DON'T ARGUE THE CAPTAIN
ROCK - THE CAPTAIN'S
but the worst years are over for beefheart
by steve lake
is early 10.75 usa interview
note: also a few words with john french
strange to say - no, make that: very strange to say, but confirmed eccentric captain beefheart (a.k.a. don van vliet) sounded like the voice of sanity at the end of a transcontinental hook-up.
things are getting bad (sighs). people trying to shoot the president. the symbionese liberation army toting guns and talking about ecology. isn't that crazy? i mean, does that make any sense at all?
see, i've been doing a lot of reading lately. have you ever read any hemingway? boy, he was a funny one - wasn't he? him and sherlock holmes / sir arthur conan doyle. i wish i'd lived thén. you were allowed to be an individual back then. these days if you're an individual, you get called eccentric. well, i guess i'm an eccentric.
but the captain now admits he got into being similar to everybody else for a while, in the years post 'trout mask replica', the years in which he began to rock and roll.
i really don't know why i would do a thing like that. i guess i'm very naive. mostly it was because my old band was always saying that they wanted to play rock, and i felt a moral debt to them. i mean, they had given me their ears, eyes and hands for the years when we did 'trout mask replica' and 'lick my decals off, baby' - those are still my favourite albums.
but yeah, i felt a moral debt, and so i wrote this album called 'clear spot' for them. wrote it in two and a half hours. then there was a terrible thing called 'unconditionally guaranteed' and something else, 'bluejeans and moonbeams'... i'd really like to ask all the kids who bought those albums to take them back to the shops and try to get their money back... those were really the worst years of my life.
beefheart in '75 seems a lot happier than beefheart in '74, reunited - in business and artistically - with frank zappa and herb cohen. hadn't don been putting zappa down - and adamantly for the past six years?
oh gee, i've always loved frank. we've been friends for eighteen years, you know, and you can't rub away something like that. but i'll tell you what all that was about: it was about my foolishness mostly. i'm an artist and i really never understood all that business stuff. i mean, i only just found out about marketing last week.
and so, bosom buddies once more, frank and don have recorded an album together. a little thing called 'bongo fury'.
yeah, heh heh. you'd like it. it's very humorous. frank's a very funny guy. there's a song on there called '200 years old' - you can guess what that one's about...
the bicentennial - right, don?
[picture taken during a break at the 050775 knebworth festival]
at this point in the proceedings it seemed only fair to bring up the claims of one zoot horn rollo (nee bill harkleroad), who in the early part of this year spent a good deal of time putting beefheart down very heavily indeed. attempting to re-launch a previous incarnation of the magic band under the title mallard, harkleroad was busy telling the world that don van vliet was a bumbling non-musician, incapable of composing music, who had been merely cresting on the hard graft of his musicians. they'd written the tunes, said harkleroad, but never got any credit for it. the lyrics had been beefheart's, sure, but the music was still all the magic band's.
i don't know how he had the nerve to say that to you. me, a non-musician? listen, i can play piano like nobody's business...
listen, the only way to settle all this silliness is to get somebody else to talk to you about who wrote what. can i get drumbo (john french) on the line? he's in the next room... hey, drumbo! drumbo! come here a minute... come and talk to this guy about the 'trout mask replica' sessions.
john french: hello, man. yeah, i read your interview with zoot horn rollo (anyone who wants to lend it to me? - t.t.), and i must admit it surprised me very much. now i'm only qualified to talk about the band up to 'trout mask replica', but there was one observation that bill harkleroad made about how 'it was obvious that the musicians were in control because each time a new player came into the band the music changed radically'.
well, i would sort of dismiss that out of hand, because when don writes, he writes specifically fór his musicians - shapes the music around what the players can play. and so the music would change - because don is a very generous writer.
and as for 'trout mask replica', there's no way that anyone else in the band had a hand in composing any of that. that's all don. and he wrote it all in a very short space of time. and the way he did it, was: he composed it on the piano - and i sat there with him and wrote down all the notes as he played it.
and also, whatever harkleroad might claim about his guitar virtuosity at the time - i was there and i would watch don going over and over harkleroad's parts with him with incredible patience.
don is very musical. it's true that don can't play guitar, but that never stopped him getting his ideas across. either he'd play everybody's part on piano, or else he would whistle it or play it on harmonica.
beefheart came back on the phone.
i guess the big mistake i made was in talking about those guys. i was always building them up in interviews, and their egos must have taken over. mind you, the guys i've got now are so good that i can't help talking about them.
ah, now we get to it. who are in your new band?
well, there is drumbo, obviously on drums. and there's a guitar player called winged eel fingerling (elliot ingber) - you know about him, too. then i've got bruce fowler - who used to be with zappa - on air bass. he plays trombone and is a phenomenal musician. and there's a new guy called denny walley (who used to be with zappa too - t.t.) on slide guitar. and boy: he's real good. he plays in that muddy waters kind of style, and you can't get better than muddy.
well, we've got some new material, and i'll be playing some things from 'trout mask replica', plus there's fifty other compositions that i wrote around that period that have never been used on stage. oh, and i'll be playing saxophones again, too. i'm through with all that rock and roll stuff, from now on i'm back into the free thing - and that's really all i'm interested in.
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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo