DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - memories frank zappa
'ME AND DON'
one of your fellow students was don van vliet whom you later recorded as captain beefheart. what was he like then?
he drove a light-blue oldsmobile with a hand-sculpted werewolf head that replaced the oldsmobile emblem in the center of the steering wheel. his father was a helms bread-truck driver. don didn't spend a lot of time in school; most of the time i saw him was at his house. we would listen to rhythm & blues records in the afternoon, and then at night the most exciting thing to do in lancaster would be go to denny's and have a cup of coffee. 'cause there was nothin' - i mean, places shut down at six o'clock. really bad.
so in order to afford this trip to denny's, don would have to acquire the finances by opening the back of his father's bread truck. see, the cab was locked, and the change maker was hanging in the front. he had to undo the back door, pull out this bread drawer which was about from here to the wall, put it in a driveway and force laurie, his girlfriend, to crawl through this slot like a squid to get in there and steal change. then he'd pull her out by the ankles, and that's how we would finance our entertainment.
from germany 1 november 1970 SOUNDS #23
what is captain beefheart doing at the moment?
i don't know. i haven't seen him for about half a year.
is he going to tour again?
he says he's going to do a tour. but with him that can change again each moment.
what do you think about him?
i think he's an extraordinary poet. and i also think he's a very gifted personality.
what do you think about his singing technique?
i like his singing very much, he has an interesting voice. i really like to hear him. but i can remember a time when you couldn't bring him to sing at all, you know, he simply hung back. i still have the tapes of his very first recordings, which i did with him about eight years ago.
where was that?
i had a recording studio in a small town called cucamonga in california. i talked him into becoming a singer. we quite often drove in his car through the area. then he always sang along the radio. i pressed him over and over: 'come on, man, sing!'. but he bickered with a terrible problem. for he couldn't sing in 4/4 time. until i finally convinced him not to force himself to sing in 4/4 time but to create his own music.
that's why in the beginning - and to a lot of listeners still today - his singing sounded just like mere chaos. the earliest things he recorded were 'slippin' and slidin'' completely in jimi hendrix style with a slow rhythm, the howlin' wolf piece 'evil', 'the grund', 'tiger roach' (released on frank zappa's 'the lost episodes' in 1996 - t.t.), and 'vicious intentions', a slow blues.
it really would be fun to hear something of that. it's a pity most people will never get the chance.
perhaps i could release it on an album. i also have some tapes on which i practise with him: really funny stuff.
who accompanied him then, when you recorded him for the first time?
he had a group together with me, which called itself 'the soots'.
the high point of our relationship (according to 'rolling stone' - aren't they some kind of authority on these matters?) was making the 'trout mask replica' album together in 1969. don (captain beefheart) is not technically oriented, so, first i had to help him figure out what he wanted to do, and then, from a practical standpoint, how to execute his demands... we taped a few selections..., and i thought they sounded terrific, but don got paranoid, accused me of trying to do the album on the cheap, and demanded to go into a real recording studio.
life on the road with captain beefheart (during the spring 1975 'bongo fury' tour - t.t.) was definitely not easy. he carried the bulk of his worldly possessions around in a shopping bag. it held his art and poetry books and a soprano sax. he used to forget it in different places - just walk away and leave it, driving the road manager crazy. onstage, no matter how loud the monitor system was, he complained that he couldn't hear his voice.