Greg Davidson Interview 
1999/2000

Greg 'Ellaguru' Davidson played guitar for the short-lived incarnation of the Magic Band brought together for the Knebworth Festival in 1975. The band also played a series of shows at the Roxy and were recorded for a potential TV appearance (which never happened because the filming was a disaster).

Through a piece of good luck and the help of music writer Kevin Delaney I was able to make contact with Greg sometime in 1998 (I think it was about then). Over the next few years we were in intermittent contact and Greg kindly answered a number of questions I threw at him.

I dithered about putting on the site because he hadn't given final approval but finally decided to make it available. Which proved to be the best course of action because Greg came across it and made contact again in November 2003. This has resulted in a few additions to this interview.

Thanks, Greg!

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Steve Froy:
How did you come to be in the Magic Band ?

Greg Davidson:
I met the Captain in 1975 when he was with Frank Zappa's band doing the "Bongo Fury" tour, in Chicago. I knew some of the guys in Zappa's band and I went backstage after the concert. I had been listening to the Captain for years and loved his music. I approached him and said "Are you going to have another band after this tour?" He said yes. I said "I play guitar and can play your stuff and if you want, I'll play both guitar parts at the same time" (I don't know why I said that!) He said "Come on over to the hotel." I did, we jammed a little and after a few minutes he said "You're in the band". A few weeks later I flew to L.A. and joined.

SF:
Where you in a band at the time?

GD:
I had played in the usual local bands, nothing too serious. I was 23 at the time and working in a camera store.

SF:
What was your musical background?

GD:
I majored in music and photography in college. I played a lot of Blues and did some finger picking.

SF:
Were you a Beefheart fan ?

GD:
I was a HUGE Beefheart fan.

SF:
How/when did you get into Don's music ? (It's always interesting to hear how other fans picked up on the band).

GD:
Here's the truth: My brother bought a sampler album of many different artists. There was "Ella Guru" on it from Trout Mask. I thought it was definitely different and I went out and bought the double album. I was surprised as right from the beginning the songs weren't songs like one is used to. Very obtuse, dense, unpleasant at times. Songs that were a minute and a half seemed a lot longer. Out of the many songs on the 4 sides I only liked a handfull. But because I was cheap and wanted my money's worth for the expenditure of a double album, I decided to listen to it over and over until I thought I got my money's worth. Eventually I liked more and more of the songs and then it was difficult to listen to "regular" music (though I was listening a lot to Frank Zappa - hardly "regular")

SF:
Do you have any particular favourite songs/albums?

GD:
I like "Strictly Personal" ... very haunting at times. "Kandy Korn", "Peon", "Big Eyed Beans from Venus", a ton of stuff from "Trout Mask". I also listen to Blues (Mike Bloomfield) and some finger pickers (Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke, Adrain Legg).

I respond more to the earlier recordings of the band (Strictly Personal, Mirror Man, Trout Mask) for guitar tone. The Gibson sound with it's deep full tones...You can hear great control of feedback in those albums. The squeaky Fender tones have their place, but I enjoy the careful manuevering of the resonance from the hollow body type guitars. Jeff Cotton's playing is masterful at this.

SF:
How did you come to know the guys in Zappa's band?

GD:
When I was a teen, a friend of mine and I knew where Zappa's band was going to play the next day. We called the place he was gonna play and from reading the album cover jackets, we knew the name of the road manager(Dick Barber). So we said we were with Dick Barber and we got good traffic and had all the band's equipment in the truck and didn't know what to do, where are they staying? The place told us and we went off to the hotel and met Frank and the band sitting around at the pool. We actually went there and helped with the equipment and he let us stay around back stage. I always caught his concerts and there would be someone I knew in the band and always got backstage.

SF:
There's a lot of speculation about Don's relationship with Zappa duringthe 'Bongo Fury' tour and why he'd got involved with it. Are you able to shed any light on this?

GD:
Not really. When I was in the Beefheart Band, we rehearsed at Zappa's studio,
so I saw him here and there. Don was always very respectful of Frank.

SF:
If Don was planning a new Magic Band what were his intentions for it - were there shows already booked, was anything already planned?

GD:
After I auditioned and said I was in the band, we hung out all day the next day. He said he would call me, and I really didn't believe him. He called 3 weeks later and said "We're going to England to play Knebworth with Pink Floyd"

SF:
Were the rest of the Magic Band already recruited or were there auditions?

GD:
Everyone else was already in the band, except for a bass player. We auditioned a few, but it didn't work with any of them. Then I got the idea of having Bruce Fowler play the bass parts on trombone with an octave divider. From knowing Bruce I knew he could do it.

SF:
What were the rehearsals like? Where were they?

GD:
We rehearsed in L.A. at Frank Zappa's studio. One of the original Mousketeers was our secretary. Herb Cohen managed Zappa and us and also Tom Waits. Rehearsals were something else. Very productive. Most of the time we were trying to get everything note for note off the albums because as Don said, "Unless we play it perfect note for note, no one will believe the music on the albums was done on purpose" ! Believe me, there was some sheet music there with squeeks and scrapes all written out as done on Trout Mask. At other times we jammed for fun. I have some home-made recordings of some of that stuff. At times, half the band would play it's part then the other half would play it's part because there were two rhythms going on simultaneously and was easier to separate and then combine.

[Greg had hopes of getting some of these rehearsals released on CD but, sadly, nothing has yet come of it - SF]

SF:
How was it decided which songs to do? Do you have a favourite you enjoy playing?

GD:
Don told us what songs to do. John French helped tremendously with the arrangements. He can play guitar so sometimes he demonstrated. In fact on Dali's Car at Knebworth I am playing one guitar part and he is playing the other. I liked playing all of it! It was a blast playing regular left hand fingering mixed with slide on that hand and combining flat picking and finger picking on the right hand.

SF:
Did you hang out with the other guys in the band beyond rehearsals?

GD:
Most definitely. Always. I stayed a few days with Elliot. John and I roomed together at a hotel next to Zappa's studio where we rehearsed. One night with Jimmy Carl Black at an apartment owned by Chuck Berry. I also stayed with Don for awhile up in the desert. Don and I would OFTEN hang out in restaurants ALL night, but it was fun.

[At one of these sessions Greg jammed with Don and John French. Although taped this fascinating piece of music has never been released - SF]

SF:
Did Don actually join in with rehearsals?

GD:
Yes he did, with much input. And of course he sang.

SF:
How long did you get to rehearse before heading off to Knebworth?

GD:
3 weeks.

SF:
Did you get an impression of Don's attitude to music and playing shows at this time?

GD:
Don loved it and enjoyed it.

SF:
Do you think that using Bruce Fowler as 'bass' player influenced the overall sound of that particular band and how everyone else played?

GD:
I do believe it was my idea to get Bruce. We had gone through a few regular bass players, but they didn't work out. I knew Bruce could handle it. I don't think it influenced any of our playing at all. We really had to concentrate on our stuff! It definitely changed the sound of the band. No clicking of bass strings or percussive effects. Very smooth.

SF:
What gigs were played?

GD:
We did a "Soundstage" show for public television in Chicago along with Tom Waits. Ours was never aired because they couldn't get a tape where the songs were complete because of technical problems. We then flew to Knebworth and then did 4 shows at the Roxy in Hollywood.


SF:
How/when did you get your 'Ellaguru' band name?

GD:
Don said to me, "What's your name going to be in the band?" I said "Huh?" He said everyone has to have a name. I said I was just going to use my real name. He said you can't. I said I wanted to. He pressed so I just picked the first thing in my mind. I used to impersonate some vocal noises from the song "Ella Guru", so that was on my mind and I just said the name. Don combined my name with with and that's what you hear him call me during our performance of "Big Eyed Beans" during that Looooong Lunar note.

SF:
What was your reaction to being told you were playing with Pink Floyd at Knebworth?

GD:
Well, of course I thought it was great. I knew about it before even before I left Chicago to join the band. The over-all impact of joining the band at the time was much bigger to me.

SF:
When did the band break up? Any particular reason?

GD:
I'm not sure. After the Roxy I flew back to Chicago because we didn't have any gigs lined up for a while. I personally didn't go back because of disagreements with Herb Cohen, our manager

SF:
Have you played in any bands since and what are you doing these days?

GD:
I never played in a "professional" band of that caliber since. I play in a Blues Band around Chicago. Not a big deal. I went into the Special Film effects business after the Magic Band. For an income I fix people with back and neck pain. I am a "Dr. of Naprapathy". ( So, now I'm Doctor Ella Guru!)

 

[December 2003 update: Greg is working with someone with a view to getting the Magic Band rehearsal tapes he has cleaned up and released for public consumption. Fingers crossed we'll get to hear them soon]


 

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