Captain Beefheart special with John French in conversation with David Eastaugh.
French was invited to join Beefheart and the Magic Band in late 1966, as a replacement for Paul Blakely. 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, but not released till 1971). During the Trout Mask Replica sessions, French transcribed the musical ideas Beefheart played for him on piano for the rest of the band.
However, shortly after the completion of Trout Mask Replica, French was booted out of the group rather violently by Beefheart and was replaced by the inexperienced Jeff Bruschell. French was also contentiously omitted from the credits of Trout Mask Replica and was largely absent from the band photos taken for the artwork. Nevertheless, he was soon invited back 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 left again.
Beefheart's contractual problems in 1975 forced him to join Frank Zappa's Bongo Fury tour, but as soon as he was able he reformed The Magic Band and French was recruited as both drummer and music director. 1976 saw the recording of the original version of Bat Chain Puller, which due to legal ownership problems remained unreleased until 2012. French also played guitar as well as drums on some of these songs. He walked out on Beefheart when his friend John Thomas (keyboards) was sacked from the band.
French visited Beefheart in 1980 looking for work and was hired to take part in the recording of Doc at the Radar Station, playing guitar (and drumming on two tracks). He left before the band toured though, when Beefheart handed him a list of 40 songs to learn over a 3-month period. French sealed the walkout the next day by returning the guitar Beefheart had loaned him.