Mallard: Captain Beefheart's Magic Band without Beefheart

The mid-‘70’s band Mallard was formed by former members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, after they had become fed up with working with the avant garde artist when he briefly went mainstream in 1974. Initially made up of guitarist Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo), bassist Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton), percussionist Art Tripp III (aka Ed Marimba), and a vocalist named Sam Galpin, Mallard recorded two albums that were released in the United Kingdom. Mallard (1975) and In A Different Climate (1976) did not possess nearly the same amount of quirkiness as the works of the band members’ former leader, but they did display unique musicianship just the same.

The self-titled Mallard is a surprisingly rustic set of country-blues tracks, sometimes laced with a healthy dose of funk rhythm. It sounded as if these Magic Band refugees had fled from Southern California in favor of a wider open area of the American South, not unlike the musical route taken by Little Feat after its founders were ejected from Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention. Although they applied some of the unconventional musicianship they had learned under the Captain’s tutelage, the band seemed much more relaxed in this setting, free from Beefheart’s notoriously dictatorial control. Vocalist Sam Galpin presumably did not have the same multi-octave vocal range as Don Van Vliet, but his gruff voice is vaguely reminiscent of the Captain’s. The first two tracks, “Back On The Pavement” and “She’s Long And She’s Lean”, have War-like funk grooves mixed into their swamp-rock foundations. Two instrumentals, “Road To Morocco” and “Yellow”, are easy to imagine as wild Beefheart jams, but the former Magic Bandmates take a more civilized approach here. Their cover of Guy Clark’s ballad “Desperados Waiting For A Train” is a particularly straightforward country effort. John “Rabbit” Bundrick contributes electric piano to three tracks (“One Day Once”, “A Piece Of Me”, “Reign Of Pain”), making those tracks sound a bit less earthy than the rest. The last two tracks finally tread (albeit very softly) close to Decals-era Beefheart territory: “Winged Tuskadero”, with its lead vocal by bassist Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston, gently echoes Beefheart’s vibrant quirkiness; and their remake of the Beefheart instrumental “Peon” has a smooth serenity that is entirely unlike Van Vliet’s version, incorporating the sounds of birds chirping as if it was recorded in a peaceful meadow.

In A Different Climate, the second and final Mallard album, was produced by the now-legendary Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who added considerable polish to the band’s swamp-rock sound – but not necessarily for the better. The drums were here played by George Draggotta, and the keyboards were played by John Thomas (who had briefly been involved with the Magic Band). The opening track “Green Coyote” is the band's catchiest tune, propelled by an accessible Little Feat-like groove. The eight-minute instrumental “Heartstrings” presents Mallard as a classy and sophisticated jazz combo. Unfortunately, those two high points are separated by three ballads which have a smoothness that borders on MOR blandness, with Galpin sounding much like Joe Cocker; the best of those is “Harvest”, which features John McFee from Clover on pedal steel guitar. Just a short glimpse of Beefheartian quirkiness finally shows up on “Old Man Grey”, on which Mark Boston sings the lead vocal and plays the dobro; somehow it merges right into the more Little Feat-like “Texas Weather”. The final track “Big Foot” closes the album on a prog note – which is not the ending that Mallard’s studio output deserved, and ultimately, neither is In A Different Climate.

Notes: Mallard was never released in the U.S., but In A Different Climate was released in the States in 1977 (Virgin PZ 34489). In 1994, both Mallard albums were reissued on a single CD in the U.K. and Europe (Virgin CDOVD 442).

Mallard - Mallard

Mallard “Mallard” (Virgin V 2045) 1975

Track Listing:

1. Back On The Pavement
2. She’s Long And She’s Lean
3. Road To Morocco
4. One Day Once
5. Yellow
6. Desperados Waiting For A Train
7. A Piece Of Me
8. Reign Of Pain
9. South Of The Valley
10. Winged Tuskadero
11. Peon

Mallard - In a Different Climate

Mallard “In A Different Climate” (Virgin V 2077) 1976

Track Listing:

1. Green Coyote
2. Your Face On Someone Else
3. Harvest
4. Mama Squeeze
5. Heartstrings
6. Old Man Grey
7. Texas Weather
8. Big Foot