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Sing Out! Vol. 54 #2, Memorial to Don Van Vliet, December 2011
Don Van Vliet a/k/a Captain Beefheart
By John Kruth
From 1965 through 1982 Donald Glen Vliet (born January 15, 1941 in Glendale, California) led a revolving and ever-evolving ensemble of musicians known as the Magic Band, who cut a dozen of the most unclassifiable yet profoundly influential recordings to be found in the annals of popular music.
His debut, 1967's Safe As Milk (which was anything but) featured a young Ry Cooder on slide guitar. Best known for his eccentric masterpiece, 1969's double album Trout Mask Replica (produced by the equally freaky Frank Zappa) Van Vliet, who played blues harp, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, took the concept of Cubism from painting and applied it to the blues, concocting a psychedelic mash-up of Howlin' Wolf's feral yowl, Dadaist poetry and train-crash rhythms.
His moniker "Beefheart" as Van Vliet explained was inspired by the "beef in my heart against society." After never attaining a larger audience beyond a "cult" status figure, the cantankerous Captain retreated to the Mojave Desert in 1982 to concentrate on his art, his original calling.
I'm sad to admit that I never caught Van Vliet live, but my friend, guitarist extraordinaire Gary Lucas, who joined Beefheart's band in 1980 and played on two of his best later recordings, Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow had a front row seat on the Van Vliet whirlwind rollercoaster. I now yield the floor to the senior guitar slinger from New York City:
"Don Van Vliet a/k/a Captain Beefheart deserves a special place in the
Sing Out! pantheon as perhaps the most radical American visionary and
innovator ever to recast and explode traditional folk and blues idioms
in a sui generis manner over an astonishing body of work whose
reverberations will continue to be felt as long as people continue to
listen to music. And his homespun folk genius (a primitive, a prodigy
composer, painter, sculptor and poet) who never studied music or
painting) extends far beyond his innovative music, which partakes
heavily of the language of country and electric blues and free jazz
forms, and re-contextualizes them in a landscape simultaneously both
familiar and utterly foreign and whimsically askew, and also
encompasses his rich rugged individualist lyrical imagery, which
harkens back to narratives of the Old West, epic poetry, Anglo-Irish
sea chanteys, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Beat poetry, Dylan Thomas,
Herman Melville, Salvador Dali, and a whole lot more. A shaman, a
spell binder, a tall tale teller—"I don't do music, I do spells" was
one of my favorite utterances of Don Van Vliet's pantheistic
world view. His craggy bluesy voice is as expansive and encompassing as
the wide open spaces of the Great Plains, and his heart as big as the
Van Vliet "got his hat" on Friday, December 17th after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 69.
All About Jazz Italia, Review of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", August 2011
Gary Lucas is a protean guitarist whose output ranges from more experimental and ethnical records to straight ahead rock ones as is the case with The Ordeal of Civility, out on Knitting Factory records, a label that after a period of seeming inactivity is coming back strong. Production comes from Jerry Harrison, of Talking Heads fame. This album is a really convincing one, it brings Lucas back to Lou Reed territory and we might add shapes him as a sort of 21st century Bob Dylan, able to combine musical immediacy with lyrics that are never lacking of deep meaning, often apocalyptic and visionary. There is no shortage of meditative moments, loaded with reminiscences of world music that remind us of other less rock oriented efforts by Lucas, an artist that would've surely fit into 60's New York, in the Village, like a glove, with artists such as The Fugs and poets like Ginsberg at the grips with revolution. Lucas' guitar performances are excellent, who from Beefheart to Jeff Buckley, never lost his robust artistic vein. With him in this project are "Gods and Monsters", musicians that have been with him for a long time and therefore guarantee a level of cohesion that makes the album even more enjoyable. The small horn section delivers a great variety of ambience which boldly enriches the expressive potential of what is substantially a drums, bass and guitar power trio.
translation by Stef Bernardi
Strumenti Musicali Magazine (Italy), Review of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", August 2011
Already at the Court of an atypical and genial character as Captain Beefheart and as a collaborator with the unfortunate Jeff Buckley, Gary Lucas is a multifaceted personality who likes to create rock less conventional with avant-garde ambience.
In this album, produced by former Talking Head Jerry Harrison and as the leader of the Gods and Monsters band in which there is among others former Television drummer Billy Ficca, this original guitarist from Syracuse mixes acid rock, new wave reminiscences and country blues, r'n'b horn sections and more.
In short, Lucas once again escapes cliche and even only for this reason, deserves attention.
translation by Annarita Mancini
Relix, Review of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", June 2011
Dr. Frankenstein, I presume? The only sick thing about Gary Lucas is how well he plays guitar. Lucas, who diverts Delta blues down countless acoustic and electric capillaries, leads Gods & Monsters, a top-notch psychedelic rock band consisting of Television drummer Billy Ficca, Modern Lovers bassist Ernie Brooks, and former Talking Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison, who also produced the band's throbbingly intelligent third album, The Ordeal of Civility (Knitting Factory). G&M's deep bag of tricks lets them soar optimistically ("Chime On," "Climb the Highest Mountain"), swing effortlessly ("Hot and Cold Everything"), and even evoke the horrors of a1941 Polish pogrom ("Jedwabne").
HITS, Review of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", May 2011
3. Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters, The Ordeal of Civility (Knitting Factory): G&M has existed in one form or another since 1989, with world-class guitar muso Gary Lucas the only permanent member in a shifting line-up that once famously included the late Jeff Buckley. The heady Yale alum, who most famously collaborated with mentor/idol Captain Beefheart on his two Virgin albums in the '80s, has named this disc after John Murray Cuddihy's 1974 book about 20th century anti-Semitism and the problematic integration of Jews into European society as seen through the influence of game-changing Jewish thinkers Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Claude Levi-Strauss. Produced by Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison, the band's current line-up consists of ex-Modern Lover Ernie Brooks on bass and Television's Billy Ficca on drums, along with sax player Jason Candler and keyboardist/trombonist Joe Hendel. Lucas gets to strut and fret his wide variety of guitar sounds, but placed within the context of a band and song setting, this is arguably among his most accessible projects. "LuvzOldSweetSong" is a rolling, roiling slice of New York industrial garage-rock, which swings by way of the heartland, at once reminiscent of the Velvets, the Modern Lovers and the Grateful Dead. "Chime On" is a Dylanesque nursery rhyme that touches on several delta blues/folk tropes and nursery rhyme chants, including a nod to the "Rock Island Line," with a chorus consisting of Jenni Muldaur and Alva Roger providing the background sirens sweetly singing. "Swamp T'ing" has Creedence Clearwater hanging with the TeleVoidOids on the Bowery circa '77: "And that's the way/That's the way that it is," drawls Lucas, as horns and guitars fight for position. "Come on choose your partner/Give her a tumble before she tumbles you," he jokes, tongue-in cheek. "And if you're feeling frisky/then Ernie Brooks will make you sadder than blue." The horn-driven Memphis-style "Climb the Highest Mountain" has a Springsteen-ish gospel feel, with a Candler sax solo that channels the Big Man. The instrumental "Hot and Cold Everything" is a Dead-style blues sprinkled with jazzy sax and horns, Lucas doing some Wes Montgomery picking, before segueing into a Hendrix-ian wah-wah rave-up. Ye pastoral olde English folk of "Lady of Shalott" is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' Elizabethan "Lady Jane," with a blend of Bert Jansch and Pentangle, as Lucas faux intones in his best medieval troubadour narration: "You are the lady of Shalott/Just what is real and what is not," underlining it with some mean acoustic picking. "Peep Show Bible" takes some of Lucas' twisted Beefheartian riffs, overlays a Lou Reed-meets-Dylan narrative to create a southern hospitality rocker with a downtown sensibility. "Don't look back/Lest you turn into a pillar of salt," warns Lucas, with a dash of the fundamentalist preacher from Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and the blaring horns of the Stones' "Bitch." Lucas shows off his chops in the Mississippi delta blues of "Whirlygig" and the lush acoustic strumming of "Lazy Flowers," while "Depression" is a Cramps-like rockabilly stomper with Richard Hell vocals and a nod to psychedelic '60s Nuggets garage outfits like The Standells of "Dirty Water" fame. The finale, "Jedwabne," is named after the Polish town where a pogrom in July, 1941, resulted in 300 Jews being put to death, exposing the country's previously denied complicity with Nazi Germany. Lucas tells the story with the gravitas of Leonard Cohen (whose "Hallelujah" was popularized by Jeff Buckley): "Watch out for the future in front of you/When only the bones and the stones still remain." The song builds to a stunning climax, couching a moral lesson in the midst of a remarkable display of heady musical dexterity. See, you can be smart and rock at the same time.
—Roy Trakin, Trakin Care of Business 5/20/11
Mother Jones, Review of "Peep Show Bible" from Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", May 2011
"Peep Show Bible" from Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters' The Ordeal Of Civility (Knitting Factory Records)
Liner notes: Firing off stinging slide-guitar licks as a rowdy horn erupts, Lucas growls "From Genesis to Revelation, ain't a thing that ain't been tried and done," in a riff on scandal and organized religion.
Behind the music: This cult hero compiled a staggering resume over the past three decades, working in Captain Beefheart's band, writing songs with Jeff Buckley, scoring films and TV shows, and playing with everyone from Iggy Pop to Roswell Rudd to DJ Spooky. The latest Gods and Monsters album showcases his accessible side, featuring backing from underground vets Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers) and Billy Ficca (Television), with production by Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads).
Check it out if you like: Richard Thompson, Lowell George, John Fahey, or any guitar virtuoso who prizes feeling above pure technical ability.
Shindig (UK), Review of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters - "The Ordeal of Civility", June 2011
GARY LUCAS' GODS AND MONSTERS
The Ordeal Of Civility
Last issue, fearsomely-prolific guitar maestro Gary Lucas was here weaving ethereal guitar washes for a psychedelic installation. Now he's back again with the avant-blues-rock supergroup he started in 1989, still boasting the rhythm section of ex-Blondie-Television drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Ernie Brooks [ex-Modern Lovers, now Arthurs Landing], produced by Talking Heads' keyboardist Jerry Harrison as he focuses on writing songs along with the usual scintillating guitar excursions.
The musical menu is wildly-varied, from spirited electric romps ['Depression', 'Peep Show Bible'] to esoteric brass instrumentals ['Hot And Cold Everything'] and John Fahey-style acoustic guitar bombardments ['Whirlygig', 'Lazy Flowers'], while 'LuvzOldSweetsong' oddly recalls late-period Bowie, 'Jedwabne' a powerful Jewish lament. One of Lucas' skills is taking music's pivotal past movements and putting them through a personal blender now so fine-tuned that the various, diverse strains sound like they've just been stumbled upon, and he's here to tell you about it.
Shindig (UK), Review of Gary Lucas - Vinyl 7" Single "Music for the Eden Project", May 2011
Music For The Eden Project
With the recent tragic passing of Captain Beefheart, Gary Lucas has again found himself expounding on the man he worked for around 30 years ago but, since then, this ferociously-prolific guitarist has unleashed a mind-blowingly diverse barrage of collaborations and solo projects, all connected by his incandescent guitar salvos and barrier-crunching excursions.
His latest statement was composed for 'a psychedelic environmental installation', in collaboration with UK visual artist Paul McGowan, appearing as a limited, turquoise vinyl seven-inch single. One side sees Lucas cleave a breathtaking hall of mirrors flight path aided by a deftly-operated electronic arsenal which accentuates rather than dominates. The other serves as a similarly-captivating example of his steel-string mastery, sometimes echoing the virtuosity and unknown pleasures of the great John Fahey, the late genius who defined the form nearly 50 years ago. Well worth tracking down.
The Wire (UK), Review of Gary Lucas - Vinyl 7" Single "Music for the Eden Project", May 2011
Bizarrely, this seems as though it might be the first vinyl released
under Gary Lucas's name. An extremely well-known player both for his
own beautiful work and his tenure with Beefheart's Magic Band. His
previous efforts as a leader have all seemingly been digital. How
lovely, then, to have this in hand. Gary's performance is as deft as
ever. His acoustic playing is complex and emotive, his electric work
an elaborate patchwork of surfaces and styles. Great single. Make some
Byron Coley, "Size Matters"
Rockerilla (Italy), Interview, January 2011
GENIUS AND PERSEVERANCE
Interview with Annarita Mancini
A Grammy-nominated songwriter, during
thirty years of his career Gary Lucas has
collaborated with a who's who of rock (Iggy Pop,
Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Bob Weir, Lou Reed, Captain
Beefheart) and the poet Allen Ginsberg.
In Italy he is perhaps best known for composing
"Grace" and "Mojo Pin" by Jeff Buckley, but in the last two decades
he has produced an average of one cd a year
as a soloist (with various collaborations) or with his supergroup
Gods & Monsters, featuring Ernie
Brooks (Modern Lovers, Elliott Murphy) on bass, Billy
Ficca (Television) on drums, Jason Candler (Hungry
March Band) on alto sax, Joe Hendel (Faddy Acids)
on keyboards and trombone, and Jerry Harrison (Talking
Heads) production. With this prestigious
background, he just finished recording a new album, "The
Ordeal of Civility" which will come out
next May. Lucas is constantly touring the world
with his various shows and has also been asked to perform
in the most important film festivals. He recently returned from
Cuba, where he gave four concerts, after a tour
in continental Europe and England, where he
performed a stellar concert ar the London Jazz Festival last
November. His many projects include "Spanish
Dracula", his original solo guitar score
accompanying the 1931 Spanish-language horror film "Dracula" (d. George Melford)
produced by Universal
Studios and filmed simultaneously as Lugosi's "Dracula", using the
same sets of the original film. Evidence of the fertile
collaboration period of the time in which Lucas and Jeff Buckley worked together
is the posthumous album
"Songs To No One 1991-1992", consisting of studio recordings, home
tapes and various live performances in New York clubs.
He is currently organizing a tribute to Jeff Buckley
at the Knitting Factory in New York. The proceeds of the
ticket sales will be donated to Road Recovery. Among the
various guests there will be Alessio Franchini, who has already
participated in various tributes to Jeff in the world, including one in
Paris and our own Italian tribute on 4 December at the Velvet Cub in
Rimini. On this occasion we have made some
1. With your solo projects as "Spanish Dracula" or with the Gods & Monsters, what kind of artistic dimension do you prefer?
I try to expand the boundaries of music in everything I do. I like to push against the parameters of conventional standard issue music and create something beautiful, astonishing, and yet still user friendly, something that could be enjoyed by a large audience and still function as an avant garde objet d'art.
2.How did your collaboration with Jeff start? What did Jeff represent for you, in your artistic and private life?
It was suggested by the impresario Hal Willner that I try and collaborate with Jeff when he was mounting a tribute to Tim Buckley, Jeff's father. And when I met Jeff he told me he loved my playing and was a fan of my work going back to the days I spent with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. To me Jeff represents the ultimate musical collaborator in my life, I have never met anyone with his flair and gift for making perfect and empathetic music in tandem with my own artistic aesthetic. In my private life he was a dear friend who jumped into the breach at a critical moment in my career when a long term project of mine had collapsed and he helped me continue forward and encouraged me on my chosen path in music.
3.How did you create together songs such as Grace or Mojo pin? How did they come to life?
These songs began as my finished instrumental solo guitar compositions—I wrote them apart from Jeff but keeping his voice and sensibility in mind while I composed them—I could almost hear his voice in my mind singing over this music as I wrote it! I then sent it to him and he created the melody lines and lyrics that fit these musical templates like a glove—they were perfect in every way. Together they matched up and these songs Grace and Mojo Pin sprang to life as if fully formed by a divine being.
4. Although many years have passed after his departure, the memory of him is still so alive for you and he's celebrated with tributes pratically all over the world. How does it feel like to be called to pay tribute to Jeff?
I am totally honored, as I feel the work I did with Jeff remains unsurpassed in an overview of my artistic life to date. People continue to come up to me nearly 20 years now after the fact of creating this music with him to tell me that these songs changed their life—and there is no better feeling on earth than to feel you have done something special for people out there you don't really know—but when you meet them you feel like they are long lost friends of yours, connected deeply by this music. That is a wonderful and awesome feeling!
Rockzone (Spain), Interview, January 2011
The Sound of the Old Terror
Gary Lucas is one of the best guitar players you can listen to in the world. A primary collaborator of Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart, this year he has dedicated himself to putting sound to some of the most horrific dreams of the XXth Century.
By Ignacio Reyo
Translation: Caroline Conejero
A great fan of horror films, Gary Lucas is recuperating some darker examples of the gender, composing music to works that originally were scoreless films. That's the case of the Spanish version of "Dracula" filmed in 1931, when Universal Studios used to shoot its films in different language versions aimed to facilitate distribution in non-English speaking markets. It's Saturday night, it's cold and the hang over precludes from watching more than one film. Just at that moment Gary connects into the social network. He tells me he's in a break of rehearsals for a concert in Italy he is preparing with songs he co-wrote with Jeff Buckley, so we decide to do the interview over the phone. After the usual preamble, we briefly review the old glories of horror cinema when blood didn't get in the way of solid plots. It wasn't necessary, there was talent.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a score for the Spanish "Dracula"?
"The British film maker Sebastian Doggart asked me for some music for his documentary on Condoleezza Rice, "American Faust". There wasn't any money but in exchange he promised to bring me to the Film Festival in Havana, which is where he actually once lived. It was the Festival of the New Latin America Cinema so i needed to create an score for some Spanish film. And the Spanish "Dracula" came to mind! I recalled that the only audio it had was the dialogue and sound effects, but it didn't have a music score. I checked it out and that was that. I decided to compose a music score for solo guitar based to underscore the critical moments in the images. I proposed it to the festival and they loved it. I did the world premiere in the La Rampa Theater in Havana. It was a great success."
It has been said that technically this film is a better version that the one of Browning. Which one you choose?
"In my view the Spanish version is a superior piece in any aspect you analyze it. The editing is so much more sophisticated and the camera work is better. The wardrobe so much sexier.. Lupita Tovar is hot in the film (laughs). And well, the acting is so much more expressionist. Also there are longer shots of Dracula looking at the English sea from the rented bayside mansion, they are fantastic. Those shots were left out in the version of Lugosi. The Lugosi/Browning version is very static, is more like filmed theater. But the Spanish version is different. It's obvious that being filmed at night, the Spanish version was improving over what Browning had shot over the day."
Besides this film you have also compose a score for "The Golem" of Carl Boese.
"These are two of the archetypal myths from the origins of horror film. The world Golem is Hebrew and means matter without soul. Vampirism is a recurrent theme in the Greek mythology, the primary source of nightmares."
Always the old horror cinema... They don't do projects like they used to, so innocent and so full of mystery at the same time.
"Of course!! That's why i love to work with horror films. Since i was a kid I've been fascinated by horror films and science fiction. I used to screen 8mm versions of Universal classics for my friends in the basement of my house. The good thing about the old horror films is that they focus on the atmosphere not the gore. The films after the 70's make me sick showing so much blood and violence... They don't leave anything for the imagination. There are always exceptions but that's the trend. I don't find them too appropriate either for kids or for the public in general. That's why I'd rather go back to the classics, they are more about true horror. They keep out all that overt stuff and allow you to form your own interpretation in your mind."
What do you think about Hammer Films and also Murnau's version of "Nosferatu"?
"All Hammer productions are very interesting. The use of technicolor, the literary scripts, those elegant sets.. The erotic vampiresses portrayed by actresses like Martine Beswick, Barbara Shelley or Ingrid Pitt that passed away recently. Regarding the original "Nosferatu", it's a very gloomy film, it really scares you. The rat face of Max Schreck ... it's like a German version of Evil coming back to life."
Even though the level has been lowered, there are some good vampire films been made in the last forty years. Indeed, "The Hunger", "The Addiction"...
"I like "The Hunger" and also Coppola's "Dracula" except for the fact that the vampires can walk around under daylight...without it having any effect on them!! I haven't seen "The Addiction". I find excellent Herzog's remake of Nosferatu. Ohh, and I love From Dusk Till Dawn of Tarantino, who also wrote the script, with Clooney, Keitel, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson and a super-hot Salma Hayek."
Surprisingly enough you are also composing music for "Esta Noite Encarnerei no Teu Cadaver" of Jose Mojica Marins. His character Coffin Joe is terrifying.
"That's right, it's one of the craziest conceptualizations of an anti-hero ever made. Marins is genius. I had lunch with him last summer in Sao Paulo. I was there performing 'The Golem" in a horror festival run by Marin's distributor, Betina Goldman. Marins is a super nice guy, he must be around 70. He was with his girlfriend, an exuberant young Brazilian lady, and amazed me that he still had his long nails (laughs). I'm still working on the score for his film."
"Captain Beefheart used to say that horror films were the only true reality." GARY LUCAS
Would you like to work with David Lynch?
"Of course!! Why not? When I was in Yale i used to run a society of horror films along with my old friend Bill Moseley. It was called Things That Go Bump in the Night. Bill is right now an actor and has performed in Rob Zombie's films The Devil's Rejects and House of 1,000 Corpses, besides the sequel to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The thing is that we wanted to write a script about the Wendigo, a monster from the Indian-American mythology. We got together a few times in the summertime of 81 to develop the idea. We used to hang out at the White Horse Tavern, in the West Village of Manhattan, a big, old bar where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. One night before starting to write we went to see "Eraserhead". We were so impressed that we decided to leave aside our script. It's one of the most powerful, strange and imaginative horror films. It didn't make any sense to continue our project. Lynch got even better in some scenes in "Blue Velvet" and also "Mulholland Drive" in the sequence between the blonde girl and the brunette in the club of silence. That sequence is too much!! (Laughs) I talked with him once, he's a fan of Captain Beefheart, so who knows, maybe one day we'll do something together."
I understand that Captain Beefheart used to love terror films.
"Beefheart told me once that horror films were the only true reality. He used to love "The Brainic" and "The Honeymoon Killers", the original version, that is one of the most terrifying films of all times. When he recommended it to me he said that that film was just about the way that it is. I meet Tony Lo Bianco, featured in the film, in a party at the MOMA. I told him how much I loved the film and curiously enough he seemed embarrassed about having been part of the film".
Given that you have travelled all over the world, I'm sure you've lived situations when you though "God, this is really a horror film"!.
"Yes.. One time, in a rural area in the Czech Republic, they put me in a sort of Bates Motel with neon lights and all. The motel was at the end of a road in a very much deserted part of the outskirts of the city, an hour away from Prague. My tour manager and producer, Richard 'Faust' Mader invited me to play songs in a pub where national folk intellectuals used to meet. What they'd do basically was to take American folk standards, use the same melodies and substitute Czech lyrics. In the end they would all play and sing together and got totally drunk. After an hour i got tired of this and i left alone to walk back to the motel. As soon as I left and started walking through the road, I was surrounded by the thickest fog I've ever seen in my life and I felt the presence of something devilish lying in wait. I couldn't tell you what it was but you could feel it and it was somewhat demoniac. I kept looking for the neon light although i couldn't see beyond my step. The thing is that I felt totally cold and i felt that that thing was coming down on me. I turned around and started to run the hell out of there back to the pub. Inside they were going on with the party but i insisted Faust come back with me. As soon as we left the pub, the fog had covered us completely. Faust though it was a curiosity, like in a Hitchcock movie. We continued walking and finally we saw the neon red light through the fog. Faust left me in and came back to the pub, but truly it scared me so much that I felt i was literally trapped in a horror film."