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Jeff Cotton Interview


Strictly Impersonal From Cotton's land!

By Ravi V. Chhabra


Jeffrey Ralph Cotton of Jeff Cotton as he is known to his friends and fans is a multi-talented American rock musician-guitarist, famous  for his work as a member of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band (CBMB). He first came to spotlight as guitarist with 'Merrell and the Exiles', who had a few local hits in 1964 in the Los Angeles area. He subsequently joined 'Blues in a Bottle', which also featured future Magic Band members Mark Boston, Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) and John 'Drumbo' French. He was inducted into the Magic Band in 1967 as a befitting replacement for the finest guitarist Ry Cooder.

Here is an {news FOR soul} exclusive/intensive interview with, India's First Online Magazine, Online Since 2003:

            Ravi V. Chhabra: I was studying one of your recent interviews where you said you had gifted a soprano saxophone to Don Vliet. I am fond of whenever and whichever Don Vliet has played it. Do you agree?

Jeff Cotton: Just like everything Don tackled, he had an attitude of innocence, of intense anticipation. While I gave Don his only two lessons on his new horn, he had the freedom to immediately venture out, and that type of innocent abandon, I admire.


            RVC: We all know most of the torturous part but are there good memories of the TMR house?

A2. Jeff Cotton: That there are good memories it is most assuredly so. Being the scribe for the Trout Mask material, it would usually be night time when the poet within Don, would show up. And for both of us, there would be long hours of stimulating mental activity; writing down the songs in real time, as they are being birthed, and then afterwards, speaking the Lyrics back to Don with every ounce of emotional, theatrical exuberance that this twenty-one year old could muster up. What we TMR musicians experienced, because of the extreme contrast, including the “power-over” mentality, almost make these memories appears special, if not magical.


            RVC: How often have you been in touch with the other members of the Magic Band? Mark Boston and I also go way back…..But as I recall, we really began playing together In “Blues in a Bottle. It is interesting that all four of us were all close friends, and pre-CBMB, we never so much as had an argument, much less than a disagreement. Mark and I talk only occasionally.

 Jeff Cotton: John French and I stay in close contact. Our history goes back to early High School, not to mention the many hours of playing music, together. Bill Harkleroad and I, although we connect less often. We were always close friends and in those days, we liked to hangout, and then we’d like to play music!

We have always had a healthy respect for one another’s playing, having fun challenging one another

            RVC: Your two favourite albums of the band and reasons?


 Jeff Cotton: What brought all four of us into the Band...I believe, in the first place, it was our anticipation of actually being able to play delta blues and to back a singer with such stage presence and authentic blues voice. Although Mirror Man was the most basic delta blues album that I played on, Strictly Personal was more creative, rehearsed and I think, it bridged the two worlds of delta blues and something new altogether. Trout Mask Replica was the completed transition, or metamorphosis. Of course, Trout Mask is my favorite CBMB album of all time, and not because I was one of the players. It stands in a category, all its own. It is a Testament to what can be achieved when “Your eye is single”.


            RVC: Did you interact with Jan and any memories?

Jeff Cotton: I never met Jan. Her name was just coming into the picture when I left the group.


            RVC: Mr. John Drumbo French got a real raw deal with TMR and personally, it saddens me. What are your views?


 Jeff Cotton:   Ravi, Perhaps we could omit this question. I am really not sure as to what you are referring to. John got more than one raw deal, as did the rest of the band.


            RVC: In your opinion was Don Vliet a better artist than a musician. Reasons?


Jeff Cotton: As an artist, Don was original and to me, that is a breath of fresh air. He was a very good harmonica player, one of the best. Don didn’t understand things in musical terms…sometimes he didn’t know when or where to begin singing and you would have to coach him. And as you recall, I mentioned his horn playing, in an earlier question. Had he developed the discipline to thoroughly learn an instrument, he could have perhaps excelled.

            RVC: As I have interviewed both JDF and Gary Lucas and they both have memorabilia by Don...what about you...any relic?

A8. Jeff Cotton: Ravi, no relics, no sketches, although I do have a pretty thorough collection of the various albums that I have played on.


            RVC: Did any of you expect that the TMR would be such a monumental  work of artistic brilliance in sound?

Jeff Cotton: Actually we did kind of expect TMR to be an important contribution. One day, as I recall, before we recorded the album, Don said to us when we gathered together outside, “you know man, one day people are going to come up to you and say wow, you guys did that".

            RVC: Your top two favourite jazz and rock guitarists to date?

Jeff Cotton: In jazz: Wes Montgomery and Gabor Szabo and in rock: Jimmy Hendrix and Jeff Beck

            RVC: If you were to mentor the Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band...what roles would you assign to musicians, including Don Vliet?

 Jeff Cotton: I don’t think I would change much…….It would be more about the style/genre of the music.

            RVC: We are all aware of Captain Beefheart's weird temperament and streaks of narcissism. How would you categorize or describe him as a person?


 JeffCotton: Don Vliet had a unique and perhaps child-like perception of the world which we see in his music and his painting. As a person, he could be charming and captivating when he wanted something. However, on the other side, he could leap out at any time. You couldn’t help but love the man, but it was very difficult to survive while living with him. I think he was schizophrenic.

            RVC: Who gave the titles to the songs. Examples please?


 Jeff Cotton: All Songs titles were from Don, as well as almost all of the music. With all of the talent that Don had around himself for so many years, I believe it is sad that because he would not allow the contribution of his fellow musicians, he greatly narrowed the potential audience and consequently the influence.       RVC: A few words and process about your recent and future musical project(s)?

 Jeff Cotton: So we are at close to 80% complete with both album 2 and album 3. We plan to release number 2, early in 2023. Of course, with the current state of the world, we will just have to see. I would love to play live, to tour Europe and meet all of my friends.


            RVC: If I'm not mistaken, you were not directly a part of the Laurel Canyon scene. Where were you then and what are your impressions about it?

 Jeff Cotton: At the time CBMB were living in Laurel Canyon, I was still in the Mojave desert and playing with 'Blues in a Bottle'. John French experienced those days in Laurel Canyon, while Mark Boston, Bill Harkleroad and I were playing in Antelope Valley.

            RVC: How many instruments do you play being a seasoned guitarist who has done a huge range?


 Jeff Cotton: On 'The Fantasy of Reality', I play all instruments. Acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, harmonica, keyboards, digital drums, bass clarinet, straight soprano saxophone, lead vocals and harmonies.

            RVC: What was Don's and the other band members favourite food...I mean I do know the life you guys were forced to live there but still...


Jeff Cotton: That’s a hard question to answers for Don, because he and his girlfriend Laurie, always had a secret stash in their closet. The rest of us ate such bland and simple food, like a small cup of roasted soy beans with salt.


            Are there any ladies singing in some of his tracks as I do feel he respected women?


 Jeff Cotton: There were no female vocalists in any of the albums that I played on. I do not recall hearing any females in subsequent recordings.


             RVC: Do you believe in afterlife/rebirth. Your views about religion?


Jeff Cotton: I remember an author who said it this way, “religion is man reaching out toward God. And spirituality is God’s answer to man". I can share my experience and pray that all people on this earth come to know “The One Who Is Love”.


RVC: Jeff many thanks for the time. I am so grateful as this. It now cements my bond as an interviewer with 3 wonderful, humble musicians of the fantastic CBMB that I have been in awe of since decades.

Jeff Cotton: Ravi, blessings to you and your readers.


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