Captain Beefheart Vinyl, CD & tapes by Captain Beefheart at Norman Records
No-one has ever quite sung the blues like Captain Beefheart. No-one has ever led a band quite like Captain Beefheart. No-one has made an album quite as out-there but culturally significant than Captain Beefheart did with his notorious 1969 opus Trout Mask Replica. He is a true one off….let us tell you why.
Beefheart (born Don Van Vliet) was an artistic prodigy who as a teen discovered the blues and jazz music of the likes of Robert Johnson and Ornette Coleman and soon joined a local group the Magic Band as singer and lyricist. Initial recordings were relatively straightforward blues stompers and debut album Safe As Milk showed this mostly traditional sound just starting to fray at the edges as Beefheart gained more control of the band. It was notable for featuring future-legendary guitarist Ry Cooder but more importantly perhaps, drummer John French (aka Drumbo) joined the group. It was French’s ability to notate Beefheart’s increasingly fragmentary ideas that would see the band edge towards the contemporary, experimental music for which they became known. In the meantime they released some stellar records - Safe As Milk was great if you discounted the Captain’s frustrations about it being too straightforward. It contained some of his most commercially-leaning songs as well as some of his most affecting. Follow up 'Strictly Personal' was marred by the departure of Cooder and also producer Bob Krasnow adding psychedelic phasing to the final mix which put some listeners off and distracted from its wonky blues template. Follow up Mirror Man was borne out of jam sessions and featured four lengthy compositions which ebbed and flowed showcasing some remarkable musical moments if you could stick with it long enough. This was Beefheart at his most freeform and randomly sprawling. The difference between this and follow up Trout Mask Replica can not be overestimated.
Trout Mask Replica was produced by fellow musical freak and former Beefheart teenage pal Frank Zappa. It was a double album containing 28 tracks of wild blues abandon, avant garde experimental rock, poem, skits and everything in between. There was absolutely nothing like it and initially listeners were baffled. 'The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening remembers his disappointment “They’re not even trying! How could Zappa do this to me?” he was quoted as saying. But like many others, further listens revealed its intricacies and he ended up loving the album. It’s hard perhaps now to listen to the album without knowing of the torture band members had to go through making it. Musicians suffered beatings, humiliations and starvation at the hands of a man whose behaviour straddled the line between creative genius and unwarranted cruelty.
The album is now rightly recognised but Beefheart continued to create great works. The follow up Lick My Decals Baby was similarly out-there but with a more percussive feel courtesy of Art Tripp of Mothers of Invention who added marimba and second drums. After that Beefheart retreated towards a more user-friendly and laid-back sound with the twin albums The Spotlight Kid and Clearspot. The core members of the Magic Band subsequently left and Beefheart re-emerged with what has been dubbed ‘the Tragic Band’ for the underwhelming albums 'Unconditionally Guaranteed' and 'Bluejeans & Moonbeams' released to the horror of fans of his more creative earlier work. Beefheart later disowned those records and his remaining three albums were back to the avant rock template he had invented nearly a decade earlier and was now making waves with younger people listening to punk and new wave. It gave Beefheart a late caree
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