john french a.k.a. drumbo


in 1996, the bbc radio broadcasted john french's concert at the "5th annual festival of experimental music" at the conway hall, london, uk.  during this solo performance / drum clinic, john 'drumbo' french not only performed a couple of van vliet compositions, but also talked about his experiences with the magic band.  in 1998 he recorded his first solo album that included a bunch of beefheart material as well.

John French - Born: 1949  


John French about the picture on the right:
"This is before the hair turned grey.  It was fun to do this shot, I call it "Bwana Drumbo."  Photo Credit goes to Richard Thompson (a different guy, not the guitarist.)  we were looking for the Film Noir look. "



  captain beefheart and his magic band: safe as milk
    (1967, usa, lp, buddha)

  captain beefheart & his magic band: strictly personal
    (1968, lp, usa, blue thumb)

  captain beefheart & his magic band: trout mask replica
    (1969, 2lp, usa, straight)

  captain beefheart & the magic band: lick my decals off, baby
    (1970, lp, usa, straight)

  captain beefheart & his magic band: mirror man
    (1971, lp, usa, buddha)

  captain beefheart: the spotlight kid
    (1972, lp, usa, reprise)

  mallard: mallard (1)
    (1975, lp, ??, virgin records  v2045) - feat. art tripp III, incl.
'peon' (van vliet) & songs co-written by john french  
  captain beefheart and the magic band: doc at the radar station
    (1980, lp, usa, virgin)

  henry kaiser: aloha
    (1981, lp, usa, metallanguage ml 109) - feat. john french
  crazy backwards alphabet: crazy backwards alphabet
    (1987, lp, usa, sst)
  french, frith, kaiser, thompson: live, love, larf & loaf
    (1987, cd, usa, rhino rncd 70831)
  french, frith, kaiser, thompson: invisible means
    (1990, cd, usa, windham hill records wd-1094)
  1991 circle dance ...- circle dance...   (drums, vocals)
  captain beefheart: i may be hungry, but i sure ain't weird
    (1992, cd, uk, sequel)

  crazy backwards alphabet: crazy backwards alphabet
    (1992, cd, ??, ??) - reissue with extra tracks
  1993 thompson, richard- watching the dark   (drums, vocals) 
  john french: waiting on the flame
    (1995, cd, uk, demon records fiendcd 759) - feat.bill harkleroad
  1995 all day thumbsucker revisited


frank zappa: the lost episodes
   (1996, cd, usa, ryko)
  1996 scott colby: slide crazy!   (drums)  
  john french: o solo drumbo
    (1998, cd, jpn, avant avan024) - incl.various beefheart related compositions

  captain beefheart & his magic band: grow fins - rarities [1965-1982]
    (1999, 5cd-box, usa, revenant records revenant 210)

  captain beefheart & his magic band: grow fins vol.I: just got back from the city / electricity
    (1999, 2lp, usa, xeric)

  captain beefheart & his magic band: grow fins vol.II: trout mask house sessions
    (1999, 2lp, usa, xeric)

  1999 captain beefheart- the dust blows forward
  henry kaiser: here's to you, zoogz
    (1999, cdr, usa, private release) - incl. various van vliet compositions
  derek bailey: playbacks
    (1999, cd, usa, bingo) - feat.john french
  cucamonga by rudy vanderlans
    (2000, book + cd, usa, emigre) - a photo-book plus cd incl. john french: ' vienna sausage waltz'
  2000 songs in the key of z: the curious universe of outsider music
  captain beefheart & his magic band: grow fins vol.III: grow fins
    (2001, 2lp, usa, xeric)

  captain beefheart and the magic band: dust sucker
    (2002, cd, uk, milksafe bf 6003)

  captain beefheart: magnetic hands
    (2002, cd, uk, viper cd 011)
  captain beefheart: railroadism
    (2003, cd, uk, viper cd 015)


the magic band: back to the front
    (2003, cd, uk, atprcd 7) - all compositions by don van vliet

  the magic band: live in concert & crow's milk
    (2004, dvd, uk, subdiva) - all compositions by don van vliet


the magic band: 21st century mirror men
    (2005, cd + dvd, uk, proper records) - all compositions by don van vliet
  michael maksymenko: business cide
    (2008, cd, uk, rer mm1) - feat.john french

  captain beefheart: it comes to you in a plain brown wrapper
    (2008, 2lp, usa, sundazed)

  john french: city of refuge
    (2008, cd, uk, proper records) - feat.bill harkleroad, mark boston, greg davidson & john thomas

  tom waits: under influence
    (2010, dvd, ??, sexy intellectual) = documentary film // feat. moris tepper and john french
  the magic band: oxford, june 6, 2005
    (2011, cd, usa, sundazed) - all compositions by don van vliet

magicband_oxford_cd.jpg (15893 bytes)

  from straight to bizarre
    (2012, dvd, uk, chrome dreams)

  beefheart: bat chain puller
    (2012, cd, usa, vaulternative records vr 2012-1)

cb_bcp.jpg (68067 bytes)

  captain beefheart and the magic band: son of dust sucker
    (2012, cd, uk, ozit dandelion cd 6013)

cb_sonofdustsucker.jpg (70683 bytes)

  captain beefheart and the magic band: frank freeman's dance club and other rarities
    (2013, lp, uk, ozit dandelion lp 8013) - record store day release / 1000 numbered copies on purple vinyl

cb_frankfreeman_lp.jpg (44466 bytes)


the magic band: plays the music of captain beefheart
    (2013, cd, uk, proper music) - all compositions by don van vliet

themagicband_playsthemusicofcb_cd.jpg (31551 bytes)

  the magic band: zappanale 25
    (2014, dvdr, ger, arf society) - all compositions by don van vliet

z25_magicband_dvdr.jpg (15187 bytes)


the magic band: magnetic draw
    (2015, 2dvd, uk, urban apache) - all compositions by don van vliet

mb_magneticdraw.jpg (34742 bytes)

  the magic band: singing through you
    (2015, dvd, uk, private release) - all compositions by don van vliet

mb_singingthroughyou.jpg (26769 bytes)




concerts, radio shows, ...

  1. abba zaba
  2. bat chain puller
  3. p k ro p beat


random notes

     From: Patrick Neve (

Drumbo is currently working a book.. details forthcoming!
Readers are probably most aware of John French's work as a Magic Band member, but there was at least one instance of him jamming with Zappa,
as can be heard on "Alley Cat" from "The Lost Episodes".


     From: John French

I remember very little about that particular jam (Alley Cat).  I do recall jamming in the basement studio and doing a thing in 3/4 time.  I was the only drummer around at the time and there were quite a few musicians there.  It was just before Trout Mask Replica was recorded.  Frank had a little chord change/ melody written out and I just played by ear.  I think Eliot Ingber was there.  It turned out very nice.  However, Don was very upset with me for "getting into Frank's music more than I got into his music."  I tried to explain that Don's music was very difficult to learn and Franks piece in 3/4 was much simpler and left more room for liberties.

Note:  I don't want people to get the idea that I think Frank wrote "simple music,"  some of his stuff was very complex, but it didn't break as many rules and so therefore was easier to grasp than Don Van Vliets.

The John French entry had a couple of errors. Thanx to Chris Fisher and Duncan Kimball. Here we go:

Just a quick note to give you some info and possible corrections for your John French entry:

FYI there are two John Frenchs. The 'other' John French is a noted Australian producer-engineer, based in Melbourne. He is not the same person as John 'Drumbo' French of the Magic Band.

The following production/engineering credits you have listed on that page are for 'our' Aussie John French:

audihaun says: "I recently received a message from John Drumbo French to update me on progress with his new recordings"

So here Rockette and I are at Proper Record's wonderful new studio recording my new CD "City of Refuge" which is basically a Magic Band influenced compilation of music I've put together over the last year and a half.

I'm listening to Rockette put a bass line on a song called "Maybe That'll Teach Ya" which is based loosely on a jam that was done by Don, Doug Moon, and myself. I used the Moon riff and Don's line "Maybe That'll Teach Ya" and wrote a whole song around it about the futility of revenge. It's a more bluesy kind of simple piece.

I don't think Mark or I have ever sounded better together. This has been a lot of fun and I'm sure that Beefheart fans will be pleased as this will fill a particular need for new fresh material in the style of the Magic Band. I started getting these ideas about six months into the project, I suppose, as a result of the complete saturation I was undergoing to achieve a reasonable MB sound.

So, just thought I'd update you.

Gotta go, John French


2008 09 04
from Proper Records

Drumbo release date / sound clips

City Of Refuge

Recognised among many as one of the most innovative percussionists of his generation, Drumbo now sets out to resurrect the style of music he helped make famous in Captain Beefheart's legendary Magic Band.


  1. Bogeyman

  2. Bus Ticket Outta Town

  3. Blood On A Porcupine Quill

  4. City Of Refuge

  5. Abandon

  6. Get So Mean

  7. Maybe That'll Teach Ya

  8. To The Loft Of Ravenscroft

  9. The Shirt Off My Back

  10. Wicked Witch Of War

  11. Whose Side Ya On

  12. The Withered Hand Of Time



Here's the paradox of John "Drumbo" French: his influence has been sizable and significant, while remaining largely invisible. As the drummer and music director for revered iconoclasts Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band, Drumbo made central contributions to a handful of LPs - notably 1969's mind-altering, revered masterpiece "Trout Mask Replica," on which French first acquired the antic stage-name "Drumbo" - that vastly expanded the parameters of contemporary music. Yet while the group earned droves of ultra-impassioned admirers, its music was too unusual and idiosyncratic to spawn many direct descendants.

The same is true of Drumbo himself. While his hugely energetic, exceptionally disciplined playing told us new things about the drums and their possibilities, it was too personal, and context-specific, to be taken up by many other players. But what Drumbo did - memorably, gorgeously - was to provide a model for musical invention. After exposure to Drumbo's extraordinary reinvention of his instrument, a generation of drummers responsive to innovation felt liberated to go their own ways. French sired not so much a school of playing as a possibility of freedom.

For his new CD, "City of Refuge," Drumbo set out to inject new life into the style and traditions of The Magic Band, while creating an album that can easily stand on its own. Working with Magic Band alumni Bill Harkelroad (aka "Zoot Horn Rollo"), Mark Boston (aka "Rockette Morton"), Greg Davidson (aka "Ella Guru"), and John Thomas (keyboardist on "Bat Chain Puller"), the record shows where Drumbo has been and indicates where he's going. It's a craggy, bluesy, melody-laced mixture of interlocking rhythms and straight-ahead emotion - and something that no one interested in richly challenging electric music will want to miss.



frank zappa  / musicians timeline



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