featuring GARY LUCAS, arranged and conducted by PHILLIP  JOHNSTON

Fast 'N' Bulbous Facts & Figures

1. Fast 'N' Bulbous is band which was begun in 2001 as a collaboration between Phillip Johnston and Gary Lucas, to celebrate the music of Don van Vliet and The Magic Band by bringing a rollicking horn section and improvisational structures to the mostly strictly composed music which he/they developed in from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s.

2. Fast 'N' Bulbous has released two CDs:
Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind (2005) and
Waxed Oop (An Impetuous Stream Bubbled Up) (2008)
on Cuneiform Records.

3. There is a very interesting and musically literate interview with Phillip and Gary by Beppe Colli at:, as well as a wonderful review of Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind.

4. After not performing for a couple of years, Fast 'N' Bulbous recently performed a very well-received concert at the 2012 Zappanale, in Bad Doberan, GERMANY

Who Is Fast 'N' Bulbous?

Gary Lucas - guitar
Jesse Krakow - bass
Richard Dworkin - drums
Phillip Johnston - alto saxophone
Rob Henke - trumpet
Joe Fiedler - trombone
Dave Sewelson - baritone saxophone

SONGLIST: The repertoire is drawn from the entire range of Beefheartiana, from Safe As Milk through Ice Cream For Crow, (and concentrating heavily on Troutmaskreplica.)

DESCRIPTION OF MUSIC: The idea is to use the compositions of Don Van Vliet as a vehicle for improvisation and arranging. The band consists of a steady crew of seasoned improvisers from both the worlds of avant-garde jazz and rock, who will render the music in both a tribute and a creative adventure in improvising. We use the horn section to take the place of the vocals, as well as transmute this guitar-based music into ensemble interplay, between horns and guitar and rhythm section.

HISTORY: First performances of the group were in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Brugge, Belgium, and Bremen, Germany in October of 2001. On Feb 9th, 2002, the group made its New York debut, in a sold-out show at The Knitting Factory that included a reading by Mike Barnes from his biography of Captain Beefheart, and a program of rare videos of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. (see reviews) Subsequent gigs include 6 European tours, the Walker and Wexner Art Centers, and New York venues including Joe's Pub & (Le) Poisson Rouge.

GARY LUCAS/STATEMENT: Seeing Don Van Vliet's NYC debut at Ungano's in '71 with a bunch of my Yale buddies changed my life radically (and I'm still trying to recover!)--that night I vowed to myself that if I ever did anything in music it would be to play with this guy...and I got my wish in 1980 when I joined Captain Beefheart's merry Band as guest soloist (and manager by default)/ Over 4 years, 2 albums ("Doc at the Radar Station" and "Ice Cream for Crow", 1980 and 1982, Virgin Records), a world tour and video ("Ice Cream for Crow"), wrapping my fingers around 2 Van Vliet solo compositions ("Flavor Bud Living" and "Evening Bell") and a whole album as part of the Magic Band ("Ice Cream for Crow) was wonderful training for a career spent carving out my own niche in the post-modern music biz since Don chucked it all for painting in 1984. While my own music bares scant resemblance to his (I would never ever presume to emulate his singular approach) I feel that Van Vliet's sensibility and aesthetic definitely informs my guitar playing and overall worldview--it's like I went to Beefheart University.i>

In about 1970 I heard my first Captain Beefheart tune, Ella Guru; it was one of the things that changed my life and made me want to do music. From the first concert of Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band that I heard (Ungano's Ritz Theater, in Staten Island). I was hooked, and I followed them somewhat fanatically for years. To this day I listen to my same LP of Troutmaskreplica regularly, and it's still just as amazing. Although my main musical interests took me more often into the area of jazz, the music of Don Van Vliet remained a guiding principal throughout. I led a rock band, called the Public Servants in the early '80s, with Shelley Hirsch; and the tune "Pipeline" on my CD "The Needless Kiss" is my idea of a Captain Beefheart-influenced tune (and I say so in the liner notes). In much of the music I've written over the years, I see the guiding spirit of Don Van Vliet.

Now for the first time, after almost 30 years, having done re-arrangements and deconstructions of Raymond Scott, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Steve Lacy, Herbie Nichols, and others, with my groups The Microscopic Septet & Big Trouble, I've gotten together with my friend Gary Lucas, to do something with the music of Captain Beefheart.


"... Led by saxophonist Phillip Johnston and featuring ex-Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas, Fast 'n Bulbous proved that Beefheart's songs deserve to be played in his absence and are, for all their knotty logic, quite PLAYABLE. It was odd to see four hornmen reading charts as they tore through the messy ecstasy of "When Big Joan Sets Up," from 1969's "Trout Mask Replica." But Johnston's brass scores hit the R&B meat and twisted swing that Beefheart embedded in spidery guitars. "Pachuco Cadaver," also from "Trout Mask", became a New Orleans marching-band romp. A power-trio medley of "Click Clack" and "Ice Cream for Crow" with Lucas on searing bottleneck guitar celebrated the rock in Beefheart's extremes. Beefheart never became the star he felt he should be. Yet on nights like this, it still seems possible--if he'd just come back.

     - David Fricke, The Rolling Stone.

"...the all-instrumental Fast 'n' Bulbous slammed into Trout Mask's "Pachuco Cadaver," replacing Beefheart's vaguely licentious Howlin' Wolf vocals ("She wears her past like uh present/Take her fancy in the past") with rich, brassy harmonies that illuminated the epigrammatic contours of the composer's earthy expressionism.

Fast 'n' Bulbous didn't try to replicate the Magic Band's unique deployment of parallel themes in differing tempos and keys. And while I missed John "Drumbo" French's almost linguistic drum parts, I fell completely for the rampant party spirit that pervaded "Veteran's Day Poppy," "When It Blows Its Stacks," and "Tropical Hot Dog Night." The band's joyful noises did justice to Beefheart's nature-boy ardor for flesh and grit, in anticipation, let's hope, for some after-school specials down the line."

     - Richard Gehr, The Village Voice.

" if by magic, the musicians began to grow fractious and obstreperous, with the horn players tugging in opposite directions from the core of "Abba Zaba," chattering and arguing like squirrels engaged in a turf battle. That sound, at once grating and charmingly nature-rooted, would've made Beefheart proud. The same could be said for the band's deconstruction of "When Big Joan Sets Up" (a piece that's loopy even by Beefheart standards): Braying, giggling and cajoling brass elements -- and wiry contributions from a slyly grinning Lucas -- converged, creating a veritable carnival midway onstage."

        - Reuters

"...As arranger, Mr. Johnston had some clever ideas: he turned Mr. Van Vliet's art-brut soprano-saxophone playing into notable material and assigned some slide-guitar parts to the trombone. The rhythm section, the bassist Jesse Krakow and the drummer Richard Dworkin, had a tough job in playing these saw-toothed, broken-field rhythms; they came close to the intended sound, and Mr. Krakow in particular played every nuance of the originals. The set kept returning to "Trout Mask Replica," Beefheart's masterpiece. From it, the band played the jerky "Pachuco Cadaver"; "The Blimp," with its nutty recitative; the tearing-tempo "When Big Joan Sets Up"; "Veteran's Day Poppy."

        - Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

"...Fast 'N Bulbous play it just right. For starters, they are all excellent, exploratory musicians and cope with the structure of even the "Trout Mask" songs with great aplomb; "Pachuco Cadaver" had all the obtuse correspondences of instruments - and sudden time changes plucked from the ether - down brilliantly. The guitar and bass parts were spot on and only an ultra nerd/pedant would criticise the drummer for not playing John French's parts exactly beat-for-beat. Anyway that wasn't the point he got under the skin of the rhythm in a freewheeling, French-ian style and hit all the cues spot on. Meanwhile, Gary has obviously done his homework and got all the knuckle-busting chords down, and the bass player is a dextrous monster. I'm not surprised the crowd were baying in between the pieces.

The group's big, physical yet intricate sound was a joy to hear for both the Beefheartophile and, I'm sure, for the merely curious. I was expecting it to be good but my expectations were surpassed in grand style. Who knows? Maybe even Don would have liked it."

        - Mike Barnes, Wire writer, and author of "Captain Beefheart."

Fast 'N' Bulbous links

For booking contact:

Email Phillip Johnston.
Email Gary Lucas.

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