June 14, 2007

Advice? Listen to the Cap'n...

by Chris Randall

I'd seen this before but somehow forgotten it. I just ran across it again while taking my yearly troll through The Fatman's site. Whether or not Captain Beefheart actually wrote/said this, every word is true. Can also be applied to keytars and drumtars, I guess. One thing I know for certain: that dude in Dream Theatre who's name mercifully escapes me never read this.

Captain Beefheart's Ten Commandments For Guitarists:

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 doesn't shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. WALK WITH THE DEVIL...Old delta blues players referred to 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 demons and devils. 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 power 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 YOUR CHURCH KEY...You must carry your key and use it when called upon. That's your part of the bargain. Like One String Sam. He was a Detroit street musician in the fifties who played a homemade instrument. His song "I Need A Hundred Dollars" is warm pie. Another church key holder 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 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 to put a saucer of water in with it.

10. YOU GOTTA HAVE A HOOD FOR YOUR ENGINE...Wear a hat when you play and 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 wet paper towel around it to make it grow.



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Jun.15.2007 @ 12:39 AM
Darren S.
i think this might be one of your best posts. if not, it's one of the most useful!
now if only i could practise just one of these points my guitar playing might actually take off into that skronky yet flowing zone i've always wanted it to go to??
somehow i don't see this one eliciting the usual amount of opinions/interest in your "electronic" readers??
who were those guitar players for the Cap'n anyways?
i've been told a young Ry Cooder may have played with him?
i think Marc Ribot may practse some of these 10 points?



Jun.15.2007 @ 12:46 AM
Gary Lucas...he who went on to provide the otherworldly guitar parts on Jeff Buckley's Grace album. Marc Ribot lives in my neighborhood, and I see him on the street from time to time...never wearing a hat, though. ;-)

Jun.15.2007 @ 1:25 AM
Chris Randall
Just in case some of our foreign or younger readers don't understand the reference, this is what a "church key" is:

link [www.just-for-oprs.or...]">link [www.just-for-oprs.or...]

Not a religious reference at all, unless you find God in a bottle.



Jun.15.2007 @ 1:27 AM
Those ten commandments sound like something the Fat Man himself would say. I mentioned to him once how David Zicarelli noted that audio quality is now more of a parameter than an absolute goal. Fat replied,

"Okay -- yes! And *furthermore,* before quality was a parameter, there were some people who still had the balls to *use* it as a parameter. In other words, when people were trying to build undistorted amps, there were other people distorting them and saying, *'There.* That's fine. I like that.'

"It's funny -- every year at Project Bar-B-Q [the Fat Man's computer audio conference; I'm on the advisory board] we have this discussion: 'What is good sound?' And we keep wanting to measure it. We keep wanting to have somebody come out and define it for us. And I keep coming back to Jim Reekes's definition of good: whatever makes your dick hard. Because that's what sound *is.* And *nothing else matters.*

"Technology is 8,000 rungs down the ladder compared to what sounds good. There are times you're going to want to hear a bird singing outside. And there are times you're going to want to hear your child breathing, because you thought he'd stopped. That's going to be what sounds good. And *that* is what audio artists do."


Jun.15.2007 @ 1:28 AM

Jun.15.2007 @ 1:43 AM
btw. this must tell something about how little i know about people in the audio industry... after reading that i was suddenly like "oh hey, fat man, that sounds familiar", and sure enough - he's done soundtracks to lots of games i played as a kid. most of them being ones whose music actually rocked.

Jun.15.2007 @ 1:44 AM
I dunno about the hat part. Also, how young would you really have to be to not know what a church key is? 14 or so?

Jun.15.2007 @ 2:46 AM
dan s
Great. Part 5, that's what I always strive for. (And as a foreign reader I appreciated the church key explanation, it sure saved me a trip to google)

Jun.15.2007 @ 3:31 AM
my favorite-
DON'T WIPE THE SWEAT OFF YOUR INSTRUMENT...You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.


Jun.15.2007 @ 6:09 AM
#4: So, how do those of us who've left the boxes of glass and wire behind for amp sims hold up?

Still electricity for sure but... maybe we can only conjure up one of Beezles lieutenants with our quantitized buzz? Little Nicky at a push..?


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