captain beefheart electricity


history - interviewflits


from england 1 may 1973 ZIG ZAG #29
by connor mcknight
is 29 march 1972 interview

note: with contributions by some magic band members


during beefheart's last visit to these shores, i was able to spend a few hours with him and members of his magic band, which afforded me the opportunity of recording a few miles of taped discussion, extracts of which appear below. apart from that, i was able to witness all sorts of strange sights.... for instance, when the band bus broke down on the road to brighton, the captain paraded around in the road, in full stage regalia, totally unperturbed by the astonished stares of commuters flashing home.... and. earlier, to relieve a sore throat, he was passed a tiny bottle of 'green chartreuse', with which to gargle. having taken a swig and swirled it around his throat, he became harassed - as if looking for a receptacle in which to empty the stuff. finding none, he spat it onto the floor of the bus, just under the seat, explaining very apologetically that he had been unable to swallow it in case it would made him drunk!


roy estrada (aka oréjon / audi hon): he grabbed all the publicity when we were in 'the mothers of invention'. we'd do all the albums, and somehow they all became hís - zappa's.... that's how he used to operate. his ability is, like... wow... fantastic, but, like i say, it's the way he operates. mind you, it's all coming back on him now; it's the nature of life - it all balances out. his equipment was all burnt in that fire, and then there was that terrible accident at the rainbow.... but why are we talking about hím? talk about the magic band!

captain beefheart (don van vliet): hell, man: he did nothing; the boys did everything. he just crawled into the control booth and went to sleep.

zoot horn rollo (bill harkleroad): recording 'trout mask replica' didn't take long at all; we went into the studio, and mr. zappa came in and said it had to be done in a hurry. so we did a couple of songs, and he fell asleep. when he woke up, four and a half hours later, we'd just about finished the whole album.

RY COODER (band member at the time of 'safe as milk' - t.t.)

captain beefheart: he's just about gotten up enough nerve to tour now; he walked out on me just before the monterey festival, which i thought was a terrible thing to do.... he should have told me how he felt, before it got too far. i frankly don't care for his albums; i don't like using the past.... it's very warlike to do things out of the past. why does he need that shield? i told him before he went to england with jack nitzsche, to play with the rolling stones, that i didn't think it was a good idea. that they would utilise him and then just throw him out like an apple stem. so he came back and said they were just horrible da da da, they took all my stuff da da da, what nasty people they were.... and then just recently, he turned round and praised them, said what great people they were. now that's weird!

HERB BERMANN (co-writer of some of the songs on 'safe as milk')

captain beefheart: he was a fellow that i met up in the desert, a writer, and we collaborated on a few songs. at the time, the group i was with wouldn't listen to a thing i said; they said my songs were too far out for them. i thought that if i worked with someone they considered to be a professional writer, then they'd at least listen to it, and maybe even play it.

MIRROR MAN ('live album, recorded one night in 1965', but released in 1971)

captain beefheart: i think it was very vulgar of them to put that out. they told me that i was going to be able to mix it, but they lied to me.... and they told me that since i was mixing it, would i mind giving them some poetry for the sleeve. of course, i said: 'sure', and sent them the poetry - and then they put it out. all the details on the cover are wrong - they don't care.... but i like the music.

'THE BLIMP' (a track on 'trout mask replica' which sounds as if the singer is being strangled)

captain beefheart: that was done through a telephone; i wrote it instantly, played the horn, and then had jimmy semens (jeff cotton) go outside, find a phone and call up the studio.... as he recited the words, we recorded them. the song's based on that newsreel of the hindenburg airship crash - you got it exactly.

LASER BEANS (the ones rockette morton was running on - t.t.)

zoot horn rollo: we were just joking around, up at the house, with the cassette machine switched on. it started with potato chips; i had some, and don was playing with them. then mark (rockette morton) came up and looked at them kind of funny. so don yelled out: 'watch those laser beams'..., and it developed from there, you know.

rockette morton / mark boston - drawing by captain beefheart / don van vliet 29 march 1972 england
rockette morton / mark boston
don van vliet 29 march 1972

THE DRAWING OF ROCKETTE MORTON (which beefheart gave me in exchange for a copy of 'the a&m bootleg album' with four tracks by him included)

captain beefheart: how do you spell your name? i see (writes down my name, but spells it incorrectly - so i point it out to him). oh, it's 'connor' and not 'connol'.... well, you can pretend that's an 'r'!


zoot horn rollo: that was during the recording of 'neon meate dream of a octafish' ['no, it's 'hair pie'.' - don] - amazing! you see, we were going to record the whole album at the house, but you can tell from 'hair pie; bake 1' that the equipment wasn't too good. we just couldn't get it.... so don and the mascara snake (victor haydon) were wandering around in the grounds of the house, playing through horns which were miked up to the recording equipment, while we were playing inside. well, these two kids walked past and saw these two guys out there, both wailing away.


zoot horn rollo: antennae jimmy semens is playing in a group somewhere (mu), and the mascara snake is living in north california, near where we are: he's painting a lot. drumbo (john french) wanted to be a singer, so don set up an opportunity for him, but he ran from it.... i wasn't present, but that's how i understand it happened.


zoot horn rollo: i had seen the band long before 'safe as milk' was recorded - these guys with hair down to their waists, all dressed in black, playing these heavy blues numbers. i was only a kid at the time, but i used to talk to don whenever i got the chance. well, one day, he rang up and asked if i'd like to join the band.... and i had to tell him that my guitar didn't have any strings on it. so he said that would be ok, and he had me rehearsing for two weeks, on a guitar without any strings...! i was just pretending to play!

i wasn't too good at the time; i just about knew what an a chord shape looked like, but i was taking all these drugs.... later, after i realised what was happening - that i was in a group, playing and working, making music and money - i asked don why he wanted me. he said he wanted someone young and pliable, who would want to change; he really wanted someone who could accept him for what he was.... you see, the people who where his own age were just old farts - and he's too creative a person to be surrounded by dried up people like that.


zoot horn rollo: that's the warner bros sound stage, a set from a movie called 'hotel' - that's where we rehearsed. we sometimes went and played on the set of 'bonanza' too, and mark would run around wearing huge teeth.... it was crazy: all the chairs were special ones which were designed to break into pieces when you hit someone over the head with them. so every time you wanted to sit down, the chances were that the chair collapsed. crazy!


captain beefheart: that wasn't a trout; it's a carp. what i was saying was that the carp seems to be able to thrive in polluted waters, and i'm waving to tell people that no-one else thrives on pollution.

JOHN COLTRANE (free-jazz saxophonist - t.t.)

captain beefheart: fish take care of the scales; as soon as i saw a fish, i realised that they had the scale department sewn up completely. i think i sound more like a whale or a dolphin than i do john coltrane.


captain beefheart: the *****, the absolute ***** [he said: bastards - t.t.]! you can print that, man - you bring me a copy of that and i'll sign it!... oh well, i put myself in this business, so naturally i must expect the business's trade mark - the bum's rush.


i don't like walt disney; he gave the wolf capital punishment. it's disgusting to make cartoons out of animals...: it cheapens them in people's eyes.

andy warhol's just trying to soup things up a bit [artist who had painted a soup can - t.t.].

the very same ass that carried mankind across the deserts of time is the ass that gave mankind the brialus hamburger.


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flits captain beefheart electricity
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