captain beefheart electricity

the interviews


the bat chain puller is flushed with optimism

from SOUNDS 101277 england
by john gray
is 22.11.77 interview

note: pictures by jill furmanovsky


in the plush surroundings of the marble arch hotel it's hard to imagine that somewhere on the upper floors our hero, captain beefheart (don van vliet on the hotel register), has been allowed to reside. how they permitted the likes of mere mortals such as myself to mingle with the 'fur coated living dolls', never mind for the spotlight kid to do the same, must have a lot to do with the price he's paid for the room.

who's that silly woman in the fur coat?... look at that... terrible, there are not enough animals - there are too many people.

yes, it's the same old captain... it's a shame our faithful looney is in limbo at the present moment due to stupid record company hassles. his undying enthusiasm for his own brand of unique madness music is still thriving. the creator of such bizarre names as rockette morton [mark boston] and winged eel fingerling [elliot ingber], really wants us to hear his new bunch of smiling prodigies. these new guys don't need to have their stage movements choreographed, unlike the old magic band.

his excitement about the new band (denny walley, slide guitar; jeff 'tapir' tepper, slide / regular guitar, occasional bass; eric 'black jew kittaboo' feldman, bass / keyboards / synthesized bass) makes him wave his hands about wildly. drumbo - or john french, who plays the skins on that long-awaited bat chain puller album, has left him for religious purposes (heard that one before). his replacement is robert 'wait for me' williams. the captain:

he's 22, and he doesn't mind dying...

harry duncan, beefheart's current whizz-kid manager, guests on harmonica and performs a solo version of 'the blimp' in their live show.

are you doing any dates soon?

harry duncan: probably in spring or thereabouts.

beefheart: that's soon though, isn't it? i can hardly wait to have england hear this group... when spring has sprung!

we can hardly wait either.

they smile and laugh and everything, i've never had a group like that before.

was the old magic band very temperamental?

there's no reason for that. i mean, people come in to hear happiness. but when you play blues you can still be happy. it's no use emulating what you had for breakfast, if it was bad.

news from the captain about mallard (the re-named magic band) - bill harkleroad (formerly known as zoot horn rollo, as you should all know full well) and john thomas, the pianist on 'bat chain puller', have both left the band. the captain proudly reminded me:

he's no longer zoot horn rollo...

i know you, horrible person!...

what i mean, is: i don't want that kind of music emulated with my theatrics.

you would be blamed for it.

that's right.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - london, england  late november 1977 - sounds (uk) 101277 - picture by jill furmanovsky

his best-known album, if not his most widely accessible work, of course is the double 'trout mask replica'. what about when bill harkleroad undermined your role in the creation of 'trout mask replica'? he wasn't the first, either. the captain hissed loudly:

bill came and apologised to me, and said that he was crazy - you know, that he shouldn't have done that. i said: 'friends don't mind just how you grow'.

the captain is always quoting his own lyrics to strengthen his point. the last one is coming from 'electricity' on his first album 'safe as milk' - just re-released as a double with 'rubber man' [if he means 'mirror man', he's talking about 'the captain beefheart file' - t.t.]. the captain still has fond memories for the old magic band:

they performed beautifully.

but he is still adamant about who was the boss:

everything they did i had them do, i mean: i'm a director. i don't wanna boast or anything like that; but i ám an artist. and the thing is that sometimes artists are considered horrible after they direct something. you see, those guys fell too far into my role, and then they didn't like me after that. it happens in theatre and everything.
but i can't think of myself as doing something wrong, because i asked them everyday: 'are you sure you want to do this?' i said: 'you'll get to the end of the road and there's probably no pot of gold - you know, in árt'.

this is true insight; but there is more:

they got mad; so i did two albums for them - réal commercial. i didn't want to do 'unconditionally guaranteed'. i didn't want to do it, i did it for them: to pay them for lending me their fingers.

so now we know. but i love 'unconditionally guaranteed'.

i enjoy it, but they mixed it wrong. those people were monsters. of course, the group was a monster too. they - at that time - wouldn't even speak to me! i mean: i did that album so they would make money, because they wanted mónéy. i thought: 'well., i'll try to stay with them long enough to let them figure out that money doesn't really mean much'.

how does he manage to live? are his albums still selling anywhere?

(quoting his own titles again!:) 'my head is my only house unless it rains'. i don't have a house. i live in a trailer; you know, i have coyotes and ravens [around]. i mean, that's wonderful.... i only eat what i can hold in my hand once a day. i eat paint!

what ís happening with the record companies? bat chain puller which the captain has been holding for a year and a half must be released. i'm lucky enough to have a tape of the album.

harry duncan: that's just it!

apparently 'half of europe' are just as lucky as me in this respect. this is exactly what upsets young harry.

beefheart: virgin records - what a chauvinistic thing to say. you know how imbecilic that is?

this obviously annoys the captain. his hands really start waving around.

the name alone! if i were a woman, i wouldn't buy anything on virgin records. i mean, the idea of that! i love women; i've never been afraid of women. i wouldn't put a woman up as an idol thing like that... it is disgusting. it gets me as bad as whales. same thing, same reason... women are so much smarter than men.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - london, england late november 1977 - sounds (uk) 101277 / rock session #3 germany - picture by jill furmanosky
(much better version from germany book 'rock session #3')

even when he sorts out his vinyl problems, it looks like the 'bat chain puller' that i and people like the group 'henry cow' know and love, will only reach the great league of beefheart fans in an updated form - that is: with several tracks left off and replaced with 'new live studio cuts'. [prophetic words about 'shiny beast (bat chain puller)' - t.t.]

could you do another double album?

could happen.

harry duncan: it's a question of what can satisfy the legions of beefheart people that already exist, and by the same token bring new people into the fold... something like 'clear spot' quality with 'the spotlight kid' appeal.

how did it go in paris at the hippodrome?

beefheart: the people were dancing to 'trout mask replica' music! i mean dáncíng! in france!

we've all been doing that for years!

no, but i mean áll kinds of people. no, but in new york too! in new york! you know how they are!

more about whales (you thought you had escaped, eh?):

i wish they would stop killing the whales... i was over here one year and a fellow named nick kent said that all i did was talk about whales! all i can say is: 'do you know what the largest living mammal is?'.

the whále perhaps?

an absent mind! well, i told him...


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captain beefheart electricity
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