captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits

a few words with good captain beefheart

from usa 13 march 1972 ROCK vol.3 #15
by jody breslaw
is 24 january 1972 interview

as well as the slightly shorter version

a few words with the good captain

from england 11 march 1972 SOUNDS

note: pictures by ed thrasher

part 1 - THIS is PART 2


is it deliberately more accessible then? tailored to the tastes of your audience?

i'm not so pompous that my mind has turned to stone. i've had people ask me, why not try another feeling in the audience? why not try it, so long as it doesn't put me in a can. i really meant lick my decals off, baby - get rid of the labels.

beefheart continues on this theme as i ask him how he relates to musical influences which are obviously essentially black.

i think everybody's colored or you wouldn't be able to see them. i don't see it as black or white or... - i mean, everybody gives blood, the same the water gives life.

i just think that certain people try to intellectualize things... i have a certain amount of intellectualism myself as a writer, and i'm not trying to get rid of it, i'm going to let it all come out in the wash. but to hear somebody who tries to play blues like a march or the 'blue danube' is ridiculous to me....

but you've done a lot of strange things to the blues too. a lot of your stuff has obvious country blues roots, but within a weird musical and psychological framework.

it's my blues. i'll tell you the truth: i haven't been influenced by anyone.

you don't think that other people's musical ideas ever creep up in your music?

i don't think they do, because i have too much respect for the people i listen to, to do that.


the form and content of beefheart's music is certainly very much his own. even the rest of the band's playing is more an individual than group creation:

i taught my own people just how to play, and kept them away, from obvious trips and pitfalls. like little grooves that go too deep when the wax is hot..., things that make scars that you can never get over... that's not too elliptical, is it?

i think maybe it is, i answered wryly.

the world is, you know... - but let me get this to where people can understand it in print. (turning to his meekly attending sidemen:) what would you say? let rockette morton tell it.

mark boston: when i came into the group, we were all living in one house, and that helped keep out outside influences - music or talk or the people who would tend to delude our young minds... we worked all that out, and just started taking away the barriers, the hang-ups --

captain beefheart: -- that were put upon you. a teacher tells you about music and that it's ne, tw, thre, or else you're expelled, and then the cops come for you.

beefheart goes on to attack the customary classifications of music into rock, jazz, blues, etcetera, calling them arbitrary and limiting. on this note, i ask:

how about your own music, then - do you prefer not to call it rock and roll?

i did 'lick my decals off, baby' - man, you know i'm not a rock and roll player. i mean, i know more than rock... and... roll. in the first place, you can't eat a rock, and rolls get stale.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - usa, fall 1971 the spotlight kid photo session - picture by ed thrasher
another spotlight kid
  from liner notes 'the dust blows forward' anthology

switching metaphors, he continues:

you see, the idea of the roll being ba-ba-dum, ba-ba-dum, ba-ba-dum-dum-dum - i refuse to do that kind of thing in my music.

there ensues an extended rap on music and militarism, one of many esoteric ramblings which continually pop up throughout our conversation. a ringing telephone sends beefheart into the other room, where his wife lies sleeping. in his absence, i press zoot horn rollo and rockette morton for a bit of historical background:

mark boston: zoot horn rollo and myself have been in the group for three and a half years. we both have a completely different style of playing than anyone else. when i came in i had been fooling around  with the bass a little bit, but i didn't know anything about it. i didn't know how to let the feeling out of it, because i was starting to get into a bag of being a musician.

when you can let all your inhibitions out, it comes through as a feeling rather than just notes. i want to make people feel good if they'll listen. the bass to me isn't a bass, it is more like a --

captain beefheart, who has just returned: -- juicy platform.

mark boston: yeah, like a juicy launching platform.

bill harkleroad: i didn't play much before either. i had picked up a little guitar, but i quit when i was taking a lot of drugs...: acid (aka lsd - t.t.), psychedelics (anathema to beefheart and his circle of disciples - j.b.). i picked it up again when i joined the group, but without any old influences.

what dd contribute to your playing style, then?

i had always enjoyed what don had done, always thought he was the best. when i joined the group i was caught up in that feeling, the magic, being a part of that....

the comments of beefheart's sidemen, both what they say and how they say it, reveal the overwhelming impact of the group's leader and mentor. their music lends the same impression. considering the almost biological contact between beefheart and his band, i ask the captain:

i get the idea that much of what develops between you is never communicated verbally, but more through a certain collective consciousness. is there something to that?

absolutely. there's a lot of interplay in the group - we even influence each other's thoughts. i've been around them to such a degree that if someone is thinking about something i can get it down on the piano. i get the feeling of the room and do it right like that. telepathy is a corny word, but... take out all the stop signs. you know, what i mean?

an apt metaphor - beefheart is proceeding full speed ahead on all fronts. when i inquire about his other artistic enterprises, he responds with unguarded enthusiasm:

i have about six or seven hundred paintings now, my own private collection. i'm going to have an exhibit of my work soon. i also have a book coming out: a poetry collection called 'singing ink'. then i have a novel coming out, a lot about the group when we were first starting together at the house, called 'old fart at play'.

a film venture is also in the works, as well as a new album. spotlight kid, bravo!


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