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THE RETURN OF... THE ZIGZAG WANDERER

from ZIG ZAG #80 010178 england
by kris needs
is 22.11.77 interview

notes:
extracts reprinted as (main content of) close encounters with the captain in england 010209 record collector #359

pictures by erica echenberg

part 1 - THIS is PART 2

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do you still hate those two albums you did for virgin? ('unconditionally guaranteed' and 'bluejeans and moonbeams', in the usa released by mercury, in england by virgin.)

it might have been good but for the fact that i was up north painting and writing a book and mercury just put it out. and they had taken off winged eel fingerling [elliot ingber] on guitar and changed the drums to the way they wanted it. they took off a whole track of winged eel fingerling on a song called 'party of special things to do' - just took it off and didn't even tell me. how ridiculous that is. what could i do, go up to the cement tower and say: 'listen, little lawyer: stóp!'? but they wouldn't do it.... i haven't had a royalty statement on either of those two albums. nothing. after i got rid of virgin they should have sent it to me, they knew where i was.

again on those two albums:

against my wishes they recorded that pick-up group i had with me that played when that other group went over the hill, when they fulfilled the engagements i already signed for, and they had signed for.

what numbers does the new band do?

it is like a 'greatest hits'. we do everything from 'abba zaba' to some of the stuff from 'trout mask replica' like 'moonlight on vermont', 'when big joan sets up' and 'china pig'. and 'click clack' from 'the spotlight kid' and 'nowadays a woman's gotta hit a man' and 'sun zoom spark' from ' clear spot'. 'on tomorrow' from 'strictly personal', 'big eyed beans from venus'. and then we do material from 'bat chain puller' such as 'bat chain puller' and 'the floppy boot stomp'. 'owed t'alex', a medieval sounding instrumental: 'a carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond', and several unrecorded tunes.

who are on 'bat chain puller'?

denny walley on slide guitar - who was with me last time - then we have... - if that guy (pointing to harry duncan who's sitting opposite) would quit thinking about me over there - he has had too much to think, he is just so focussed on me, it's incredible.

denny and who else?, asks harry, looking a bit uncomfortable!

there, now he has changed, he broke away.... denny on slide guitar, jeff morris tepper on slide and electric guitar... - you're not in a hurry to hear this, are you? because of all those things that are coming through (points to his head), i would hate to say something and have it cut up like before you get to say it. (to harry:) you, go ahead, and say it - because you're on my case, man.

harry: john thomas on keyboards....

he was with mallard, wasn't he?

what? ack, quack, quack, quack! mallard is no longer there. bill [harkleroad, aka zoot horn rollo] came over in lancaster - i live in a trailer out in the desert - came over and told me that he was quitting mallard, and he apologised for all this bad-mouthing that went down.... and uh, thomas quit mallard too. we are going to do some of the songs we have done which you haven't heard yet, then we're going to add with the new group other things. then we'll probably have to do the whole album over again because this group is so good, it really is a group.

harry (particularly anxious that the 'bat chain puller' situation is made clear): drumbo (john french, who quit the magic band for religious reasons) is on drums on 'bat chain puller'.

but this guy that i have now (robert williams): he picked the stuff up off the records! can you believe that in some of the mixes those monsters pulled on me? like for instance 'strictly personal': alka seltzer fizz they put electric.... but he picked it up off the record, man! i mean, by the time he joined the band it was his thirteenth show, that one in france. oh, it's ridiculous!

sunnyland slim was on the tour, which originated in buffalo, new york. great blues! one of the starters of everything - 70 years old, fantastic though: he acts like he is 15 years old. best i have heard. we are going to bring him over here when we come. he put muddy waters to chess....

captain beefheart / don van vliet - london, england, november 1977 - 010178 zig zag - picture by erica echenberg

are you still painting?

all the time. i'm doing an exhibition (produces advert). i knew you would ask me that - i didn't knów you would ask that but i brought it along in case you asked me that.

do you do a lot of exhibitions?

yeah, i exhibit myself all the time!

are you writing many songs at the moment?

yeah! written about 40 since i left los angeles at the end of october. i am happier now than i've ever been since i had this group. i can go into way more dimensions than i ever could before. i want to make people happy, get smiles on the faces of the people in the audience. break up all of that catatonic state that you get in... supposed to listen to music! none of these people use poison while they're playing. perfect! that is to say: they are imperfect, but they're perfect.

don pulls a big drawing book out of the brown bag which never leaves his side. he shows us count basie's autograph and a lot of drawings, which he explains are songs, which the group can play from, 'but i write it on tape'. he then draws a little message for zigzag readers.

you know what it's saying? black people are being thrown out of england. that's big ben - big ben there too long (oooh!).

don is the bloke who once said that everyone was coloured, 'because if they weren't you wouldn't be able to see them'.

after the afore-mentioned vocal demonstration erica jokingly refers to don as a punk, which leads to a discussion on that subject.

it is very honest. isn't it more honest than when the beatles sang 'i wanna hold your hand'? who held their hand?

he said, the night before an interviewer introduced him to john rotten [from the sex pistols - t.t.] over the phone because he was a beefheart fan, but don had never heard of him!

hey, can i turn this thing off?, he says pointing to my tape recorder. after taking more photographs we go up to don's hotel room to hear 'bat chain puller'. we hear five tracks, each one totally different from each other and what he has done before - although there are familiar elements of beefheart, like the brain-twisting words and thát voice, which has discovered a spine-tingling new pitch on one track. throughout don points out particularly good guitar bits or lines and explains lyrics. he is very proud of the album - and justifiably so. it's just a shame that it has been recorded about a year and still hasn't been released. it seems to incorporate all the best elements of beefheart into quite an accessible whole, specially on the irresistible title track, which builds and builds.

so there we are. beefheart is back, stronger than ever before - it seems. with the record coming out quite soon and the promise of some britain gigs this could be his year. i hope so because he deserves it. beefheart's got the power and originality to far outstrip any current fashion trends, anyway didn't he coin the much-used phrase 'old fart at play' on 'trout mask replica'? don?

this group is it: the final glide pattern.

hold on to your heads!

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