Captain Beefheart: An Artist, A Heartist by by Greg Prevost and Carl Mack

This interview was taken from the March 1978 edition of Future Magazine.

It is riddled with errors (Muhabbi? Denny Waller?) so don’t rely too heavily on anything they say, but is very entertaining nonetheless. A big thank you to Don Trubey and MJ Stevens for sending it along.

As we approached Captain Beefheart for an interview he was remarking to a small gathering of fans seeking photos “I wish I was an octopus, I really do though. I mean, could you imagine standing there octopied like that. No, I mean man, that’s beautiful, really… I love dolphins, and octopus…”

We met the Captain [Don Van Vliet] in the parking lot, between concerts at the Red Creek Inn here in Rochester recently, during his North Eastern tour, and recorded the following interview:

GREG: [photographing Carl and the Captain holding a ‘Trout Mask Replica’ album, leaning against a white station wagon] Hafta stand back a bit further. [snap!] Did it work?

CARL: Yeah.

CAPTAIN: I thought you said for us to stand back a bit further, I mean that’s asking a bit too… impossible… but no, it is possible to go right through the car, I’ve done a lot of things like that, no, I mean, I have.

FUTURE: What is your favorite album that you recorded?

CAPTAIN: The one I just did, and the name of it is “Bat Chain Puller”, and I’m serious, and that isn’t for publicity reasons, and it is, man it’s Gooood! I got to hear every little note. I wrote every little note, of course I always have, but I got every little note right on the tape.

FUTURE: Do you write your music down?

CAPTAIN: I don’t write it down, well, I do write it down sometimes, but the way I write it most people can’t read it. Like paintings. I actually do, like in ‘Electricity’ [from “Safe As Milk”] the Theramin fellow that played that was about 65, had a little pencil thin moustache, conservative suit, black, very, ummm… [in the background friends were whistling for their dog to stay out of the kitchen] Let him go. Please let him go.

FUTURE: In the kitchen?

CAPTAIN: Sure, let him go get something to eat. [returning to the subject] No, what is it… Bella Lugosi, no, Boris, umm… Bella Lugosi, “Tonight we Fly” [waving a pointed finger toward the sky] No, he looked like that, played a Theramin and was an apprentice of Dr. Theramin and I wrote it on a blackboard and he played it note for note, I mean I wrote advanced music, and he played it note for note, I’m talking about shapes, he did it note for note, and he didn’t miss what I thought, I mean he was fantastic.

FUTURE: Were you originally a musician or a painter?

CAPTAIN: I was a sculptor, a child protege sculptor. When I was 13 I had a scholorship to Europe from ‘Nuitsence Creamery’, and then my folks moved me to Muhabbi near the High Desert, where they put the oriental people during W.W.II, which was real sick. So here I was in Muhabbi, a Marine Base, no, an Air Force Base, I mean order to keep my mind the way it is, they didn’t like my eyes you see, so I had to defend myself, I mean I had to every day. Five people at a time. I mean all you can do when people jump you like that is punch your way out, I mean, who’d want to punch out? But if you don’t punch, you get poked. And I never got poked. That was terrible, leaving that art area in L.A. I used to go to the Park Zoo, I knew all the animals, sculped all the animals, they were all friends of mine, and that’s about what all I knew were animals, and then BOOM! Here I am in Muhabbi. My folks moved there, I couldn’t get away. I ran away many times. I never went to school in my whole life. If you want to be a different fish, you’ve got to jump out of the school.

FUTURE: What other bands do you listen to?

CAPTAIN: I don’t. I mean I don’t. I have one that suits me just fine. I’ll tell you whose been on this tour with me, and I wished he was here tonight. His name is Sonny Ian Slim, Black Blues pianist. The most fantastic, listen, I thought I had heard it all, but man I hadn’t even begun. This fellow is a genius. There’s no doubt about it. I mean this man is brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. I mean brilliant. Just a piano, a grande, and a drummer, and man he did ‘Tin Pan Alley’ for me the other night, and I was crying my eyes out, I almost fell off, in Buffalo I was standing there, and Denny Waller, our slide guitar player saved me, because I was falling backwards, like that [Captain demonstated], and he saved me. I was falling down a Hell of a flight of cement stairs. I mean he just took me. I swear I was off the ground, I think he did levitate me. I mean, I mean that. You’ve got to hear him man. [the Captain’s new Drummer approaches] AND, here’s the percussionist, and his name is:

ROBERT WILLIAMS: Robert Williams.

CAPTAIN: And he’s the best I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with a lot of them. He’s the best I’ve ever played with.

FUTURE: What label are you on now?

CAPTAIN: I wrote ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’, and I’m having a little trouble getting back on a label, because they know I believe in it. But we’re in negotiation with several companies Epic, Capitol…

FUTURE: When you changed to Mercury, your style was a little bit different from the previous albums on Straight/Bizarre…

CAPTAIN: ‘Trout Mask’, ‘Decals’, ‘Spotlight Kid’, and then ‘Clear Spot’, the steps down, because I like people, I like to play, and I want them to play to me, with me. You see, and the point is that then I did an album for the group, because they weren’t making any money. They lent me their hands, to do ‘Trout Mask’, ‘Lick My Decals’, I didn’t want to do ‘Clear Spot’ at that time I went down a little lower like that for the group and did ‘Unconditionally Guaranteed’. They left me after that, and left one with some monsters. I got these people who they could relate to, and then they gave me…


CAPTAIN: 1-2-3-4-5 days, and I gave them 6 years, They gave me 5 days with their audience, and with their fans as well as my fans, in Europe, England, everywhere, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, America… a tour, a big tour, and they gave me 5 days to get a group together to do my music. That’s what you get. “Tonight We Fly” [once again pointing a pointed finger toward the sky] But this group. I’ve looked for this group for 12 years. [Captain-Sax; Lead vocal; Harmonica / Robert Williams-Percussion; Drums / Jeff Morris Tepper-Guitar / Denny Waller-Slide Guitar / Eric Blackjewkitabu Feldman-Bass; Keyboards; Synthesizers] We all love animals, the whole group, complete consciousness, we know, that the largest living mammel is the absent mind. I’ve been getting these record negotiations out of the way so I will be completely clear for publishing books, and things like that, I mean I really have a lot of novels, and a lot of poetry.

FUTURE: Is any of that available now?

CAPTAIN: It will be. As soon as the end of this negotional thing that’s in doing. I have exhibits of paintings available now if you have a plane ticket. They’re back there. [Calif.] I’d like to do an exhibit in N.Y.

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