“I did the movie with Ringo Starr and it was a very heartening experience for me – being a huge Beatles fan. I really enjoyed spending the time I got with Ringo. He even gave me a birthday celebration on 1st February 1971 at Pinewood Studios, where the movie was filmed.” – Jimmy Carl Black, 2 March 2003
By 2003, Black was a regular feature of Muffin Men shows around Europe. The band decided to celebrate their thirteenth year of operation, and were invited to play two sets at Zappanale (one with Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ike Willis; one with Black). All this prompted this three-way chat with Black, main Muffin Roddie Gilliard and the band's German drummer, Tilo Pirnbaum.
Roddie, why is it that every Liverpudlian over 50 claims they were a card-carrying member of the Cavern Club?
Roddie Gilliard: Probably because, if they were into music at the time, they were – there were only a few places where you could hear live music. By the way, I’m not 50 (just yet) and for at least a few years I too was a member of that club.
Ever had any close encounters with a Beatle yourself?
RG: Paul comes into college a few times every year.
JCB: As you know, I did the movie with Ringo Starr and it was a very heartening experience for me – being a huge Beatles fan. I really enjoyed spending the time I got with Ringo. He even gave me a birthday celebration on 1st February 1971 at Pinewood Studios, where the movie was filmed.
Where were you on 8 December 1980?
RG: I was living in Everton, working for the Council, had a clock radio to wake me up at 06:45 each morning – it was all over the news – first thing I did was get up and put the kettle on, then I went to my stereo and played Happiness Is A Warm Gun very loud. I kid you not!
No, but they probably don’t know that we intend to cover Je T’Aime either.
Aside from Macca, who’s the greatest living Englishman?
RG: Probably too many to mention. But let’s start with Tommy Cooper, Dixie Dean, Tony Hancock, Bill & Ben, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Oh and by the way, Macca isn’t one of them.
But at least he’s living.
RG: Well, Tommy Cooper, Dixie Dean, Tony Hancock, and Bill & Ben will never die – at least in this boy's eyes.
Okay. But this guys eyes saw Tommy Cooper die on stage on Frank’s 40th birthday. He was the support act to The Police in a tent on Tooting Bec Common at the time. Did I feel guilty a few years later? No, not really…so, how many spoons do you own?
JCB: Oh, about a thousand – not counting the ones my wife, Moni, has.
RG: Far too many.
You can never have too many.
Tilo Pirnbaum: I like all sorts of spoons, although I wouldn't dare to say I like them as much as other members of the group. But really, I prefer a good spoon in bed. (You can ask Jimmy for guidance on this one.)
I don’t want to know! Who was Screamin’ Johnny Kilmarnock?
RG: A drummer we had for one tour. He liked a drink, and would do fairly good impressions of drunken Scotsmen – even when he was sober.
You’ve performed with Jimmy, Ike Willis, Don Preston & Bunk Gardner – and it looks like you might get something on with Napoleon Murphy Brock. Any other Zappa alumni you’d like to play with?
If the Muffin Men were the seven dwarfs, who would you be?
TP: I'd be the two left, since I can never make up my mind anyway.
Roddie, who would be who?
RG: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, Tich, Tinga and Tucker.
Alright. Boxers or briefs?
RG: Contact sports or letters?
JCB: Sexy briefs, including ones that look like leopard skin.
TP: There may be a few people around Chester who are able to recall that for me it's definitely briefs. Although that happened quite a while ago.
Cats or dogs?
RG: Goats, of course.
JCB: Both. However, I really prefer cats; they’re much cleaner and don’t stink.
TP: Cats or dogs, that is not the question, but Guinea Pigs is the answer. Longhaired, curly haired, whatever!
Spielberg or Scorsese?
JCB: Spielberg and the guy that did the Lord Of The Rings series. I don’t know his name but he’s dynamite.
That’d be Peter Jackson. What about you, Roddie?
Okay. Tilo, Hitchcock or Kubrick?
TP: Hitchbrick or Kucock? I like excitement, but no violence. So, Kubrick? Hmm, I think I prefer Huxley. They should make a film out of Brave New World (has it been done? I don't know), especially considering what's going on now in terms of cloning. It's as disturbing as the current administration of the US's plans for the New World Order. Enough of that.
Did Ian jump, or was he pushed?
RG: Depends what day, and what mood he’s in. I see him most days.
Are you all happily loved-up? If not, any scurrilous short-term road relationship stories you’d care to divulge?
RG: Depends on the day of the week, the time, the place, the town, the urge, the price – and anyway, there is ‘the code of the road’, so you’ll never ever know!
You started three years before Frank died; you’ve been going for the subsequent ten – how much longer do you think you’ll continue? And will Jimmy have retired by then?
RG: Jimmy has no plans to re-tyre – and we will continue as long as we actually want to. There is no long-term plan – it will end through no fault of our own!
Given that I’ve interviewed Martin Lickert, can I play bass with you at Zappanale #14?
RG: Why not – we’ve had worse!
Even though I play like Stuart Sutcliffe? In the year of the ram, will you be playing the back seat of my car?
RG: Let’s get the year of the goat out of the way first, please.
Never mind that – let’s get the goat in the back of my car. Tell me about the ‘Mülm experience’?
RG: The ‘Mülm experience’ is a long and complicated affair. At that time we had a very nice German bloke who had set up his little record company and helped finance having Ike Willis tour with us. We recorded the album and mixed it accordingly. Reinard wanted to get an official Stateside release of it; for that, he needed permissions from ‘the house’. They asked to have a copy.
News came to me that, yes, we could release it there. But for some reason they asked for two tracks to be removed. We couldn’t see why that was, until we realised that those two tracks had small samples of Jimmy Carl Black in them. As there was some sort of ‘negotiations’ going on between the house and some ex-musicians, we figured it had something to do with that. So when I showed concern about the editing/removal of the tracks, I was told don’t worry – it’ll be seamless.
I asked to hear a copy before it went to press. Never got to hear it until it arrived, complete with a new cover and glitches where the tracks had been ‘butchered’ out.
Jimmy, what has Inkanish Records achieved in its first year of operation? And what do you hope it'll achieve in the future?
JCB: We’ve released three officially, and about ten unofficially. And I’m still broke – I guess I don’t have any ‘commercial potential’. I will keep releasing things that I think should be out there for real music lovers.
I hope to release my sons’ new CD, entitled Geronimo Black, when they finish it; that should be in the summer. I still want to do a new solo CD with the boys in the Muffins sometime this year as soon as I have the money together. It’s really hard to do much when you don’t have the money available for the project. Anyway, ONWARD AND UPWARD!!!!
If a man can be two places at one time, where would you be?
RG: Right here, right now. And somewhere much nicer, much warmer, right there.
How much beer and shoshidge has the band consumed in its 13 years?
RG: A lot more beer than shoshidge. A lot more noodles than wine. A lot more whining than dining. And the amount of people who actually bother to get up for breakfast when on the continent has dwindled to an all time low.
Ever made an omelette without breaking eggs?
RG: Of course, but it’s a bit like keeping your clothes on when you shag.
If art is long and life is short, how tall is Paul Simon?
RG: Simple – Simon is an artist, and Graf is his uncle.
In 1993, Fred Tomsett asked you whether you’d yet learned T’Mershi Duween. You replied, “one day we might surprise you and play a version of the hallowed song.” It now appears on the Live @ The Cavern album - did it really take you ten years to learn it? It took me less than 5 minutes to programme it into my 3410.
RG: Nimble fingers on a PC keyboard don’t always translate to the instrument of your choice. If you juxtaposed five persons PC keyboard typed versions, I’m sure the results would sound something like the Muffin Men in rehearsal – especially the last bit of the rehearsal where we all swap instruments and lark about.
Well, it sounds wonderful on the CD, thanks largely to Tilo’s contribution. Ever thought of tackling The Black Page, Tilo?
TP: Yes, I have – Roddie gave me the music quite a while ago. So far I didn't practice it, because there was no need to; we always had more than enough material to play (and other things to rehearse). It would obviously take me some time to get it down…at the moment I'm more interested in groove and feel of rhythms. I'm listening a lot to music from West Africa and – thanks to the Sambachick – to Brazilian music. But having said all that, I may just give it a go and see what happens. It's a very beautiful melody, despite its rhythmic complexity.
What’s the best thing you’ve heard in the last 13 years?
RG: The sound of one particular young lady urinating at a post gig party a few years back – but the recording will remain in the vault.
When I turned right to get into the Worcester Park club car park to see you a few years back, I crashed into an oncoming vehicle. When I went to see you at the Borderline, I got drunk and lost my mobile phone. On the way home from seeing you in Biggin Hill, my car got a flattie. In your 13th year, do you think I should risk seeing you again?
RG: Take more care when in control of a vehicle. Take more care when out of control on drink or drugs. Always carry a spare pair of socks. Never label you underwear. Listen to more Sun Ra albums. Shop at Netto – but don’t buy coffee and tea there. Study at least two different eastern methods of relaxation. Never hit your grandma with a shovel – it leaves a bad impression on her mind. Oh, and we’ll see you when we’re down in that London.
Everyone from Liverpool’s a comedian, right? Tell us a joke.
RG: There was a Scotsman, an Irishman, and a Welshman. And some bloke from down south...
Jimmy, how’s your autobiography coming along?
JCB: Talk to Rod. I know nothing.
Roddie, for fuck’s sake – when’re you gonna finish Jimmy’s book!?
RG: Oooh, you bitch. Suffice to say, there have been some developments in the last months, but graphic designers keep getting side tracked – too busy doing CD sleeves and building model railways. Or growing science projects on their legs. Or lecturing to semi-interested students who expect their world to rotate within a miniscule cosmos known as the Twiglet Zone.
Thank you. You’ve got a lucky face.
Photo of the Muffin Men at Zappanale #14 taken by The Idiot Bastard.
 The club that became the centre of the rock and roll scene in Liverpool in the 1960s, where The Beatles played in their early years.
 At the time of this interview, Gilliard worked at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), which opened in 1996 to "forge a new approach to performing arts training". LIPA was co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney and Mark Featherstone.
 The day Beatle John Lennon was murdered in New York.
 From The Beatles’ The Beatles album (1968).
 A French Zappa tribute band, formed in 1999 by Christophe Delbrouck - author of a three-volume Zappa biography.
 From The Beatles' Rubber Soul album (1965).
 Infamous French duet by English actress Jane Birkin and the song's composer, Serge Gainsbourg. Released, perhaps aptly, in 1969.
 Trumpeter who recorded and toured with Zappa from 1972-73.
 Violinist who performed with Zappa from 1969-70.
 American television actor best known for his portrayal of Robin in the TV series Batman (1966–68). In 1966, Ward released a single for MGM Records called Boy Wonder, I Love You. It featured Ward reading fan letters over the musical backing of The Mothers of Invention, arranged and conducted by Zappa.
 Ian Jump is the original lead guitar player with the Muffin Men who took a brief sabbatical from the band around the time of this interview.
 While Lickert appears as part of The Mothers in the 200 Motels film, his bass playing was largely re-recorded and overdubbed by Zappa for the soundtrack.
 During Zappanale in 2003, Gilliard had planned to call me up on stage to perform during King Kong – just for a giggle. But the band had the opportunity of playing with Mike Keneally instead, so that idea went south...where it should have stayed. Gilliard did finally get me to 'play' bass during a Muffin Men show at Sutton's Boom Boom Club on 4 April 2015. You should have been there!
 The second album by the Muffin Men, released in 1994.
 Reinhard Preuss, who founded Muffin Records in Stuttgart, Germany in 1991 - later moving to Austin, Texas.
 The Zappa Family Trust.
 In 2001, Black launched his own record label. Black's birth name was James Inkanish.
 Editor of the British Zappa fanzine, T’Mershi Duween (1988-2000).
 Released by the band in 2003.
 Black had been talking about writing and publishing his autobiography for a number of years. He was still working on it when he succumbed to cancer in 2008. His last wish was that his book be finished, and it was finally published in 2013 as For Mother's Sake: The Memoirs And Recollections Of Jimmy Carl Black 1938-2008 (Inkanish Publications). The first part of the book (the “Memoirs”) was transcribed and edited by Gilliard from audio recordings made when Black was on the road with the Muffin Men, and covered the period up to 1994.