GARY'S RITE OF STRINGS!
By Ravi V. Chhabra
Gary Lucas dons many hats. An ace guitarist, composer, actor, songwriter and producer. Spanning his mostly musical flights for 40-years with many great musicians like Don Van Vliet a.k.a Captain Beefheart among other rock masters.
fnbworld.com is all too pleased to have him chat with us (email-interview) his voicemail affixed at our music/podcast button on all-pages (top right) and know some facets of the ever smiling Mr. Lucas.
He has over 30 acclaimed albums to date under his 'felt', both as a solo artist as well as band leader in many genre(s). He has toured in 40 plus countries including Russia, China, Cuba, Israel, Morocco, South Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the UK, US and Canada, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. In 2020, instead of doing live performances, due to the wretched COVID-19, Sir Lucas started a Pandemic Live Streaming every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 3pm (EST) on his Facebook page, which has a global following.
Remarkably, Gary has collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Nick Cave, David Johansen, and Lou Reed. He has also worked with Chris Cornell, DJ Spooky, Dr. John, Amanda Palmer, Bryan Ferry, The Future Sound of London, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Hammill, Warren Haynes, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Neuwirth, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Graham Parker, Van Dyke Parks, Iggy Pop, Roswell Rudd, Fred Schneider, Richard Barone, John Sebastian, Adrian Sherwood, Patti Smith, Peter Stampfel, Damo Suzuki, Steve Swallow, Bob Weir, John Zorn, Nona Hendryx, Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra, Hal Willner, Kip Hanrahan, Elli Medeiros, Haydee Milanes, Suylen Milanes, Los Van Van, and Alabama Three.
His recently released album: "The Essential Gary Lucas" (Knitting Factory Records), is an absolute collectors' delight and left me spellbound as it entered after months inside my dust-brushed laptop CD drive. A 36-track, two-CD anthology that spans 40 years of Mr. Lucas' music.
Broadway World states the album: “Offers ample evidence of this maverick artist's trailblazing and unique career.... a truly epic body of work that spans psychedelic rock, film music, classical, electronica, jazz, blues, avant-garde, and world music excursions through 1930s Chinese pop, Hungarian folk, raga, and more, all unified by Lucas's virtuosic guitar and ceaselessly questing spirit.”
In an exclusive interview with fnbworld.com, Garry Lucas spoke with Ravi V. Chhabra as he traverses through his past, now and into the future. I must add here, Gary is so much fun to watch live on social media as he usually offers tips about books, authors, philosophy and he sure has a way with words.
Ravi V. Chhabra: How has the long musical journey been pre-Beefheart and with your band and as a soloist till date?
Gary Lucas: Do you mean post-Beefheart? About 41 years. I joined Don Van Vliet around late 1979 and since we split up in 1984, I have concentrated full steam ahead on my own music. Before joining Don I’d been playing solo and in rock bands since the age of 9.
Ravi V. Chhabra: You are perhaps the only one from the Capt Beefheart camp to be going LIVE on social media regularly and you are always relaxed, despite such Corona times. What is the secret?
Gary Lucas: I think it’s because I really enjoy what I do, playing guitar is sheer ecstasy to me. Plus I’m home in my comfort zone doing it!
Ravi V. Chhabra: A favourite musical ‘episode’/anecdote with Don Van Vilet, considering the mixed reactions about his behaviour patterns by some of the other members?
Gary Lucas: Once in LA we were trapped in a rain storm in his car. There were swarms of mosquitos about, and we started discussing whether or not or rather how they were able to dodge big rain drops. Don started singing in the voice of a mosquito an old blues ala Muddy Waters “Feel Like Goin’ Home”: “Layin’ over in the evenin’ / 'I feel like stingin’ a man!”
Ravi V. Chhabra: In my interview earlier with John French 'Drumbo' he had admitted to mixed emotions for Don Vliet. How was Capt Beefheart to you as a kapellmeister. I mean how do you perceive in flashback and remember his persona?
Gary Lucas: I mainly remember him with total love. I don't dwell on any bad memories of Don at all. I can understand and empathize with John French from John’s perspective, but I never had to live with Don as he and the early Magic Band members did. I had difficult times with Don also but I choose to accentuate the positive in my recollection of knowing him. I never met anyone remotely like Don for sheer creativity and life force. His persona and aura on a good day was magical-- totally captivating , entertaining and charming. He seemed wise beyond his years and also like a playful little boy.
Ravi V. Chhabra: Who has been the biggest guitar influence on your distinctive style … both acoustic and electric?
Gary Lucas: Skip James on acoustic and Jeff Beck on electric, definitely.
Ravi V. Chhabra: I have at least 50 personal guitar favourites from Johnny Guitar Watson, Wes Montgomery, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa to name a few. If you were to name the ones you love in the 5 top 10 guitarists cross-genre, who all would they be?
Gary Lucas: Difficult, as they might keep shifting. How about Jimi Hendrix, Syd Barrett, John Fahey, Skip James, Bert Jansch for starters.
Ravi V. Chhabra: You surely seem to be a ladies man and I especially say this for your amazing rock-jazz and covers with the very charming and famously talented Nona Hendryx and Najma Akhtar those ones I play often. Can you tell our audience how you organized the recordings / live performances with them?
Gary Lucas: I guess I sought them out once I knew they were interested in working with me. Najma I'd already been a fan of since around 1990, when I bought one of her first solo albums. A friend of hers came to me out of the blue and suggested a collaboration which I thought was an excellent idea. I'd been wanting to do something with Indian music for a long time. Nona I knew of through Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads during the time he was playing with and producing Gods and Monsters. Turns out she was a huge Beefheart fan! We met at a Beefheart tribute our friend the bassist Jesse Krakow had put together, and we clicked.
Ravi V. Chhabra: I like the title of your latest double CD release “Essential” Gary Lucas – to me it emotes the ‘sensual’ feeling, I must confess, I do not own this yet; who was behind it and can you please spell the musicians for 'Rishte" and how long did the project take?
Gary Lucas: I am 100% behind that album. Send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a copy. I thought it was time to gather the tribes by putting out a compilation covering much (but not all) of the full spectrum of music I’ve released over the past 40 years—a way for fans who already know some of my work to sample more of it, and a way for curious people who might not have heard any of my music to get into my work . I mean, I’ve generated a massive amount of music since leaving Beefheart. It’s like a hurricane and I am in the center of it. So it wasn’t easy at all to compile it and try and boil it down to “the best of”, it's hard for me to have an objective perspective that way as the creator of it all. But I think I did a reasonable job as curator—although in hindsight there are many tracks I left off for one reason or another that make me go “Damn! I should have put that one on there!” “Rishte” features myself on acoustic, Najma on vocals, and Nitin Mitta on tabla.
Ravi V. Chhabra: I have seen some paintings you have with you done by Don Vliet (my abstract art is increasingly getting influenced with Don's) – any other memorabilia? Are you in touch with his wife Janet? Or any other of the Magic Band groupies – Rockette Morton, Zoot Horn Rollo, John French etc...
Gary Lucas: Yes I have a whole bunch of paintings and drawings and ephemera of Don’s here, all sort of stuff he gave me. I’m not in touch with Jan directly or the other Beefheart alumni really anymore, I hope they're all okay.
Ravi V. Chhabra: Musicians and artistes of high caliber/repute are feted and wooed by charming women. Can we know what’s been Gary Lucas' romantic side?
Gary Lucas: I have a lovely English wife—we have been together many years.
Ravi V. Chhabra: Musical plans/concerts in offing. Are you looking at touring with a band of your own or as a soloist-freelancer?
Gary Lucas: Both really - but we’ll have to see how the pandemic plays out, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. I have a bunch of albums in the can, including two with my Chinese singing partner Feifei Yang. And I recorded two albums with two different male vocalists last year in France and the Netherlands respectively, they still need final vocals. There are some live albums also of various projects of mine that could be out this year, and I plan recording new work with a couple new projects and old ones too. You might say I’m busy!
Ravi V. Chhabra: Going back in time would you now play differently with the 'hard-headed' iconoclast Don Vliet? How would you rate the 'art rock' Trout Mask Replica - in terms of it still not having the ‘mass appeal’? Your favourite Beefheart album and reasons?
Gary Lucas: No I think what I played on guitar with Don was right and true and I wouldn’t go back to change anything about it at all. It helped put me on the musical map, so I guess I must have been doing something right there. I think Trout Mask Replica is an amazing album but I’m not surprised it didn’t sell in vast quantities as it was totally fore-grounded music that demanded your attention and very close listening—something most people don't have the time or inclination to give themselves to. Music for the masses is basically background music, an adjunct to brushing your teeth. I prefer "Lick My Decals Off , Baby" that’s my favorite, because it is the most distilled and concentrated burst of Beefheartian energy out there. The double drumming and marimba add a whole other dimension to the musical statements being made, and the finesse of execution a year on from Trout Mask is breathtaking.
Ravi V. Chhabra: I noticed in your studio/living area a photo of Indian Goddess in the backdrop. What’s the connection with Hinduism or symbolism?
Gary Lucas: I have travelled in India and have found the Hindu mythologies very resonant with traditions in the Jewish faith I was raised in. Especially Kali the Destroyer of Evil, who reminds me of the Shekinah in Judaism, the animating feminine principle of the universe.
He can be reached via: garylucas.com