe the band could have been better but it was.”

I think this is what God expects us to do: outdo ourselves by walking in faith. Shedding more and more of the deceitfulness of riches, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, and just focusing on excellence of God – in whatever we do, whether it’s shoveling dung ( I’ve done this a few times myself) or playing the concert stage.

My plans are up in the air right now. I’ve done another “Drumbo” project, but my last one sold about 1,000 units – hardly worth the effort in terms of finances. I’m looking at a Kickstarter program – “The Magic Band Project” – in which I will attempt to raise funds to finish out a few projects in the works – such as DVDs and CDs – and possibly do one newer recording.

Truthfully, however, I’ve been doing Don Van Vliet’s music for 48 years on and off, and would like a chance to do something else! I really enjoy creating new material, but I’m very bad at finishing it – partially because there really isn’t much of an interest in new John French material. So, I’m in the “waiting on the Lord” period, which I hate more than anything, as it just seems to drag on and on, but I have to remind myself of a vision.

When a trainer is working with a body builder, he will always have his client go just a little further than he thinks he can – struggling with that one last rep that will make or break the client. That happens to be where the real breakthroughs come – right at that moment when the muscles are quivering and the gasps of breath and grunts are most prevalent.

So, picking up the shield of faith, donning the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the truth, and putting on the helmet of salvation, I hope to trod forward shod in the gospel of truth. So, rather than plans right now, all I have is a blank slate. I am convinced God has a plan, and it will be revealed in his time.


If you’d like to support John, you can by talking with your purse! He has written a thick, obsessively detailed (that’s a compliment!) memoir of sorts about Captain Beefheart is available here in both print and digital form:

Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic

He heads up The Magic Band, an incredible live band that tours around the globe performing the music of Captain Beefheart. They have released several albums of live music that sound just spectacular. In fact, I was about to write them off as just a tribute band… until I actually heard them. John sounds incredible on vocals. (Their 2013 release, The Magic Band Plays the Music of Captain Beefheart, is an incredible album.

John has even released a CD, “City of Refuge”, under his own pseudonym “Drumbo”, a complex tapestry of songs with intricate beats and riffs that is as fascinating to listen to the 100th time as it was the first. (The highlight, for me, are the songs “City of Refuge”, “Abandon”, and “To the Loft of Ravenscroft”.)

And here’s an incredible drum solo by John “Drumbo” French from 2013!

For more information about Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, visit the best Beefheart site on the web,


6 thoughts on “NAA Interview with John “Drumbo” French, THE Beefheart Drummer

  1. FYI – that photo of the Magic Band was taken by Robert Matheu at the band’s Detroit Tubeworks taping on Jan 16, 1971. Thanks for the interview!


  2. I still think he’s a nutcake with a (more understandably than not) case of passive-aggressive sour grapes. His book is whiney as hell and though this, like I said, is understandable – It pervades the entire thing ceasessly. He puts himself into a position that he deems so horrible and upon realizing this is ridiculous he tells himself it’s God talking to him AND THEN HE KEEPS DOING IT. What spiritual affirmation could you possibly get by doing this over and over and gaining nothing from it except a voice in your head telling you it was meant to be?.. And if that IS affirming enough, why contradict this by writing a book and using the better part of 1’000 pages to complain about it.
    Between the voices in his head, the fact that he thinks you can somehow smoke LSD in a joint, and his straight-faced belief that Don has telekinetic powers (telekinetic RAPE powers no less) and then despite all of this making money covering music made by somebody who he feels did him so wrongly in the first place… I’m not so sure Don was the delusional one and, if so, he definitely wasn’t the only one. Maybe that mysterious smokable acid did it…


    1. So you read his book, right?

      You’re certainly free to have your own opinion, but not your own facts. John was nice enough to answer my questions, so let’s be nice enough to quote him accurately. He talked about Don’s admission to being involved in black magic. Black magic and telekinesis are not the same thing. If you want to dispute Mrs. Traylor’s claim, take it up with her, not with me pr John. She’s the one who made the claim / experienced it. John just relayed it to us.

      And I can’t stand the constant digs at John’s character from the Beefheart community. Yours is just one of many. John has every right to complain, as any human does, at the treatment he received during and after his time with Don. But you know what? He hung in there. Anyone who appreciates the Captain’s music (as I do) owes John a debt of gratitude for hanging in there and dealing with Don. Calling his book whiny or spiteful is just your interpretation. There’s A LOT of information in a nearly 900-page book and the nearly 10 pages John wrote here.


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