Beefheart (real name Don Van Vliet) was born in Glendale, California in 1941. One wonders what the Lancaster High School, which included Frank Zappa and Van Vliet could have been like. After playing briefly with a band called The Blackouts, the 'mad captain' took the name Captain Beefheart and formed The Magic Band in 1964, which was based in Los Angeles. His first single for A&M was a version of Bo Diddley's Diddy Wah Diddy.
His debut album, which was rejected by A&M and eventually released by Buddah in the U.S. and Polydor in England, sounded like nothing that had been heard before. Beefheart's growling and grunted vocals were most unusual, his vocal range most impressive, but some of the lyrics almost inaudible. Nonetheless, the material was of a consistent standard, with Autumn Song, Zig Zag Wanderer, Electricity and Yellow Brick Road among the stronger numbers.
Mirror Man, the next album he recorded, was rougher and not released until 1971. It is not considered one of his best.
Strickly Personal, was even less commercial, but represented a musical progression. Raw blues numbers like Ah Feel Like Ahcid and Gimme Dat Harp Boy were combined with more imaginative tracks like Trust Us, On Tomorrow and the excellent Kandy Korn, which features some superb intertwined guitar work, and displays Beefheart's vocals at their howling and growling best. The album was apparently mixed without his supervision.
However, this line-up disintegrated after the album, St Clair left to work in a car wash and Handley joined a printing works. Then Beefheart by chance bumped into his old school mate Frank Zappa, who was busy setting up his Straight record label. With the promise of complete recording freedom Beefheart started work with a revised line-up on an album. The result was inevitably bizarre. Many would find Trout Mask Replica completely bewildering on an initial hearing. The band apparently recorded it in four hours and added the lyrics in four and a half hours without hearing the music! Most of the songs on the album are formless in the traditional sense, but far from being spontaneous, the band had rehearsed the material to the point of obsession. The album became an underground classic, regarded by many as the pinnacle of challenging music and hated by others. It was certainly atmospheric. Beefheart's next album was similar but lacked the apparent spontaneity of Trout Mask Replica.
Following the band's return from a nationwide tour in 1971, Beefheart and Zappa fell out and Beefheart switched to Reprise and changed his line-up bringing in a couple of influential figures:- Elliot Ingber, formerly of The Fraternity of Man who became known as Winged Eel Fingerling and Artie Tripp (Ed Marimba) from The Mothers of Invention. The resultant album, The Spotlight Kid, was his first album to make any impression in the Album Charts peaking at No 131. His next, Clear Spot, was made without Fingerling, but with Roy Estrada on bass. Musically this was one of Beefheart's best albums and it also made the album charts peaking at No 191.
Here we leave Beefheart - his subsequent recordings being outside the time-frame of this archive. He and his band were an almost unique phenomena in the history of rock. Quite unlike anyone else, especially on those early recordings, and musically at odds with mainstream rock, these recordings are essential for connoisseurs of progressive rock.
"Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do" (Don Van Vliet, Herb Bermann) – 2:15
"Zig Zag Wanderer" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 2:40
"Call On Me" (Van Vliet) – 2:37
"Dropout Boogie" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 2:32
"I'm Glad" (Van Vliet) – 3:31
"Electricity" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 3:07
"Yellow Brick Road" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 2:28
"Abba Zaba" (Van Vliet) – 2:44
"Plastic Factory" (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) – 3:08
"Where There's Woman" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 2:09
"Grown So Ugly" (Robert Pete Williams) – 2:27
"Autumn's Child" (Van Vliet, Bermann) – 4:02
CD bonus tracks
Buddha's 1999 reissue of the album features the following bonus tracks (all selections written by Don Van Vliet).
"Safe as Milk" (Take 5) – 4:13
"On Tomorrow" – 6:56
"Big Black Baby Shoes" – 4:50
"Flower Pot" – 3:55
"Dirty Blue Gene" – 2:43
"Trust Us" (Take 9) – 7:22
"Korn Ring Finger" – 7:26
Don Van Vliet – vocals, harmonica, bass marimba, arrangements
The Magic Band:
Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, bass, background vocals
Jerry Handley – bass, background vocals
John French – drums, background vocals
Ry Cooder – guitar, slide guitar, bass, arrangements of "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" and "Grown So Ugly"
Samuel Hoffman - theremin on "Electricity" and "Autumn's Child"
Milt Holland – log drum, tambourine
Taj Mahal – tambourine
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