DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
THE BEEFHEART / ZAPPA TALK-IN
from england 8 november 1969 MELODY MAKER
frank zappa breezed into london last week in an orange tee-shirt. his aim was to launch the british end of his record label, straight, which will be distributed in this country by cbs. with him was the wondrous captain beefheart (aka don van vliet), star of one of straight's first releases: the double-album 'trout mask replica'.
the legendary captain beefheart is a large, comfortable man of deceptive simplicity. he also has a grey top hat and a warm smile.
it was beefheart's 'safe as milk' album, of course, which led the rock revolution in the balmy days of 1967, shortly after which he made a visit to britain, received with mingled horror and adulation. since then he's been fairly quiet, and there has been only one record - which he considers a failure - to remind us of his presence ('strictly personal' - t.t.).
last week, however, he visited london again - on his way home from the 'actuel festival' [in amougies, belgium, where he played in the early morning of 29 october 1969. see notes at the bottom - t.t.], in the company of frank zappa, on whose straight label his amazing new double-lp set 'trout mask replica' is shortly to be available.
beefheart is friendly and approachable, but occasionally obscure. this is, i'm sure, unintentional, but it does tend to make communication difficult. when i asked him if, as rumoured, he intended to make his home in britain, he replied:
i already have one person in britain and one in the states. astral bodies - you understand?
err, well, maybe. but did this intention arise from a disenchantment with american life?
over here you don't have guns - there isn't that kind of sexual hang-up.
at home i live in a house where raccoons come up to the door to listen to the music - i really do. raccoons and coyotes.
i told him i had heard that, while making 'trout mask replica' the band was shut away in his house for weeks on end.
i didn't shut them away. there's no leader in the band; everybody's responsible for themselves.
the entire double-album - which has to be heard to be believed - was conceived, written and recorded in just eight and a half hours, according to beefheart. one of the tracks, 'orange claw hammer', has a tune which bears an uncanny resemblance to the old bob dylan song 'north country blues'.
the captain doesn't seem to have given many live performances in the recent past. would you like to go on the road and play more?
i'm sorry that they put these obstructions up..., or down..., or whatever... - so that people can't hear me giving. it costs a lot of money to go on the road. it really does. i can't afford it. you don't make any money for playing.
surely, i replied, there are plenty of people who are making a lot of money from going out and working.
yes, but they're wórking. can you name me anybody who's making money from pláying?
therein lies, apparently, the basis of the captain's beliefs.
beefheart is justifiably annoyed at the way his first two albums, 'safe as milk' and 'strictly personal' were produced:
hank secola did a beautiful mix on the first album, but they wouldn't let it out because it was too real. then the tapes for the second album were taken away and really ruined.
i really wonder about mixing. i don't like the idea of it. 'trout mask replica' has a natural sound - as natural as you can get from amplifiers.
he has known frank zappa for a long time - in fact at one time they contemplated forming a group together [instead of the occasional studio sessions as 'the soots' - t.t.] - and i asked him, naively, if he trusted frank more than any other producer.
i don't trust anyone - it puts too much of a burden on them. but you might say i'm happiest with this arrangement.
do you have plans for a new album?
i haven't started anything yet. but it's close..., it's almost there. there'll be more playing on the next elpee. the group had only been together six months when we made this one.
in the other half of this dual interview FRANK ZAPPA - who doesn't mention beefheart or their 'trout mask replica' joint venture once - provides some memories of the legendary amougies festival, where he had been the 'master of ceremonies':
i asked frank about the 'actuel pop and jazz festival' in belgium, from which he had just returned.
i guess it was more of a political than a musical success. the festival was moved around so much that it was a triumph to get it on at all. it was so disorganised that when all the lights and amplifications worked on the first night, the organisers looked at each other in amazement. they couldn't believe that it was really going to happen.
but i was there. six to twelve hours a night, i was there.
it was very difficult because it was so cold, and in that temperature several things happen to musical instruments: guitar players' fingers get cold, which makes it hard to play, and the strings go out of tune at different levels.
did any of the groups or musicians impress you?
yeah, i really liked 'the nice' [...], and i dug 'colosseum' [...].
in another interview captain beefheart told about the amougies concert himself...