Don van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, is a phenomenon.
After having a major impact on the history of popular music - creating music in the sixties, seventies and eighties that is still ahead of its time, he decided to leave the music scene in 1982 and focus on his other talent, painting.
Legend has it that with one painting he earned more money than in his entire musical career.
Not only is it quite unique that an artist voluntarily leaves the musical arena, Van Vliet also withdrew more and more from public life altogether.
Co de Kloet, (radio)- producer, musician and composer, known in many circles as The Creative Catalyst, met Van Vliet in 1975.
In 1980 they met again during the recording of the last show Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band would play in Amsterdam. His manager and then part-time guitar player at that time was Mr. Gary Lucas.
Soon, to precise as of the next album, the 1982’s “Ice Cream for Crow” he was a full time Magic Band member. And… the only band member who recorded two solo guitar pieces by Van Vliet on his albums.
Since 1990 Gary has been a full-time guitarist, songwriter and band leader with over 30 albums released in a variety of genres. He also published an impressive book on his personal and artistic relationship with Jeff Buckley. (Touched By Grace).
In 1993 CdK decided to devote a 4-hour special to The Captain for the famous Dutch radio show “Supplement.” At that time Van Vliet had already decided not to do any more interviews. However, based on their good relationship, he did agree to an hour-long telephone interview, most likely the last lengthy interview he ever did (in this period he also delivered quotes for the short, yet impressive Anton Corbijn film “SomeYoYo Stuff”).
On one hot summer night, CdK conducted one of the most intense interviews of his career. The material was used for radio and quoted in numerous articles and books.
So there it was, the last long conversation on record with a phenomenon.
But over the years, the Thing itself collected dust on one of the many shelves in CdK’s NPS office. All that time there was a question mark hanging over it… there was more to it than just the words. But what?
It took yet another decade for CdK to hear the light, as it were. Besides merely a conversation - the weird noise of the phone, the way Don spoke, the pauses, the ambience, the bizarre associations, the contrasts - everything pointed toward the idea that these tapes should be regarded as a music track for a larger recording, whereby the words themselves would be overruled by the pure sounds and dynamics, sort of like Instrumental Vocal Music (not to be confused with Instrumental A Cappella).
With this paradox in mind, CdK approached Gary Lucas, his “1980 link,” and asked if he was interested in participating in ‘scoring’ the interview, wherein the new music and the old tape would be equal in importance.
Gary said yes, CdK sent him the transcription of the basic material and a few months later, in January 2008, the recordings took place. First recorded was a basic layer to the complete track, then inserts which consisted of Gary Lucas improvisations and lines as well as ideas that were the result of thought-exchange between CdK and Gary.
CdK requested sounds, notes and sometimes conducted Gary, a challenge in itself!
The mixing process was fun too, because engineer Frank and CdK had to avoid treating the music as background to the conversation. The equality of the sources was of primary importance.
The end result is “I Have a Cat.”
Besides a radio presentation, Lucas & Co present this piece as live performances.
Please note that this was, in no way, intended to imitate or even approach Van Vliet’s music.
This piece is in fact, an homage to a great man who showed us all that originality is a precious goal, tool and talent.
…or in his own words: “ If you want to be a different fish, you gotta jump out of school!”
By the way, Gary Lucas and Co de Kloet think of the end result as a ballet.
- Kortenhoef/New York, Spring 2017