Downtown Music Gallery NYC newsletter, March 2017Review of Gary Lucas & Tóni Dezső - Gary and Toni Go Nutz!
Featuring Gary Lucas on guitars & effects and Dezső Tóni on alto & baritone saxes plus guest Attila Dora on tenor sax & bass clarinet.
This disc was recorded in a studio in Budapest, Hungary. A few weeks ago (in January of 2017), I reviewed a fine trio CD with Gary Lucas and two musicians from Hungary, a vocalist named Enikő Szabó and a saxist, Toni Dezso. Longtime Downtown guitar great, Gary Lucas, keeps busy by developing musical collaborations from around the world, especially from eastern Europe. I didn't know about either saxist here, Toni Dezso or Attila Dora, but they sound like all three are kindred spirits. Commencing with an acoustic guitar bathed in layers of effects, Mr. Lucas sails in with that space-rock like sound, a ghost-like sax sailing in the distance. Both saxists appear together on 4 of 13 tracks here and sound fine together.
On "The Nervous Smokers", Mr. Lucas adds a bit of ragtime like flourishes with both saxes playing connected patterns around him. Both reedmen work well together, trading lines on bass clarinet and bari sax on "Trout Fishing in Trump Amerika" which Mr. Lucas adds several waves of echoplexed guitars. I like that much of this is laid-back yet still hypnotic with the tone sound of the guitars altered somewhat on each track. The music here is often like a soundtrack to a series of imagined scenes from a movie. Neither saxes do any screaming or go very far out, they work hard to add shades to the many sounds that Mr. Lucas comes up with on his ever-changing guitars. The cover art is a cartoon of a man and skeleton duking it out on a battle field. The title, "Gary and Toni Go Nutz!" seems misleading since rather than going wild, these two work well together and complement each other in different ways. They do go wild here and there but seem to favor some more restrained sections as well. A healthy balance of extremes makes this a successful disc.
—Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Classic Rock Lifestyle Italia, March 2017O Captain, My Captain Beefheart!
English original of Gary's interview first done over the net with Gabriele Marino and then translated into Italian (see the article here):
Gabriele: Don Van Vliet has always been considered a "visionary" artist—An artist gifted with a powerful, personal, unique imagination. According to your sensibility, which features of his musical approach led to making him such a cult figure within popular music—A "true American Maverick"?
Gary: The guy absolutely followed his own path in every aspect of his artistry and life. I never met anyone remotely like him. Vis a vis his musical approach, to be able to marry Delta blues with free jazz the way he did (such genres forming the basic constituencies of Don Van Vliet's music) is without precedent and to my ears has still never been equaled, although many epigones sprang up in his wake, filtering various stylistic aspects of the "Beefheart Sound", with varying degrees of success.
Gabriele: Do you think that the music of Captain Beefheart has generated true heirs? Or it is more correct to talk about a widespread set of artists and bands that have been influenced by him (eg. Tom Waits, Pere Ubu, Nick Cave, PiL, Half Japanese, Eugene Chadbourne, Old Time Relijun etc. etc.)—But not "true heirs"?
Gary: I would say that many of these artists were influenced by Don's work, yes. Some carried it off with more panache and success than others, let us say. I mean I loved The Birthday Party, for instance. Nick Cave is a friend and collaborator of mine, I worked with Eugene as well.
Gabriele: When I was a teenager and listened to "Safe As Milk"'s outtakes for the very first time—in the Buddha compact disc re-issue—I remained stunned: in those instrumental tunes I already could hear most of so-called post-rock, in nuce. The post-hardcore, math-rock, the Lousville scene structures and sound, in a crude and yet fertile ante litteram synthesis. Am I wrong? And where do you think such an anticipatory capability—which everybody acknowledges to the Captain—lie?
Gary: I just think Don was on to something truly original from the get-go in the mid-60's. Talk about a guy who was eons ahead of his own time.
Gabriele: Do you think that "Trout Mask Replica" obscured the beauty of all the others musical works by Don & the Magic Band? I know you are particularly in love with "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" (1970)...
Gary: No, I think that album clarified for that precise moment for the ages that Don had the most original and forward thinking ensemble concept in music bar none. Decals further refined and amplified on that promise, which is why I prefer it. But they are both incredibly advanced and groundbreaking musical statements.
Gabriele: We have testimonies of Don's visual art dating back at least to 1962. Do you think that his way of painting reflected his approach to music (and lyrics)? And that, for both, the adjective "Surrealist" fits well? (For example: I personally do not agree with those who define Don's music "Cubist Blues"—Don's music seems to me not so into "giving the rendition of different perspectives at the same time" [Cubism], but more into putting together, in a strange and creative way, different elements, musical images that become meaningful just because of such diversity, such a clashing juxtaposition [which is the Surrealist view upon art: the "chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine". according to Lautréamont]).
Gary: Yes I would agree with you here, definitely surrealist and dada-esque rather than cubist. But I would also add "Vorticist" into the mix...because when I turned Don on to the original artwork of Wyndham Lewis, who founded that movement—the most advanced and creative avant-garde art movement in Britain circa 1912 for a few years—Don himself recognized affinities in the Vorticist's particular visual thrust with his own musical output. You might see Don's role as the still center/node in the eye of the sonic hurricane that surrounded him onstage and on record—which is a very Vorticist concept.
Gabriele: Can you recognize a prominent motif within Don's visual production?
Gary: Yes he loved to paint nude black women :-) There are quite a few of them in his oeuvre. Also canines.
Gabriele: You spent a lot of time with Don. During—and after—his musical career, what did he listen to? Did he follow the contemporary rock scene from the Eighties, for example?
Gary: Not at all. He loved the classics—Son House, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Stravinsky, Beethoven's late quartets, Leadbelly, etc. Some choice old and sometimes obscure r&b and blues by folks like Nervous Norvous, Slim Green and the Cats from Fresno and One String Jones. I turned him onto 30's Chinese pop by Chow Hsuan and Bai Kwong which he loved. He had impeccable taste in music.
Gabriele: What did Don do after he decided to quit the music biz? Was he completely absorbed by his visual artistic side? Did he continue to sing lyrics or play harmonica and clarinet etc. in his free time?
Gary: Well he never stopped—he couldn't—his output was volcanic. He had decided though to concentrate solely on the visual side of things to make his living though at the time I left in 1984—under his real name.
Gabriele: How was Don as a person—Beyond music, painting, art—In case there was a Don beyond music, painting, and art, obviously :) ?
Gary: He could be the most charming, gracious, and graceful person. An enchanting story-teller and spellbinder overflowing with Joycean imagery and dextrous wordplay and verbal allusions so refined and up in the air, of the highest wit, that most folks couldn't keep up with him, much less understand or relate to. I could, though, which is why we were so close. He knew I "got it". His verbal flow was hypnotic, and he could stay up prodigious amounts of time just musing aloud conversing with you. Absolutely fascinating and you felt you were sharing a very special moment in time speaking with him. He would see, hear and channel spirits, read signs in the landscape surrounding him, and be able to communicate their essence to you. He had a dark side though, which has been well documented. When you were in a one-on-one with him, he kept his dark side mostly hidden. Under pressure with the band or a lot of people around him, he could become a very imperious and selfish taskmaster, to put it mildly. I don't want to dwell on this aspect of Don though, and choose to remember the kind, noble and big-hearted Don Van Vliet. The other side was part and parcel of his "artistic temperament", which was mercurial to say the least.
Gabriele: Some music historians and critics refuse to consider Don an intellectual proper, maybe because his artistic research was not inside the academia. But we have precise testimonies of his cultural tastes, references, and studies (eg., http://garylucas.com/www/rvw/LewisLetter29_.pdf). Was Don an intellectual, a kind of independent—and free—researcher, or a true gifted idiot savant?
Gary: He was definitely an intellectual who had no formal schooling or training—he rejected that whole trip at an early age, when he dropped out of Antelope Valley Junior College. He didn't need that to produce his art, it only got in the way. And having gone to Yale myself, years later I realized I didn't need it either. I liked reading the literature I was supposedly studying, but I rejected most of the "academic" way of dissecting it as not being relevant to my own critical thinking. Another reason we bonded—we were both renegades in that way.
Gabriele: Can you tell us more about how Don actually worked for composing music? We have accounts of how he used to whistle or sing a given melody and then the figure who he had invested, from time to time, with the title of "musical organizer" of the Magic Band (eg., John French aka Drumbo, in the Sixties) had to translate it into score. You have already defined—and I totally agree—Don as someone "sculpting"—and not "composing"—music—Can you please explaing such notion a little bit more? Did he use alternative notations (eg. visual ones)?
Gary: Yes at times Don would draw a picture to extract what he wanted from you musically. For example—right before I recorded the solo guitar piece "Flavor Bud Living" in 1980 for "Doc at the Radar Station"—which put me on the musical map—he handed me a sheet of stationary from the Western Exterminator Company he'd ripped out of a pad lying around Soundcastle Studio in Glendale (near where he was born). On it had had drawn with his red magic marker a bloody smudge over the hapless rodent, with the instructions "Play Like You Dyed" inscribed to me. So that is how I played it!
Gabriele: You have a personal collection of Don's memorabilia. Would you please be so kind to send me some pics of them, with a brief comment maybe? Do you have a special favourite in Don's published visual production? Gary: yes here it is for you—this is only a partial selection: http://garylucas.com/www/dvv/
Gabriele: Thank you SO MUCH for your time, dear Gary.