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Monday, December 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing

Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart left the building the other day. He'd actually left music a long while back, choosing to become one of the century's most influential painters instead.

That being said, Beefheart was the most influential musician many of you have never heard of, directly influencing punk, new wave, grunge and avant garde with a style so unique as to be indescribable. His music started as traditional blues, but Don quickly decided to go beyond the form, taking it just as far outside as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman ever did in their most adventuresome periods.

Trout Mask Replica (the cover can be seen on the left) was perhaps his best known and loved album, and it sounded so wrong and off center on first listening that you just couldn't believe that there was anything musically redeeming in its grooves. But each listen opened up a new layer of brilliance until you couldn't get enough of it or the man who made it, if you gave the album half a chance in the first place.

With that in mind, here are Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing from, followed by the first part of a brilliant documentary on the man that says much more about the man better than I could ever write it.
Budding guitarists take note.
"Though they bear numbers, they are not arranged heirarchically — each Commandment has equal import."

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 guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're brining 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 placeWhen 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.

This sound advice can be found in the book Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama (1996).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so true!! As a musician and a guitarist trying to get from A to B I cannot agree more with the principals behind these words.

Thanks for a great blog and letting people like me get a little closer to our goals.


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