captain beefheart electricity

SUGAR AND SPIKES
odds and ends


 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING
as they were handed down to moris tepper by captain beefheart

from book various writers * ROLLING STONE'S ALT-ROCK-A-RAMA 1996 usa
by john mccormick

note: from the 'advice and anecdotes' section

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jeff moris tepper was born in peashoot, iowa, but currently resides in southern california. he has an extensive discography, which includes work with captain beefheart and the magic band, tom waits, and frank black. a singer, songwriter, and painter, tepper now plays and records with eggtooth and the moris tepper band.

john mccormick is a screenwriter. his credits include living on tokyo time, cliff-hanger, and the russ meyer film 'the bra of god'.

in the mid-1970s jeff moris tepper was just out of taft high school in southern california's san fernando valley when he decided to move to northern california to study marine biology. two days after arriving in the coastal town of eureka, which is approximately one hundred miles south of the oregon border, moris was in his car checking out one of the lush, ultra-green forests in the area when he saw what appeared to be a huge pumpkin flying through the woods.

he followed the flying gourd through the forest and watched it ultimately come to a stop and transform itself into a bright orange corvette stingray. when he looked at the driver, he realized it was don van vliet, a.k.a. captain beefheart, a musician whose music he had loved since he was first introduced to it by high school classmate eric drew feldman.

editorial note by john:
on beefheart's 'trout mask replica' album there is a cut entitled 'hair pie: bake 1', which features another of tepper's high school classmates talking to vliet in the latter's then woodland hills backyard.
he point is raised to illustrate the multiple strange convergences of jeff tepper's and beefheart's paths, but also to reinforce a basic precept of biological survival; that is, in an adverse and hostile environment like the san fernando valley, it's natural for like species to find each other and form a pack in order to feed and fend off natural enemies. even though the meeting of moris and vliet ultimately took place some 1,100 kilometers north of their original habitat, some species, like the tundra wolf, when hunted, are known to cover distances of 200 kilometers in a single day.
jeff moris subsequently brought eric drew feldman to beefheart's attention, and he became a keyboard and bass player with the magic band.

wanting to say hello to beefheart without bothering him, moris quietly approached the orange corvette, then softly said: 'don?'. the voice completely caught van vliet by surprise, causing him to jump in his seat, hit the interior of the car and put a large bump on his head.

despite the egg moris gave beefheart, the two had a friendly conversation wherein moris revealed that he was relocating to the area and was looking for a place to live. don van vliet mentioned that that very morning he noticed there was a place for rent next to where he was living. moris ended up going to don's house that night where he saw two hudson hornets sitting in the driveway like massive sleeping beetles. moris rented the place next door to van vliet's.

not a serious musician when he met vliet, moris was inspired by his new neighbor. he began to figure out some beefheart tunes on an electric guitar, which he played through a four-track tape recorder. owing to the complexity of beefheart's compositions, it took weeks for moris to learn 'fallin' ditch', 'dali's car' and 'when big joan sets up'; all songs which appeared on the album 'trout mask replica'. when he finally figured out the songs, he recorded the two distinct and complex guitar parts that were originally played on the record by zoot horn rollo (bill harkleroad) and antennae jimmy semens (jeff cotton), creating perfect transcriptions of the songs on tape.

one day when captain beefheart was visiting, moris played him the tape. van vliet, who at that point was on hiatus from his musical career, was impressed with what he heard; so much so that he decided to get another band together. he called longtime associate frank zappa, who had among other things produced 'trout mask replica', and told him he wanted to get back into the music business. zappa responded by taking don out on the road with him on the bongo fury tour, but when that tour finished, the captain called moris and told him to get down to los angeles: 'we're doing this'.

moris went to the mountain and became an integral part of the magic band. from 1976 through 1982, the year beefheart retired from music to devote himself entirely to painting, moris handled guitar (or in beefheart parlance: 'guitar, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, nerve guitar, spell guitar, steel appendage guitar'), touring and recording four albums with him: 'bat chain puller', 'shiny beast', 'doc at the radar station' and 'ice cream for crow'.

jeff morris tepper / jeff tapir / white jew, don van vliet / captain beefheart - usa 2003 art set 'splinters / riding some kind of unusual skull sleigh' - by jan van vliet
jeff and don
picture by jan van vliet (?)
from usa 2003 art set splinters aka riding some kind of unusual skull sleigh

it was during his tenure with the magic band that beefheart passed along to moris the ten commandments of guitar playing: ten precepts that would enable a guitar player to stop wandering lost through the desert and step up onto a plane that was going somewhere. for years moris carried this covenant with him, reticent to share the dicta with other  plectorists for fear 'it would pop the goo in their filaments'. but he ultimately had a change of heart as he watched two california desert tortoise hatchlings he had recently adopted.

the baby tortoises, which are half-dollar sized, their carapaces walnut colored, their necks already full of ancient looking wrinkles, seemed to be bobbing their heads at him as they fed on hibiscus petals. the bobbing motion consisted of a figure-eight pattern similar to the waggle dance honeybees use for communication. originally, moris thought the tortoises were trying to tell him their sex (as one can't normally determine the sex of a tortoise for ten years).

but after more careful scrutiny he realized they were simply nodding their heads 'yes' to him. he understood. it was time to reveal the commandments and make the world a safer place for all reptiles.

so here are THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING as given to moris tepper by captain beefheart. they are not arranged hierarchically - each commandment has equal import. also, to help clarify their intent, each commandment is followed by an exegesis.

LISTEN TO THE BIRDS
that's where all the music comes from. birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. and watch humming-birds. they fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.

YOUR GUITAR IS NOT REALLY A GUITAR
your guitar is a divining rod. use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. a guitar is also a fishing rod. if you're good, you'll land a big one.

PRACTICE IN FRONT OF A BUSH
wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. if the bush doesn't shake, eat another piece of bread.

WALK WITH THE DEVIL
old delta blues players referred to amplifiers as 'the devil box'. and they were right. you have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. electricity attracts devils and demons. [so now you know what you are, dear visitor of this page!] other instruments attract other spirits. an acoustic guitar attracts caspar, the ghost. a mandolin attracts wendy. but an electric guitar attracts beelzebub.

IF YOU'RE GUILTY OF THINKING, YOU'RE OUT
if your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. you should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. if you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

NEVER POINT YOUR GUITAR AT ANYONE
your instrument has more clout than lightning. just hit a big chord, then run outside to hear it. but make sure you are not standing in an open field.

ALWAYS CARRY A CHURCH KEY
that's your key-man clause. like one string sam. he's one! he was a detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. his song "i need a hundred dollars" is warm pie. another key to the church is hubert sumlin, howlin' wolf's guitar player. he just stands there like the statue of liberty - making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.

DON'T WIPE THE SWEAT OFF YOUR INSTRUMENT
you need that stink on there. then you have to get that stink onto your music.

KEEP YOUR GUITAR IN A DARK PLACE
when you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. if you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

YOU GOTTA HAVE A HOOD FOR YOUR ENGINE
keep that hat on. a hat is a pressure cooker. if you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.


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note
these orders come from the book ROLLING STONE'S ALT-ROCK-A-RAMA an outrageous compendium of facts, fiction, trivia, and critiques on alternative rock - yes, with a compact subtitle - and were kindly sent in by hans hoes. but after all...: i don't think i want to become a guitar player any more...

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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo

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