Don Van Vliet

“Art,” Don Van Vliet, AKA Captain Beefheart once said, “is rearranging and grouping mistakes.” Apparently he was referring to his paintings when he said it, but it’s certainly applicable to his compositional technique and the way he recorded his music. Some might find the music disjointed, and in fact nearly everyone does on first listen, but there comes a moment when it snaps into place: the groupings make sense.

Our rock historian Ed Ward has the story

Once you’ve heard Beefheart,it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.

The roughest diamond in the mine, his musical inventions are made of bone and mud. Enter the strange matrix of his mind and lose yours. This is indispensable for the serious listener. An expedition into the centre of the earth, this is the high jump record that’ll never be beat, it’s a merlot reduction sauce. He takes da bait. Dante doing the buck and wing at a Skip James suku jump. Drink once and thirst no more.“

Tom Waits on Captain Beefheart and Trout Mask Replica.

Captain Beefheart (Anton Corbijn, 1980)
From this Mojave Desert encounter, a deep friendship developed between Corbijn and Beefheart, a.k.a. Don Van Vliet, who later said: “I told him … just shoot the meat! … He brought out … my love of animals.  He got parts of me I didn’t even know I had … Anton shoots the edges and occasionally … even the bent parts!”

5 Reasons I Love Captain Beefheart

1. He claimed that he could remember being born. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

2. During a warm-up performance for the Monterey Festival in 1967, Beefheart thought he saw a girl in the crowd turn into a fish and blow bubbles from her mouth, so he straightened his tie and promptly walked off the ten-foot stage, landing on their manager Bob Krasnow. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t play the festival and a 20 year-old Ry Cooder exited the band. Acid is bad for you, kids.

3. Beefheart had a five-octave vocal range and his voice was so powerful that he actually shattered a microphone whilst recording ‘Electricity’ for his first album. Allegedly he would purposefully try to catch colds so he could retain his scratchy and growling Delta blues vocals.

4. Beefheart rented a two-bedroom house in the Woodland Hills in LA where the Magic Band lived communally, writing and rehearsing the Trout Mask Replica album for 8 months (which Zappa produced). The whole process became a cult-like experience with one band member permitted to leave the house once a week to collect food and drinks. Various band members actually escaped the house, but then felt compelled to return (suckers)! Despite the fact that a band member was thrown down the stairs at one point, the songs were so well rehearsed that 21 of the instrumental tracks were recorded in a single four and a half hour session. Best tyrant ever.

5. Aside from all of the crazy, tyrannical stories that you hear (which I happen to love), the fact of the matter is that Don Van Vliet was an innovator. He really did influence and pave the way for a slew of artists to follow and was unashamedly experimental. He also wore his own influences proudly on his sleeve, lifting his vocal style from heroes like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson.

And here’s another 3 reasons why you should love Captain Beefheart too:

-Lucy B

Captain Beefheart’s Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing: ‘Your guitar is not really a guitar’

Captain Beefheart hired Moris Tepper to be his full-time guitarist in 1976, a position he held until the Captain’s retirement in 1982. Along the way he imparted these handy guitar tips:

1. Listen to the birds.

That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar.

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush.

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil.

Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out.

If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone.

Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key.

That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty—making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument.

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place.

When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine.

Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.