Gary Lucas Captains His Own Ship

Eclectic songwriter/guitarist discusses working with Captain Beefheart and his solo career at the GRAMMY Museum
  • Photo: Mark Sullivan/
    Gary Lucas at the GRAMMY Museum
September 15, 2011 -- 1:49 pm PDT

Songwriter/guitarist Gary Lucas was the featured guest for a recent installment of the GRAMMY Museum's Great Guitars series. In an intimate interview setting, Lucas discussed his musical influences, meeting and collaborating with Captain Beefheart and his solo career, among other topics. Following the interview, Lucas performed a brief set, including "Rise Up To Be" and "Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro" from his 1999 EP Paradiso.

"I never met anyone like him, he was truly an absolute genius," said Lucas regarding Don Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. "[He was] the most artistic person I ever met."

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Lucas was encouraged by his father to start playing guitar at age 9. While attending Yale University, Lucas, who was the music director for the campus' radio station, saw Captain Beefheart in concert and was inspired to want to play in his band. In 1973 Lucas was a soloist in the European premiere of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" from the Liturgy of the Roman Mass. Lucas, who had became acquainted with Beefheart, ultimately joined the eclectic artist's band, appearing on albums including 1980's Doc At The Radar Station and 1982's Ice Cream For Crow. After Beefheart retired from music to pursue painting, Lucas collaborated as a producer with artists such as Tim Berne and Peter Gordon. In 1988 Lucas set out as a solo artist, playing a series of shows at New York's Knitting Factory. A year later, he formed Gods And Monsters, a project that has featured musicians such as the late Jeff Buckley and Matthew Sweet. Lucas co-wrote two songs on Buckley's 1994 breakthrough album, Grace, including the title track. In 1990 Lucas released his debut, Skeleton At The Feast, an album showcasing the depth of his guitar abilities. Lucas subsequently released additional album such as Gods And Monsters (1992), Busy Being Born (1998), Free Flying (2004), and Beyond The Pale (2008).

Lucas' latest album, The Ordeal Of Civility, was released in May on Knitting Factory's label imprint. The experimental rock set features 11 tracks, with 9 being solely written by Lucas. Nicknamed "The thinking man's guitar hero" by The New Yorker, Lucas has played concerts in more than 40 countries worldwide, according to his website.

Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include The Drop: Johnny Gil (Sept. 20), An Evening With Nick Mason (Sept. 22), Spotlight: Matthew Morrison (Sept. 24), and An Evening With Blind Boys Of Alabama (Sept. 28).

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