Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

Somebody's had too much to Think!

- Ashtray Heart

Speaking of
criminally underrated music acts ... 

Dominating my own personal K-Tel Records compilation is the one and only Captain Beefheart (born Don Vliet, January 15, 1941).

Don Van Vliet, circa 1969

Despite the fact that I am ashamed to admit I discovered the music of Don Van Vliet a couple of short years ago, I can honestly say that no one comes close.  

No one.

I am confident that had I heard (and properly digested) Beefheart's Dada Blues at a younger and more impressionable age, I would have done more to follow down that same path. 

At the very least, I would have stuck my fork in the socket and discovered the power of Electricity sooner.   

The Past Sure Is Tense!

It was hard to avoid hearing about Beefheart while cultivating my own music tastes (a process that continues almost daily), considering so many of my favorites would either name check the man in interviews - or end up lumped in with the good Captain by journalists and music scribes.  After all, Beefheart's influence on the punk and no/new wave movements of the 70s and 80s is simply too strong to ignore.

But I did manage to avoid listening to his music.  

In the end, I blame Frank Zappa.  

 - Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart, 'Bongo Fury', 1975

It's not so much that I dislike Zappa (which I do).
The man is to be respected for such an impressive set of facial hair.  
And fifteen years after Zappa's death, his overall mastery of the zither remains unparalleled.

Not to mention those Frankie and Annette flicks.  Brilliant.

In generalized essence, one of my main beefs against Zappa, in relation to Captain Beefheart, is that you can read a nice cross-sample of articles on Frankie and never come across mention of Beefheart.  
On the other side of that coin, you would be hard pressed to read something on Beefheart without tripping across a Zappa reference (or ten).

'Childhood friends'.  
'Zappa produced Trout Mask'.
'Zappa Ate the Grunt People!'
'Bongo Fury kept the Captain sailing, dude'.
'When ya' workin' with Frank again?  When ya' workin' with Frank??'

In the minds of too many - and that includes my own inner circles of inspiration, Beefheart and His/The Magic Band were nothing more than a Zappa freak show put-on; ala Wild Man Fischer, the GTOs, and Burt Ward.  

That truly is Tragic.  

From 1967 until his retirement from the music business in 1982, Beefheart produced twelve 'official' albums, four fluid versions of The Magic Band, and enough myths to choke Joseph Campbell's dog.  On top of that, he influenced notable artists and personalities John Peel, The Residents, Tom Waits, John Lydon, The Minutemen, Matt Groening, and P J Harvey - just to name a select handful.  

Is that not enough evidence to support the notion that Van Vliet deserves more time out of Zappa's shadow?

Regardless, the debate matters little these days.

Captain Beefheart followed his Big Eyed Beans back to Venus long ago.

Down With Vegans - Up With Beef!

Links of Interest:

Safe As Milk - the Magic Band's first album, 1967
Trout Mask Replica - Considered by many to be Beefheart's Magnum Opus
The Spotlight Kid + Clear Spot Double Shot - Possibly Beefheart's finest hour.  Both albums released 1972
Ice Cream for Crow - The Swan Song, 1982
The Captain Beefheart Radar Station - An excellent site

... and after checking my email during the editing process, I would like to publicly state my apologies to not only the Zappa estate for the facial hair remark - but also to the estate of Anton Karas for the zither crack.  Funny... Annette Funicello didn't seem to mind.


  1. logis interperati, not a stationery-fixed homecookbook. lots abrew goin' on in the stew. John French, i would say, gets the brunt of the lost prosperity, but he still looks good in swimtrunks, which is more than i can say for The Capt. and i gotta say in Frank's defense (which i usually don't, being a VELVET UNDERGROUND enthusiast): >>> >>> specifically tracks 8 thru 13 (the main suite), and Zuben Mehta no less.

  2. Knowing a bit of the history, I guess French deserves the 'prosperity' more than anyone. Feldman, too.

    Heck, the entire Magic Band - in every form - deserves more respect than they receive; The Strictly Personal-era band, in particular.

    And thanks for that Zappa link.