John French (musician)

John French (musician)

Infobox musical artist
Name = John "Drumbo" French

Img_capt = DRUMBO
Birth_name = John French
Origin = San Bernadino, California
Occupation = Vocalist, Songwriter,Drummer
Genre = Rock, Alternative
Years_active = 1964—present
Label = Proper records
Associated_acts = Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa
URL = []

John "Drumbo" French (born 1949) is an American drummer and musician.

He played on Captain Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica", and also on various other Captain Beefheart records. Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) dubbed him "Drumbo". During the "Trout Mask Replica" sessions, French transcribed the musical ideas Beefheart played for him on piano for the rest of the band, thus making him one of the unsung musical geniuses within the Beefheart legend.

Early life

French was born in San Bernardino, in the same area of Southern California as Frank Zappa, Don Van Vliet and other Magic Band and Mothers of Invention members. He was interested in the local music scene as a teenager, hanging out with Doug Moon and watching The Omens on stage.

Playing career

Around 1964, he played and recorded with Merrell and The Exiles, a band led by Merrell Fankhauser and featured Jeff Cotton on guitar. French and Cotton joined Mark Boston in another band in 1966, sadly never recorded, called Blues in a Bottle. Bill Harkleroad aka Zoot Horn Rollo joined later, thus the nucleus of the "Trout Mask Replica" band was formed.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

French was invited to join Beefheart and the Magic Band in late 1966, as a replacement for Paul Blakeley. Having played on "Safe as Milk" (1967), his distinctive drumming style moulded the driving heavy psychedelic blues of "Strictly Personal" (1968) and "Mirror Man" (1968 released 1971). French was strangely and contentiously omitted from the credits of "Trout Mask Replica", as well as being largely absent from the band photos taken for the artwork. This may have been the result of the mind games that Vliet inflicted on the band. Shortly after the completion of "Trout Mask Replica" Beefheart sacked him, and replaced him with the inexperienced Jeff Bruschell. French was soon invited back however, and played on the critically-acclaimed albums "Lick My Decals Off, Baby", and "The Spotlight Kid", sharing percussion duties with Art Tripp aka Ed Marimba. Then in late 1972, just before an American tour, he was inexplicably sacked again.

Frank Zappa's Bongo Fury tour

Beefheart's contractual problems in 1975 forced him into touring with Frank Zappa's Bongo Fury tour, but when he was able he set to reforming The Magic Band. French was recruited as both drummer and musical director. 1976 saw the recording of "Bat Chain Puller", which due to legal ownership problems remains unreleased as a regular album. French also played guitar on some of these songs. He walked out on Beefheart when his friend John Thomas (keyboards) was sacked from the band. He was back to help out again in 1977, but had become disillusioned working with Van Vliet.

He visited Van Vliet in 1980 when he was on the phone hearing the news that he had no guitarist for the upcoming tour; French got the part, and also recorded "Doc at the Radar Station" with the band. Again he left, only to be invited back in 1982, while working at Tippi Hedren's exotic feline reserve. He might have accepted had not Van Vliet handed him 40 songs to learn in two weeks. French sealed the walkout the next day by returning the guitar Beefheart had loaned him.

Other Projects

French has subsequently made solo records, and played with the experimental group French Frith Kaiser Thompson and again with Kaiser in "Crazy Backwards Alphabet".

In 2000, he was involved in compiling and writing the sleeve notes for the anthology of Beefheart rarities "Grow Fins". He also gave an insight into the problems of working with Beefheart in the BBC documentary "The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Beefheart".

The Magic Band reformation

2003 saw him reform the Magic Band as a live act with Rockette Morton, Denny Walley and Gary Lucas. They divide the show into an instrumental and a vocal section. French handles the vocals and harmonica, handing over the drum kit to Robert Williams. They released an album "Back To The Front" in 2004 and a live CD, "21st Century Mirror Men", in 2005.

Of all the regular musicians who have played with Beefheart, French's contribution was perhaps the most under-rated. However, more recently, he has been recognised as indispensable.

City Of Refuge

In 2008, French plans to release a new solo album (under his "Drumbo" monicker) entitled "City Of Refuge." The album features other musicians from The Magic Band including Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton), Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) and Greg Davidson (aka Ella Guru). The album will be released on UK label Proper records. He also plans to release a book to coincide with the album's release about his time with Beefheart. The working title is "Captain Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic" and will probably be released in 2 parts.

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