Captain Beefheart's "10 Commandments of Guitar Playing"

I haven't played a stringed instrument since high school, but "Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing" sounds like damned good advice for whatever you're passionate about.
...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...

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.

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing (via Making Light)

(Image: Trout Mask Replica, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from seventime's photostream)

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    1. The Captain is many things to many people, genius to some, unlistenable to others. But one thing he was definitely not was a hack.

  1. Practice in front of a bush. if it doesn’t shake eat another piece of multigrained bread.

    This isn’t advice. This is hippy comedy at its best!

  2. What a hack is right! He completely forgot the commandment about smearing yourself with chocolate and peanut butter and dancing a jig at midnight during a full moon on the top of a church steeple. HA!

  3. I got into Beefheart in college. One day I asked one of my music professors, “Jim: Beefheart. Waddaya think?” He swooned and said “My man! One time I saw him play; I was at the back of the theater, grooving to it, and I look to my side and who’s standing next to me but Charles Mingus, grooving right along as well. ‘Charlie,’ I said, ‘what are you doing here?’ He said, ‘This is the only rock cat I dig.'”

    If you think that Beefheart is a hack, then I suggest that you learn definition two of the word “hack“, and start using it correctly. Beefheart is the exact opposite of a hack.

  4. Well. . . for those that think Beefheart is a hack, I disagree, but I don’t want to argue about it, since there is no accounting for taste. All I know is from the very first instant I heard his music at age 18 I was completely hypnotized and enthralled. I think it’s unfortunate that “Trout Mask Replica” often gets foisted upon the uninitiated, since it’s his most difficult album. Listen to “Clear Spot” or “The Spotlight Kid” (available as a 2-on-1 cd at one point) and then try and make a convincing argument that he’s a hack; even if you don’t like them you can still recognize the talent there.

    As for the commandments, yeah some of this is silly hippy jokesterism, but some of it is dead-on. “If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore.” I can attest to the fact that my best playing came when I was struggling. I would end a gig and think “man, I stunk tonight”, then hear the tapes and realize I was really solid. A lot of jazz musicians say you are supposed to practice practice practice so you won’t think when you play live, and I agree. Even his quip about putting a bowl of water in your guitar case is not really a joke: I have to keep my guitars humidified in the winter, so when I’m not playing them I have a wet sponge in plastic inside the case.

    1. Totally agree about “Spotlight Kid” and “Clear Spot.” The latter is like a dictionary of Fender guitar sounds.

  5. I got into Beefheart in college. One day I asked one of my music professors, “Jim: Beefheart. Waddaya think?” He swooned and said “My man! One time I saw him play; I was at the back of the theater, grooving to it, and I look to my side and who’s standing next to me but Charles Mingus, grooving right along as well. ‘Charlie,’ I said, ‘what are you doing here?’ He said, ‘This is the only rock cat I dig.'”

    If you think that Beefheart is a hack, then I suggest that you learn definition two of the word “hack“, and start using it correctly. Beefheart is the exact opposite of a hack.

  6. Safe as Milk is a great place to start. Trout Mask is more for advanced listening. A hack? Trolls, trolls everywhere.

  7. I always liked Clear Spot, and, from the album, “Big Eyed Beans From Venus” is a tour d’force, and may be the wierdest fucking song you’ll ever hear.

  8. I’d recommend starting with “Shiny Beast.”(the current Rhino release) It’s somewhere between Trout Mask and the commercial stuff. Brilliant arranging and melodies, but plenty of associationist poetry.

    1. Careful now: technically “Shiny Beast” is the still unreleased album that the Zappa Family Trust owns. “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)” is what you mean, and this was actually the very first LP I heard by Beefheart, the one that hypnotized me; yes, it’s a good starting point as well.

  9. As others have advised, if you’re curious about Beefheart, DO NOT put on “Trout Mask”. It’s amazing, but it’s hard listening. Kind of like trying to get into The Beatles via “Revolution 9”. Instead, “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)” is a great place to start; so is “Safe as Milk”.

  10. This is fun in a way, but everyone knows Don was a wacko, even if a cool one. And he never touched a guitar, I think.

  11. “silly hippy jokesterism” isn’t a bad thing. it’s a good thing. it’s a BIG thing of the hippie thing. Merry Pranksters ahoy!

  12. Whatever your opinion of Captain Beefheart’s talents, it is pretty much fact that without the Captain Beefheart records, Tom Waits would not have transitioned into his 80s-present cling-clang-bluesy-barky vocal style. Listen to Trout Mask and then listen to Bone Machine.

  13. I would bet 1000 dollars that beefheart Did not come up with these. They’re not funny or clever

  14. As a serious guitar player, I’m appalled. His ‘advice’ is superficial and mostly poser-ish, and none of it applies to actual guitar playing. (Those who pick up the guitar for music, and not because they want to impress some other chick or show off, won’t benefit from such ‘advice’.)

    1. i don’t think i’d ever care to hear you play guitar then. if you don’t have the humor, soul or broad-mindedness to “get” this, you’re way too uptight to be playing guitar. try the lute, maybe?

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