Doctor Dark Decoded

A beat by beat dissection of this song from Lick My Decals Off Baby.

For the past few years musician Tony Malone and his Beefheart Project Toronto have been working on covers of many of Don’s songs from across all his albums. Their intention was to be respectful to the originals as possible but present them in a different way. To understand how to play the songs Tony had to deconstruct them by stripping them down to each beat, riff and rhythm. The band then learned their parts and reconstructed the song.

To give an idea of the work involved in the original composition of the songs and how they were sculpted out of the many bits that Don threw at his arrangers, either John French or Bill Harkleroad, Tony decided to put together a film to show how one song was dissected and laid out on a grid. The song he chose was Doctor Dark.

Watch the film and be amazed …


  1. Very impressive film. Such a clear presentaion. Re: the Ornette Coleman connection. Ornette famously disregarded harmonic strictures and the reliance on chord changes so as to free up melody. Similarly, Beefheart’s music has always seemed to me to be built from short melodic passages on various instruments with little regard for harmony… or something like this (I’m no music scholar). Just my thoughts.

  2. Great stuff! I knew it wasn’t random. The grid idea is great. BTW can I take photos of the Trout house without disturbing any current residents?

    1. Author

      I guess you can take photos from the road but going onto the property is best avoided unless you have permission.

  3. This is excellent, I’m so glad I found this! The way he explains the breakdown is EXACTLY how I think about music, lol. This song has been stuck in my head for day. Thank you!

    1. Well done, amazing work!

  4. Thank you, sir. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this. I’ve been a massive Beefheart fan since 1970, and at various times Decals has been my favorite record and I know it well (from a non-musician viewpoint). I met the Captain in the early 70’s and grilled him for about 15 minutes. Yeah, Doctor Dark is a helluva song, one of the better ones. Very interesting to break it down in this way. Again, thanks. Ronnie Childs, Richmond VA USA

  5. being a huge Beefheart fan and musician I am wondering about the rehearsals for LMDOB. Were they done in the TMR house and under similar circumstances?

    1. Author

      I think LMDOB was written and rehearsed under less intimidating circumstances. Bill Harkleroad was now the arranger as John French had left the band. And I believe Bill and Mark were living away from Don which meant they weren’t all cooped up in one house under Don’s cult-like domination. They still didn’t have any money though!

  6. Thank you for this.

    I’m not a musician; I knew there was some organization behind this track, although it always sounds resolutely chaotic to my ear. It turns out that it’s incredibly intricate, and completely planned and intentional.

    Brilliant deconstruction.

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