captain beefheart electricity

the interviews



from NEW YORK ROCKER #16 010179 usa
by byron coley with an assist from robbie carey
is 26.11.78 interview

(which text was reprinted in JAPANESE translation in japan 011079 rock magazine #27 as 'why don't you listen? there is a sound.')

and the full version

the small matter of an interview with captain beefheart

from PTOLEMAIC TERRASCOPE #28 010200 england

notes: i combined both versions, with the later material in a different colour. the story line followed is that of the authorized second version - teejo

THIS is PART 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4



this interview with don van vliet was conducted in new york city in november 1978, shortly after the release of 'shiny beast'. it was only assigned (by 'new york rocker') the day before it happened and represents my first 'professional' questions and answers. for that reason, some of the follow-ups are pretty lousy, and your humble interviewer was more intimidated than he should have been.

the questions were cobbled together during an all night drinking session with my old friend and fellow beefheart devotee, robert carey. we didn't have any 'research materials' apart from the records, so we just went and saw the show at the 'bottom line', wrote some stuff down, and i walked that long warner bros hallway to the interview room somewhat like a lad on the way to the gallows, clasping a copy of joseph spence's album 'good morning mr. walker' (and maybe the 'orchid spangiafora' eepee) under my sweaty arm.

parts of this were transcribed at the time and ran in the 'new york rocker', but it was only during a recent spate of research on the magic band that the interview tape was fully transcribed. it's curious because it must have been one of don's first interviews with the 'new wave' press and he had obviously been told to say that he liked any band that was mentioned who he'd never heard. later interviews were rather less accommodating of this stuff.



the stars are matter. we're matter. what's the diff, zoot?

don van vliet, aka captain beefheart, has emerged after six years of semi-retirement with a great album. since the release of 'clear spot' in late '72, offerings from the beefheart camp have been both infrequent and less than heartening. even van vliet dismisses outright the two muffed mercury albums 'unconditionally guaranteed' and 'bluejeans and moonbeams', and apart from guest shots on frank zappa records and 'hard workin' man' from the jack nitzsche-produced soundtrack to 'blue collar' [see note at the bottom - teejo], there's been precious little 'product' to keep the faithful going.

yet the past year has seen a number of artists and musicians come forward to sing beefheart's praises: pere ubu, johnny rotten ['sex pistols' - t.t.], etc. mark perry even used 'clear spot' to rest his laurels on the cover of atv's 'the image has cracked'. so 'shiny beast (bat chain puller)' was an important release, for another stiff would have made three strikes, and even the loyalist ranks might have dwindled into nothingness. but hark! it's a homerun smasheroo!

with strains of all of beefheart's best work running through it, and the cleanest, most accessible production he's ever had, this elpee is a smooth shot of van vliet for the die-hard fan, as well as a fine introduction for the young pop initiate. stylistically, it's probably most similar to 'the spotlight kid' (especially on side one), and the only tune that seemed weak upon repeated listening ('harry irene') was more than redeemed by live performance. so, if you haven't seen them, get out there and do it - then everyone of these great numbers will have a well deserved place on the song list of your heart. yay!


the current band (robert williams - tubs; bruce 'old hat' fowler - trombone; jeff tepper - guitar; richard redus - guitar; eric feldman - keyboards, bass; doc beefheart - vocals (yeah!), harp, soprano sax; mary jane eisenberg - maracas, choreography) puts on one heck of a nice show, romping through a peck of old favorites ('abba zaba'! 'old fart at play'! 'her eyes are a blue million miles'! et al) as well as showcasing the new album. it might be noted that eric feldman's near-perfect recreation of rockette morton's [mark boston's] tres tricky bass solo in 'bellerin' plain' sent more than one old fan into spasms of ecstasy.

all in all, the new band seems comprised of youngsters (with the exception of veteran fowler, of course) who were once staunch beefheart fans themselves and, as such. are content to play the older material as close to the originals as they can. this makes for a much more cohesive stage unit, as the lads seem to have less of a yen to go off on their own tangents, and do pretty much as don directs them. you shouldn't infer, however, that this band doesn't put its own distinctive mark on everything it plays - it does.

but the sound this time around, is cleaner, the complex rhythms much less jarring, the guitars less bitingly metallic - in whole, a somewhat 'sweeter' sound - and don's pipes have never sounded better. i was impressed. this is the kind of band / sound / tour / album that could win the magic band the huge following they so richly deserve.


with the help of someone i knew i was able to breach the backstage area between sets at 'the bottom line' [in new york city on 251178 - t.t.]. so i was poking around there, hoping to bestow my kudos on the band, when voila! a door opened and there sat bruce, rick, eric, and robert. i popped in, hoping to score some brownie points with my hearty: 'you guys were really great tonight', but... what's this? eric counters with: 'no, we were really drunk tonight'. what? oh, i get it - these guys have a sense of humor! terrific!

i hung around jawing for a while, when out comes the fact that eric and rick went to high school together. gosh, it really is a small world - i went to high school too! i bummed some money from richard, and in two shakes of a lamb's tail it's time for the second set. it was every bit as good as the first, and most of the older songs included were different from those in the earlier set. richard redus told me they've got 54, 55 numbers 'down'!

still in the sway of this great night of music, i gut the glad tidings that i'd be able to interview mr. van vliet that following day. my coach and i spent the night writing down the questions that had plagued our brains for so many years. and then... whoosh! i'm in the same room with the man. yep, there he was, sitting in the dark, surrounded by notes, sketches, and pack after pack of cigarettes.

i was only a little nervous - after all, i was well-researched and everyone had said how easy the captain was to interview. this is a lie! he's very easy to talk to; he is not easy to interview. don pretty much talks about whatever he feels like, and since he speaks at such an even, unhurried, well-modulated pace, it's nigh on impossible to change his course in the middle of one of his raps.

still, he was great to talk to. quite a guy, i must say. and here, in edited and restructured form, is what transpired...


as the tape begins rolling we're talking about some art film....

yellow is so hard to deal with.

not if you're color blind.

but yellow is... - van gogh dealt well with yellow, but so many painters have really blown it in my opinion.

well, i saw it on a black and white teevee set, so i missed that part. um, how did you get this current band together?

oh, thank you for calling it a current band. because the thing is i really think they do have a current, don't you?

you play as though you've been together a long time....

the thing about them is that they won't work. which is fantastic! my other groups, in the past, have fallen into work patterns. and when that happens, that's it - i leave. these guys just play, it ain't work to them. that's excellent. why put pyjamas on somebody and then turn on the lights? i'm in seventh heaven with these guys. i just wish that i wasn't ill [referring to the recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis? - teejo] - did you see me over there [the bottom line]?


maybe you were there the night before the monitor machine went kapoot.

your poor soundman looked só harried.

he's a nice guy, but you know how sound is, for god's sake. (to photographer:) that's why you take pictures, you know how sound is. sound is a shit. hey, want to trade one of those for a balkan sobranie (cigarette - t.t.)? these are really good. they don't hurt your throat.

i think there are some okay american cigarettes.


i like chesterfields.

they're good.

i'm hoping i can save enough coupons to get a big house.

you ought to get an iron lung with them.

captain beefheart / don van vliet - new york, usa late november 1978 - new york rocker 010179 - picture by scott helser
picture by scott helser
'new york rocker' edition

 (to photographer:) did you ever meet diane arbus (also a photographer - t.t.)?

(photographer:) yeah, i did once.

i knew you did. i'm bit of a clair-voyant -  just a bit of one. but i knew that you had. and by god, wasn't she great? shit. goddamn. she didn't even think man or woman or anything, she was above all of that. when she shot, what did she say? (to his wife jan:) are you listening, jan? he met diane arbus. jan! (whistles) she's got to hear this because she loves diane arbus.



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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo