ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - band member story
COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING
from book usa 1996 various writers *
ROLLING STONE'S ALT-ROCK-A-RAMA
note: from the 'advice and anecdotes' section
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:
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 (aka 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 long time 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 [spring 1975] 'bongo fury' tour. after that joint tour and two magic band line ups later 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'.
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
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).
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
YOUR GUITAR IS NOT REALLY A
PRACTICE IN FRONT OF A BUSH
WALK WITH THE DEVIL
IF YOU'RE GUILTY OF
THINKING, YOU'RE OUT
NEVER POINT YOUR GUITAR AT
ALWAYS CARRY A CHURCH KEY
DON'T WIPE THE SWEAT OFF
KEEP YOUR GUITAR IN A DARK
YOU GOTTA HAVE A HOOD FOR
find out more
about jeff moris
tepper aka jeff
tapir or white jew