captain beefheart electricity

DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
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CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: NEW FACE, NEW MUSIC

from ROLLING STONE #162 060674 usa
by jim brodey
is 04.74 interview

note: reproduced in usa 2007 (book+4dvd)boxset ROLLING STONE * COVER TO COVER 40 years of rolling stone 1967-2007

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i haven't changed the message of what i'm saying, this is just a friendly extension.

don van vliet, aka captain beefheart, puffed on a sherman cigar, two flights above selma avenue in the offices of his new producer, andy dimartino, in los angeles.

i've been put up to be the big bad wolf of rock and roll for a long time. and walt disney gave thát wolf capital punishment. i think when people see us this time on tour they'll really be surprised. i've always used a four-man unit, you know - two guitars, bass and drums. well, now we've got seven of us out there. it's a whole new band sound for us, and it's really got me excited.

'new band sound' is something of an understatement. when the captain set about to forge his friendly extension - after a one-and-a-half-year layoff from both the studio and the road - he met some resistance from the magic band members, and from warner bros, his label. at about the same time, his manager, grant gibbs, decided to give the music world a pass, and the captain ended up with an entirely new trip - new music, new band, new label and new management.

even the captain himself is looking different. gone is his van dyke chinwarmer, the mad hatter chapeau and all the clothed sidelights of his neo-dada insect impersonation. his hair has grown down his shirt, and his face is calm, almost mellow.

the new management team is andy and auggie dimartino, friends from the beginning [of thís particular period, i suppose - teejo] who turned up when gibbs left. andy, the producer, has past liberty credits with the cascades ('rhythm in the rain'), the wailers ('tall cool one') and the fleetwoods. most recently auggie, the manager, has handled buckwheat among others. together, they have released a new beefheart album 'unconditionally guaranteed' in march, a recent usa tour - over may 12th - and european dates through july 20th [ah, so eventually it got shortened with a whole month? - teejo].

the new label is mercury records. why mercury?

because of those little wings on the bottoms of my feet.

andy dimartino has a more logical answer, even if it has less chuckle to it: when they went label shopping, mercury seemed the most interested.

and the new band. to the magic band - rockette morton [mark boston] on bass, zoot horn rollo [bill harkleroad] on slide guitar, alex saint claire [alex snouffer] on rhythm guitar and ed marimba [art tripp] on drums - the captain grafted keyboards (mark marcellino) and woodwinds (del simmons). that group sat down and recorded 'unconditionally guaranteed', then got up and - with the exception of simmons - split. they didn't take to the new style well enough to tour on it.

so beefheart and the dimartinos scoured the studios and searched out friends a week before tour time to come up with a new magic band: ty grimes, drums; paul uhrig, bass; michael 'bucky' smotherman, keyboards; dean smith, lead guitar; fuzzy fuscaldo, rhythm guitar and del simmons on flute and tenor sax.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - usa, spring 1974 - rolling stone 060674 - picture by fred conrad
picture by fred conrad
and the new sound. ah, the new sound.

since the release of 'clear spot' i have been working on getting a form of music everybody could listen to. i must admit i feel i was being quite selfish about that other music i was playing. but i've never had a producer, really, until now. before, it was always: we'd get into a studio and have someone push a few buttons to start the machines, then just let the tapes roll on. but there was never anyone there to give it a specific form. i wanted to be próduced this time.

there were 'producers' on three of beefheart's seven previous albums: richard perry ('safe as milk'), frank zappa ('trout mask replica') and ted templeman ('clear spot'). on the rest, the producer's credits went to the captain and his magic band.

the form that dimartino constructed with the help of the expanded version of the magic band will no doubt remind avid beefheart fans of the group's earlier efforts, especially things from the 'safe as milk' vintage. the framework is geared toward simpler structures than previous works. fewer lyrics, more music. this is obviously the captain's first big official move to capture a wider mass audience.

anyone who listened to 'clear spot' with even an ounce of attention couldn't help noticing two slow ballads and a general softening of the rigid beefheart tune line. 'my head is my only house unless it rains' and 'her eyes are a blue million miles' marked an important transitional change for van vliet and his music. 'unconditionally guaranteed' is the first full-blown 'softer' effort in that general direction. all songs were written by van vliet and his wife, jan, with a helping hand from andy dimartino.

i have been stuck in some weird fantasy-category out of someone else's need to explain what it was that we did. like i did 'lick my decals off, baby' to tell people to tear all those false labels off themselves and everything around them. like it's crazy to say so strictly: 'this is old and this is new’. like reggae isn't néw to the jamaicans. it's all something somebody in an office thought was threatening them. so they stamped a decal on it. i'm not a big bad bogeyman - nope, not any more.

while the tone of the new album's lyrics - the word 'love' appears many times) and the tenor of the music bear out beefheart's new mellow mood, the musicianship strikes out in a different melodic vein. the beefheart saxophone that permutated his 'free jazz' approach (especially on the 30-odd tracks of 'trout mask replica') doesn't appear anywhere on this new record, but the addition of reed-man del simmons's searing tenor and breathy flute adds a strong dimension to the urgency of the magic band's emphasis on the good captain's new softer material.

when people hear him they're really gonna shake in their seats. he sucked a cosmic particle into his horn and illuminated his brain. he has played with all the greats, charlie parker included, and when you hear him, well, he démands imagery!

with simmons in the new band, beefheart can explore some oboe and piccolo things he's been working on.

i'm a real blabbermouth, but this new album has got me really soothed out. see, i haven't been playing much onstage, just at home. and since 'clear spot' we haven't toured at all. i just have been painting. i got over four hundred oils and many more fine-line drawings. i've had some [art] shows in england, paris and amsterdam. and when 'clear spot' came out, warners arranged for me to have a huge billboard done. it was on wilshire boulevard across from the county art museum, here in los angeles. i wanted it there to tease them.

an audience can really lift you right up off the stage. during our 'safe as milk' era, we were over in england and i walked right off the stage about feet in mid-air. then fell down about six feet, got up and ran back up on the stage and asked them: 'why did you drop me?'. because it was them holding me up with the vast potentiality of their energy. but once i'd begun to do it out there over their heads, they looked up and began to think en masse: 'how in hell is he doing thát?’ - the contact was broken.

this time it won't break, i'll just keep on rising.

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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo

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