Don’t you feel though, Don, that when you pick up on these weird guys and turn them into musicians…
You mean like Fellini does?
Well, yeah, but Fellini just uses his freaks for one camera frame or something. You…
Yeah, but that’s what I’m going to do from now on. Just like Fellini. Like, I want to get across to the people. I want to be commercial. I want to play rock ‘n’ roll. Do you know, this new album is the only one that has paid itself back and then done some! None of the others did. You see, I think everything is commercial. I thought ‘Trout Mask Replica’ was a very commercial album, didn’t you? There was a lot of humour on that album that I thought people would pick up on. That’s the only thing I give Zappa credit for. He was asleep most of the time at the controls, but if it hadn’t been for him, that album probably wouldn’t have come out. Also, he free-associates, there is a song on Zappa’s last album I like. It is called ‘Montana’ – I just like that title, you know, ‘Montana’.
But what Don Van Vliet does in art already has what the catalogues call a “distinguished aesthetic history” – which is not, of course, something to be ashamed of. And what he did in music was totally new. This is why people will always tend to be less interested in the development of his technique as a painter than in how he learnt to play the harmonica by holding it out of his parents’ window.
I vaguely recall I first read this story in Creem Magazine a long time ago. The Captain was asked what was the greatest solo he ever heard, and he told the interviewer something like: “Well, I was driving in the deep night on a straight shot through the desert, going 80mph, and I took a D Hohner harmonica out and thrust it out the window. Glory, man!”
Beefheart is the source also of the following:
Captain Beefheart, (Don Van Vliet,) describes the most memorable performance he ever witnessed.
I saw Monk once at a theatre in San Fernando Valley. They gave him a grand piano, a really beautiful Steinway, with a cut glass bowl of roses. He came in late wearing a trench coat. He dumped the bowl in the piano, knocked down the lid, and hit one note. The sound: everything going into the piano, the strings, the water splashing, the roses. And then he left.
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART’S 10 COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING
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 dosen’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 bringing 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. ?
For my own part, the amazing dynamo man, Jamie Cohen, plucked downTrout Mask Replica on his turntable in 1969, and maybe he said ‘And if you think Zappa is weird,’ and it went down. That was my first experience of the avant-garde for sure. My own appreciation is centered on a few amazing bootlegs from 1971, and, much later, the masterful string of ‘free rock’ records he made between 1978 and 1982 before hanging up his harp and growl. Doc At the Radar Station (1980) is one of my favorite records, and, considering that it burst out of the magic volcano in the midst of the punk musical revolution, it is also one of the greatest musical commentaries on popular music…ever. RIP Don Van Vliet (January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010)
Abdullah Ibrahim mixed into a snap of his web site’s splash screen. abdullahibrahim.com
An amazing thing happened the other day. I caught wind that my favorite musician, and friend, Abdullah Ibrahim, had released a new recording, Bombella. But, there was a rub: it wasn’t available anywhere nearby as one of those old fashioned compact discs! One could download mp3s from Amazon or eMusic. I tracked the record to the label, Intuition (Germany.) Yet, it wasn’t out at HMV-UK, or FNAC-Paris.
The desire for instant gratification “at the highest fidelity” being what it is, I went back to check out the link that popped first on google, to an outfit called soulseduction.com. There indeed was the record in downloadable form, in mp3, and, could it be? wave files. Pure digital. Was soulseduction a scam? A pirate haven?
As it turned out, no, soulseduction is a download-only distributor in Switzerland that had licensed Intuition’s catalog and new releases. Bingo! Quick international transaction and 800mb of music was on its way through the wonder of the internet. This isn’t the wave of the future—only an odd type of muso will take the trouble of downloading and burning full digital audio. Still, there the new recording was playing through the monitors after 45 minutes. $19.00.
Let me offer the briefest of reviews: a spectacular record.
Consider its context: Dr. Ibrahim is the most sophisticated and creative musician the continent of Africa has produced. Africa’s music tradition goes back about 50,000 years. Ibrahim has made tens of records during his visionary journey to extend that tradition. Almost every recording is very very good. Bombella exceeds the implied high standard. My guess is that in a month or so I will feel this record is as good as anything he has released.
The great white soulman and musical mentor Delaney Bramlett passed away yesterday. He was 69.
This blog is not intended to mark losses or birthdays. Yet, Delaney’s moving on to the celestial bandstand compells me to suspend this intention. For one thing, I’ve wanted to mention Bramlett | Wikipedia | and something about the miliefrom which he first served notice, and, for another thing, Bramlett ties into some of the earliest roots of my musical own enthusiasms.
In 1970, I saw a TV concert broadcast on PBS. It was Leon Russell and I went out and purchased his first record on Shelter. At the time I didn’t know gospel music or southern soul from anything, and so I couldn’t peg what moved me. However, I was struck by how much Russell and his large band of fabuloius freaks were enjoying themselves. One of my friends, in learning of my enthusiasm, turned me on to Delaney and Bonnie‘s Accept No Substitute. Great record but soon enough everybody in our musical karass is all over Delaney & Bonnie’s Atco debut, On Tour featuring Eric Clapton. Of course Clapton was the hook, yet this record resonated with me in just the same way Leon Russell and …Substitute did–no surprise–and the wonderful southern style and communal ethos laid the foundation for decades of future pleasures.
In 1971, Delaney and Bonnie released Motel Shot, and its hook was the presence of Gram Parsons. Soon enough my curiosity inspired me to connect the dots between southern styles of soul and country and gospel. Now, decades later, I’m reminded that the original thread leads back to Russell and the optimistic, stirring music of Delaney and Bonnie.
In reflecting upon all this, and figuring in my later understanding of how the music business came to work in the early seventies, the crucial point is this: around 1970 the major and small labels, having snapped up almost every extant self-contained rock band, offered their platform to sidemen and ad hoc ensembles of players. It was also the era of free form radio on which various one-ofs in this mode could earn a smattering of airplay. This opportunity was soon dissolved by rock’s success and the narrowing of radio formats during the mid-seventies and beyond.
Still, there remains the musical equivalent of a literature of sincere, front-porch style music, almost all of it provoked by the sheer love of music making, as opposed to maneuvering for huge hits. As I look back on this very brief moment, I can count all of Delaney and Bonnie, the fine records the Bramlett’s helped out on, such as Booker T. and Priscilla, the underground masterpiece by L.A. Getaway, (featuring the whiskey voiced Joel Scott Hill, Chris Etheridge, and Johnny Barbata,) and the three fine outings by Jesse Ed Davis. Similarly, across the country in Woodstock, NY, the communal ethos found advocates in the person of Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Bobby Charles, The Fabulous Rhinestones, and Paul Butterfield’s Better Days. Same vibe. The music of The Band is rooted in this ethos too. And, the southern wing is represented in the example of Duane Allman’s side man appearances, and by all sorts of invarably obscure sessions.
It should come as no surprise that all these musicians root their own musical roots in the rhythm and blues, country and gospel music of the fifties. Fold in the communal aesthetic–who shows up–and put it on the front porch or living room or hotel room (Delaney and Bonnie’s glorious Motel Shot,) or in the road house, and give it the side man’s modest to-the-side, ego, and it ends up not so different than the casual atmosphere that evokes the deep good times of casual yet devoted music making.
The following clip with David Rolston, captures the ethos and aesthetic perfectly.
I don’t know what the following clip is a trailer for, but you get the affable bear-like master reminiscing on the road in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
I’ll miss you and your music Delaney! Bonnie Bramlett, long divorced from Delaney, continues her own musical journey and she remains one of the great voices on the planet.
Make this land a better land
In the world in which we live
And help each man be a better man
With the kindness that you give–Yes We Can
My soul bro Jamie dropped me an email reminding me today is Allen Toussaint‘s birthday. I’m not sentimental about birthdays, even to the extent of being careless. Nor do I track the birthdays of the hundreds of musicians I favor. Yet, the reminder got me to thinking and reflecting upon Mr. Toussaint. This same friend some 26 years ago turned me onto this giant of American music when he dropped the diamond on a Meters record produced by Toussaint. If I remember that day provided a party package of ‘awlins funk as he kept skipped to his stacks and brought me my first taste of Chris Kenner, and Lee Dorsey, and Fats Domino.
So it started.My softest spot remains for Allen Toussaint. Of course he’s basically the king of the entire N.O. crew. I think the only way you can account for a 50+ year career that, for example, reached yet another high musical spot with his record made for Verve Forecast in 2006, The River In Reverse, is that Allen Toussaint is a genius. Life, Love and Faith (Reprise 1972) is an all-time favorite Toussaint record.