captain beefheart electricity

translated interviews - band members


na vijf jaar beefheart:

from JAZZ NU vol. 13 #145 01.12.90
HOLLAND monthly magazine
by eddy determeyer
is 04.90 interview GARY LUCAS
note: in DUTCH

(1) outtake
(2) this text also covers the shorter content of:

'moritzbastei', leipzig, 29. januar 1998

from THE ARF-DOSSIER #15 01.06.98
GERMANY quarterly fanzine
by sabine and dieter stein
is 29.01.98 interview GARY LUCAS
note: in GERMAN

(3) and also the related passage from:


from SPINNING CIRCLE #2 01.09.00
HOLLAND quarterly cd-rom
by ton maas
is ±01.05.00 interview GARY LUCAS
note: spoken version in english - text in DUTCH, GERMAN and english


after five years with beefheart:


in april, guitarist gary lucas extensively toured holland. before then he had earned a reputation in limited circles through his work in the magic band of don van vliet, who's better known as captain beefheart. right from the first time beefheart played in new york gary had been a fan. that was the 'lick my decals off, baby' tour.

i was dumbfounded... a year later he returned to new haven for a few concerts. then i interviewed him for the radio station where i worked as a deejay. such a personality, i thought, what a fascinating fellow. i was seized by his presence, he really had an aura. a charisma which i hadn't encountered in anyone else. he is an original artist, from top to toe. but then i was still dumbstruck, i didn't dare to tell him that i played an instrument myself too; i was too bashful. i didn't think i played at their level. so we became friends, each time he visited new york i went to his shows. but eventually we lost sight of each other.

one day i read in the paper that captain beefheart was going to perform with frank zappa. how's that, i wondered, for i assumed they were enemies. i knew they once had been friends, but at a certain moment he had dropped zappa. but here they both were! by then i was beginning to think: come on, i'm gonna tell him i play guitar. i drove to the concert, met him backstage and he remembered me and was happy to see me again. so, one moment when i was alone with him, i said: 'don, i play guitar.' (rasping low voice:) 'really, why didn't you tell me so. just let's have it,' he said. then i did an audition for him in his hotel room. and he said he was going to set up a band i could play in. so that was fantastic. but i'd been practising like a demon. i had to try and master their licks. but by the time i thought i knew a piece, it was: 'no, completely wrong, man', when i played it to him. he always wanted it to bear his personal mark.

thus, many years later - two of which he spent in the far east - we saw gary lucas as a member of beefheart's band at 'de brinkhoeve' in roden (yes, of all places!). and just as no meteorite ever hits through the same roof twice, 'de brinkhoeve' will never house a ritual of comparable cosmic dimensions a second time.

working with the wayward artist was tense and difficult; sometimes because of his perfectionism, ànd because of the strong personalities in the magic band. but those five years were an unforgettable experience and that period clearly oozes through in the character of gary lucas' music. he too is primarily interested in sound, in overtones, in the dusk between consonant and dissonant, in rhythmic structures, in blues and other american roots music, in the blowing away of an acoustic guitar till it fills all the nooks and crannies of a concert hall. a symphonic orchestra out of a 65 year old national duolian steel guitar, an abundantly stuffed 'painting made out of matter' from a hardly younger gibson j 45.


i can't deny that he has influenced me. one of his starting-points was: all notes are equal. i think that to be a very useful credo and not only for twelve-tone music. the way he handled his compositions was really unbelievable, as for me. in that sense he resembles very much a painter, or someone who makes collages. those pieces of music swirl around in my head like mobiles. with a weeny wheel here, and a tiny 'thing' there. he knew how to put things together, how he had to arrange his music in order to attain the maximum of effects.

he composed much of his music on piano. of what he had vamped on piano more or less, he then sent me tapes. he himself didn't call it vamped. they were com-po-si-ti-ons. that was what i had to work with. one of them, 'evening bell', took me two months to learn. many notes, a lot of weird intervals. (the magazine 'esquire' later would describe the track as 'a solo guitar piece for which magic band-man gary lucas apparently grew extra fingers'.) composing on the piano, with ten fingers, isn't quite the most appropriate way for a six-string guitar. i once pointed that out to him; i said: 'a guitar has only six strings.' 'then manage to get four more. a guitar is nothing but a stand up piano.'

but i was so dedicated, man. i learned five seconds, or two measures a day. i listened to fragments of five seconds and then figured the notes out on the guitar. that continued day in day out, until i was convinced i had finally mastered the whole thing. and at that moment he would say: 'it's just half of the piece, man!' and then i got another tape.

in a certain way it was kind of funny. when you completely give yourself up to something, it really doesn't matter if you have to work hard for it. but then: you ought to be devoted. because, to begin with, there never was any móney; and further, not everything always went nice and easy. there were psychodramas and there was anguish and that had to do with learning the music and the circumstances you had to adapt to. it was fucking hard work. and he directed you. so if you wanted to add something yourself - forget it. but i was so obsessed by his vision, by his genius, that i subordinated my own artistic input.


i remember i once was with him in the desert, in a small café. at one point someone walked in, a trucker by the look. and he said: 'hey, you're don vliet!' said beefheart: 'you mean don van vliet....' that guy: 'yeah, don vliet! i remember you from highschool, we both were in the car club.' don had always told everyone that he had never been to school! but as far as i know he never had music lessons. however, i believe that there was music played at home when he was a child.

he had an uncle garland - there's a song called 'hey garland, i dig your tweed coat', a kind of homage to that fellow - who appeared to play guitar. so he definitively had been in contact with music. there also was a good jazz station in palo alto, which could be received in the desert. he heard that right enough. not that i want to break his image, you know....

occasionally he told me he liked john coltrane. he had an autograph of him, he showed it to me. it was something he was very proud of. obviously frank zappa and he once went to see coltrane in the beginning of the sixties. he also had a dollar note with the autograph of lenny bruce, which was his pride and joy. he always kept it folded in his wallet and he liked to show it: it was stained, but you still could read 'lenny'.

as mentioned, the adventure with beefheart lasted five years - then the headman definitively dedicated himself to the art of painting, in his desert.

those big ears of his are radar stations. sometimes he said: 'the telephone is ringing' and indeed it did - right after that. once he gave an interview at my home. in the mid of the interview he stood up, said: 'wait a moment', walked to my window and whispered: 'listen!' we heard nothing and then he turned to the journalist and said: 'i don't know exactly what has happened, but look in the papers tomorrow: something really heavy has just come down.' the guy went away, the next journalist entered and during the second interview that first journalist phoned to say... that john lennon just had been shot....

i also received phone calls from zany germans who claimed that the text of 'tropical hot dog night' related to them and if they could speak the captain for a moment....

records, he never sold. he had a tremendous reputation, but the record sales always were quite disappointing. brilliant albums - but you know with the record business, most people don't know what to do with something which hasn't a steady beat or a normal melody.

i became his manager more or less by coincidence too. at first i was co-manager together with my ex-wife ling, then we parted and i continued being the manager. but that was merely because he came along to tell me that i should become his manager then. 'don, i'm no business man, i'd rather not do it,' i said and then don again: 'but i trust you, you are honest, i've really had horrible managers, i'd really like you to do it.' so that's how it started.

but i never felt happy in that role. i got quite schizophrenic with all those different caps i had to put on. then i had to arrange a videoclip he himself rather didn't want to do, for 'ice cream for crow', i really had to talk him round. and i'm glad it did come off. but that's what i was involved in, and besides there was the music which was just difficult enough, plus the records. so it all was quite a strain, i think. i'm proud i was áble to do the job.


gary lucas, born 37 years ago in syracuse, new york, received a solid musical education. at a very early age he already studied guitar and french horn, his first sources of inspiration were jimmy page and jeff beck and from his student time he mainly remembers the parties on which he had to wade through pools of spew afterwards to get his pay. he then also was part of the yale symphonic orchestra, with which he - among others - performed leonard bernstein's 'mass' under the direction of the composer itself. that was in vienna, and the festival also billed captain beefheart and the magic band.

i'm not a singer. but i díd sing, when i had a band in taiwan. after my grade i didn't exactly know what i wanted to do. but i spoke a bit of chinese, i had studied that, and i got a job in the far east at my father's trading company. there i also met ling, my first wife. i've lived in taiwan for two years, and i played a lot and did support work on tv for several vocalists.

back in new york, that was in 1979, he found a job at cbs to make a living and also started to work in the magic band. (his mother's reaction, when gary called her up to tell that he was going to play with beefheart: 'the guitar! murray, he's talking about the guitar again.') after the beefheart trip he didn't touch the guitar for a very long time.

music was too awkward, i even couldn't thínk of it. it was all too emotional for me, too tenacious. we parted because he didn't want to make music anymore, he just wanted to sell paintings. which is all right. i introduced him to julian schnabel, the painter, that's how his current career in art started. so i cared well for him, i would think; i brought him in contact with the upper circles. and afterwards i said: 'see you; i don't want to sell your paintings for you. i hope you earn millions, but i want to have nothing to do with it.'

i hope he'll have success, i really think he's a good painter. but for me the music was so much richer. according to him, painting is superior to making music. he has made statements about it, that paintings can take people farther away. i know he's still thinking of music and that he has ideas for songs, but i really doubt if he's ever gonna record them. i don't believe he wants to re-experience the misery of the bustle of the pop music business.

a gorillacrow trancelation with some help by a genuine bullfrog ©270498


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captain beefheart electricity
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