SCJ Interview: Capt. Beefheart

By Lynn Cradick

The Straight Creek Journal, January 2-9, 1973

Captain Beefheart. Van Vliet to his mother, sat on the couch with his lady. He did not look like a man who preferred bean sprouts to LSD, shunned grass, had a head full of zinging popping color cartoons running amok behind his eyes. He looked like a nice Hell’s Angel turned musical genius.

He smiled at questions asked, accused Frank Zappa of stealing much of his early material and claiming it Zappa’s and the Freak Out Mothers. Over a beer in the bar, he gave us a Christmas card, “Blood is the Movie. Life runs on ... Merry Christmas. Captain Beeefheart – Van Vliet. ’’

The Captain had just returned from a European tour. In England and Holland he opened an exhibition of his paintings as well as playing his music. His once and then group, Magic Band, has included musicians ranging from Rv Cooder to Roy Estrada. We had hoped he would ask the SCJ Quartet, specializing in duck calls to do a spot on his next album. Instead he gave us this interview.

Q. Did you find Europe receptive to your music?

CB: Well, we did 15 shows in England, and they were all sold out. The Albert Hall was sold out a month and a half in advance. It was only the second time they had ever filled it up for a rock concert. We were received very well on the entire tour of Europe.

SCJ: What is going on musically in Europe right now?

CB: Many groups are doing exactly what I did seven years ago. You know all of us used to wear dresses, and I used to wear lipstick, until I grew my moustache, lipstick looked horrible with a mustache. Those little English fellows that do that thing are never going to get their wish man, they’ll never be able to grow tits, we found that out years ago when we used to do that stuff.

SCJ: Were you glad to get back in the US?

CB: Yeah, I think people here are more open. Being real open in a society like this is sort of like taking poison (drugs), but I think it will improve with young people getting involved with the arts and doing things like your paper is doing. It’s up to everybody to improve the arts. I recently had a showing of 35 of my paintings at exhibits in Holland and England. 1 try to do my part in reaching people in that way.

SCJ: Do you feel that your art and music is being appreciated for what it is?

CB: People should appreciate my art in the way they interpret it personally. I hate to see people taught how to appreciate things. I think that some music publications work too close with the big record companies and that’s not the way to present a music. It’s bullshit when they try to tell you what’s good and what isn’t.

SCJ: Are there any other ways that you strive to raise the standards in art?

CB: Yes, I have several books that will be published soon. I’ve written about 50 full length novels and also have done short stories, sonnets.

I create in other ways too. I had this ’40 Buick and when I was invited to this martini drinking swimming pool party I drove the Buick through the back yard, over the fence and into the pool. The joke almost backfired though when I couldn’t get the door open and the water was over my head. I thought it was groovy. It cost me about three thousand dollars ... but ... it was a nice art statement.

SCJ: Ry Cooder said in his interview with us that when he was in the group several of your musicians would carry knives and guns to your performances. Are any of them still with you?

CB: No, they don’t do that any more: that was my other group. This new group is all right, none of us dig violence at all. Sometimes we had to do that though to play safely, like in Bakersfield.

SCJ: A lot has been said about your early association with Zappa. Did he ever actually play in the “Magic Band”?

CB: No, Zappa just didn’t have sense enough to play. I wanted to play and he wanted to work. I’ll play but I won’t work for anyone. I don’t have that quality of a conscious.

He even says on his albums, “well, I’ve got to go to work man”. That’s no way to create music. What’s a banker doing being a musician anyway? I told Zappa years ago, when he was a good guitarist, to come over to my group but he told me that “I can’t cut the charts man”. I told him that none of us had charts. None of us were sick, and we could do without charts and the nurses too. He didn’t come and he missed the best chance he ever had.

SCJ: You did play on Zappa’s ‘Hot Rats’ album, though.

CB: Yes, on Willy the Pimp. Actually Hot Rats was my title, along with Lumpy Gravy and Burnt Weeny Sandwich. Cruel scene man like Zappa taped me in the desert about 11 years ago. That tape with me is where he’s gotten a lot of material. If he wants to deny that I know that he has the tapes.

SCJ: Doesn’t Zappa score most of his material?

CB: Yes. most of the words are scored off me, and. the music is scored off of Stravinski and several others.

SCJ: If Zappa got a lot of his stuff from you then where did you get it?

CB: I didn’t. I had it.

SCJ: From where?

CB: Well, I guess I got it from a doughnut like everybody else ... I never thought that I was supposed to get it from somebody else. That’s probably because I never went to school. Another thing, I never went to school with Zappa; that was all a publicity thing.

 SCJ: You seem to have your doubts about Zappa’s musical ability.

CB: If you want to know the truth, I don’t think that Zappa has any musical ability. What he did have was some very good musicians. But now I have the best musicians he ever had. Art Tripp and Roy Estrada. They were the only thing, happening in his group anyway, except for Ian Underwood. I called Ian over, but he got headaches because my form was formless. He was trying to be hard with soft material which you just can’t do.

SCJ: You refer to dope as poison. This may seem strange to many people since music as strange as yours has always been associated with drug usage.

CB: I don’t know why people should take poison when listening or playing music. It’s just the opposite of what music is all about. It’s no joke man. You got groups like the Jefferson Airplane telling all the kids to “choose their hard drug”. What in the Hell are they doing, advertising the AMA murder association?

A lot of artists have repressed themselves and tortured themselves through drugs to let beauty out. I think if you see something beautiful that you don’t have to go down into the hole to dig it.

SCJ: Where is your newest album ‘Clear Spot’ coming from? It doesn’t seem as freaky as some of your other works.

CB: It comes from Planet X X. They get straighter as you go out – less contamination you know. No, really I have wanted to do this type of think all along. It’s what I started out doing. I’ve just made kind of a circle back around.

SCJ: Do you see yourself getting into more blues in your future albums?

CB: I’ve wanted to for a long time. I’ve just been waiting for those little fellows to get out of the way. Guys like Joe Cocker Spaniel and Neil Young ... is so young, why does he kneel.

SCJ: You grew up in southern California. Is that where you got your blues influences?

CB: Yeah, I had it right at home. My mother was from Memphis, and my grandfather was from New Orleans. They were about as blue as you could get, they were sitting around saying “Woe is me” all the time.

SCJ: You mentioned that you were going back to California after Denver. Do you plan to return to play soon?

CB: Sure man. I like Denver. I used to play at the Family Dog here years ago. I played a big amplified flower sifter the last time I was here. As far as coming back though I will be opening Marvelous Marv’s here on January 8.

And that comes from the doughnut.