The Magic Band has toured twice yearly in the UK and Europe since 2010 with the same lineup: But now this year, 2015, the lineup has changed with the inclusion of Andrew Niven on drums and Max Kutner on Guitar, Craig Bunch and Denny Walley having decided to pursue other interests.
John “Drumbo” French – Vocals, Harmonica, Saxophone, Drums
Max Kutner – Guitar
Eric Klerks – Guitar
Brian Havey – Keyboard
Andrew Niven – Drums
John “Drumbo” French
French grew up in Lancaster, hometown of Van Vliet and Zappa, but didn’t cross paths with Van Vliet until 1965. In ’66, he was invited to join the group to replace retiring drummer “PG” Blakely. John had previously played only semi-professionally, in Garage Bands with names like “The Maltesemen,” “The Intruders,” and most importantly, “Blues in the Bottle,” which contained three future Beefheart Alumni: Jeff Cotton, Mark Boston, and French. French fronted the latter band and sang, having been both influenced and inspired by Van Vliet’s growling vocals. The Magic Band member with the longest tenure – eight years over a period of fourteen — broken up with several periods of pursuing theatre, dance, and composing and art — French was the spearhead of The Magic Band reunion idea.
“Drumbo” has appeared on many of Beefheart’s landmark albums including “Safe as Milk,” “Strictly Personal,” “Mirror Man,” “Trout Mask Replica,” “Lick My Decals Off, Baby,” “Bat Chain Puller” (unreleased), and finally “Doc at the Radar Station,” on which he played primarily guitar, along with bass, drums, and marimba. He was also the unofficial transcriber/arranger of Trout Mask Replica” and “Bat Chain Puller.”
Contacting former members, he finally hit upon a combination with Denny Walley(Gtr.), Mark Boston ( Bass), Gary Lucas (Gtr.) , and Robert Williams – who was eventually replaced by drummer Michael Traylor. From 2003 – 2006, The Magic Band toured annually reviving the repertoire for new audiences including Glastonbury Festival 2004.
French’s drumming has been recognized as unique and original, and his hard-hitting polyrhythmic style was a perfect fit for Beefheart’s angular compositions. He has been recognized in Music Connection magazine in “A lexicon Of Undervalued Drummers,” and was recently featured in a “Modern Drummer” article. His recent CD, “City of Refuge” – an album written in The Magic Band style – was recently given great reviews by “Uncut,” “Mojo,” and “Record Collector,” among others. His emulation of Beefheart’s vocals and harmonica playing have received favorable response. His book, “Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic” (planned for release January 2010) describes the tumultuous experience of bringing Van Vliet’s concepts to fruition. He’s left the drum throne to sing, and play harmonica and sax.
“I felt like Van Vliet’s music was important, and participating in this reunion is my part in bringing it into focus once again.” French says.
Max Kutner is a guitarist and composer originally from Las Vegas, NV. He began playing guitar at the age of 11 after becoming enamored with a cassette of Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style”. Shortly thereafter, he discovered and devoured myriad artists through voraciously watching MTV. Also he spent hours listening to his grandfather’s record collection. Max’s grandfather was a performing saxophonist, singer and bandleader in New York for nearly 40 years. Max also loitered in various record stores where he would often sample nearly half a dozen albums a day for the bulk of his adolescence. His tastes and interests were augmented further during his studies at University of Nevada, Reno and especially at the renowned California Institute of the Arts where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 2009 and Master’s of Fine Art in 2011 respectively.
Max’s style, both as composer and performer, favors the incorporation of extensive free improvisation, extended techniques and a willful blindness to the handles of hi-brow and lo-brow art-making. He also focuses very intently on using space and context as the catalyst for performance and avoids the loathsome trappings of guitar idioms wherever possible. Since 2010, he has performed in many notable events at REDCAT, The Blue Whale, Catalina’s Jazz Club, The Coach House, The Carriage House, The Wild Beast, The Syracuse Jazz Festival, The Byron Bay Bluesfest, Beyond Baroque and many more. He has toured Europe and Australia extensively as well as a member of the Grandmothers of Invention whom he has been a member of since 2013. Additionally, he previously served on the Adjunct Faculty at the California Institute of the Arts as a guitar instructor. He has performed with Ulrich Krieger, Sofia Gubaidulia, Mike Keneally, Miroslav Tadic, John French, Denny Walley, Mark Boston, Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, Don Preston and also for the Montreal Guitar Quartet and Carlos Barbosa-Lima in master classes.
Klerks was born in Southern California. At age 14, his family settled in the San Francisco Bay area where he began to seriously study the guitar. Raised on classic rock, blues, classical music and R&B, all of these styles slowly crept into his playing. Eric traveled to Europe with his high school jazz band to perform in various festivals. Eventually, Eric moved to New Orleans to pursue a degree and learn jazz from its roots.
At Loyola University, New Orleans, he honed his musicianship during the day and at night he sat in at clubs; balancing academics and playing with about four hours of sleep a night. Katrina’s surprise visit in August 2005 left him homeless, possessing only a suitcase and a few of his guitars. Arriving in Los Angeles, he made arrangements to spend a semester at the California Institute of the Arts, later returning to New Orleans where he graduated Cum Laude.
In 2007, he moved back to Los Angeles to pursue a master’s degree at Cal Arts, where he met Scott Collins and Daren Burns. Scott introduced him to John French in the fall of 2008, and the rest is history.
Eric has studied and/or performed with Charlie Haden, Brian Seeger, Alan Broadbent, Larry Koonse, Tony DeGradi, Darek Oles and many others. Bands include Sound for the Organisation of Society, Gov’t Majik, Bodesattva, The Kelcy Mae Band, The Soy (with Jane Carrey), The Other Planets and various other projects of varying size and duration.
Andrew Niven is a drummer living in Los Angeles. Originally from Palo Alto, California, Andrew began his musical endeavors studying piano at age 7. After experimenting with guitar and bass he became infatuated with the drum set after hearing Jack DeJohnette coming through his parent’s stereo. He studied countless hours, taking lessons and studying the drumming of jazz greats Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes as well as rock drummers Bill Bruford, Stewart Copeland, Danny Carey and the drummers of the infamous Frank Zappa.
In college, Andrew studied marimba and orchestral percussion music with renowned percussionist and composer, Dr. Eugene Novotney and Humboldt State University. During this time Andrew was introduced to the music of John Cage and Edgar Varese, and developed a healthy obsession with the work of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Shostakovich. He also used his time with Dr. Novotney to study and perform Frank
Zappa’s notoriously difficult drum solo ‘The Black Page’.
After three years at Humboldt State, Andrew moved to Los Angeles to study his first love, Jazz, at the California Institute of the Arts. While at CalArts, Andrew studies with Jazz greats, Joe Labarbera, Charlie Haden, Alfonso Johnson, and David Roitstien, and studied Latin percussion with the great educator Aaron Serfaty. Andrew also became involved in the institute’s Balinese gamelan program and played drums with the master guitarist Miroslav Tadic, exploring the traditional music of Bulgaria and Macedonia.
After graduating CalArts’ Jazz Studies program Andrew stayed in Los Angeles and has been working as a musician for the past five years. He currently performs with the metal band Corpus Rex and the pseudo-jazz ensemble The DNA Trio.
Los Angeles native, Brian Havey started playing music at the age of 15 and has been immersed ever since. Though well-versed in many musical styles, Brian spends most of his time exploring creative improvised music. He has had the good fortune to play and perform with Charlie Haden, Joe LaBarbara, Jeff Hamilton, Mike Keneally, Darek Oles, Steve Cardenas, Larry Koonse, Bill Reichenbach, Tim Reis, Gregg Bissonette, Howie Shear, John Fumo, and others. Via the the myriad of projects he has been involved in, Brian has played throughout L.A. at such notable venues as: The Kodak Theatre, REDCAT, The Blue Whale, The Baked Potato, Charlie O’s, Catalina’s Bar & Grill, and The Jazz Bakery. He has also performed in jazz festivals including: The Monterey Jazz Festival, The Reno Jazz Festival, and The Ocho Rios Jazz Festival in Jamaica, and the Mid-Europe Music Festival in Schladming, Austria. He has studied with David Roitstein, Matt Harris, Gary Fukushima, Darek Oles, Larry Koonse, and Charlie Haden.
Brian holds a bachelor of music degree from California State University Northridge and a master of fine arts from California Institute of the Arts. While at Northridge, Brian studied with Matt Harris, Gary Fukushima, Darek Oles, and Gary Pratt and participated in the school’s flagship ensemble: The Jazz “A” Band. At CalArts, Brian continued his studies with David Roitstein, Darek Oles, Larry Koonse, Alfred Ladzekpo and Charlie Haden. Brian also delved into the world of electronic music and computer programming, studying Synthesis and Digital Signal Processing with the amazing Martijn Zwartjes. While in school, Brian was the winner of several prestigious academic-merit based scholarships, including the coveted Wolfson Scholarship, the highest honor of the entire graduating class at California State University Northridge and the Ahmenson Foundation Scholarship at CalArts.
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