The Magic Band was born cool. With a guitar and bassist called Alex St.Clair Snouffer and the incredible Ry Cooder (who was 20 at the time) on slide, something was going to take place. In 1967, in Great Britain, the lovable Mop Tops were doing Sergeant Pepper. Captain Beefheart was recording his first and for me his best album, Safe As Milk. People like me thought that fish and chips was a treat and that Shirley Abicair and Lottie Hass were babes. Lady entertainers in 1967 wore ball gowns whilst playing a zither. Russ Conway was the star guest on the Billy Cotton Band Show and appeared in a dinner suit. Straight? People wore white knickers, and not ironically either.
Being in the band was no holiday: the parts were worked over and over and he was a hard taskmaster. Cooder got the Safe As Milk gig because the regular guitarist had a nervouse breakdown.
Beefheart and those guys fought like cat and dog all the time, never did much of anything elsesaid Cooder in an interview. Later albums, particularly Trout Mask Replica, were complex and atonal with lots of odd time signatures. Often, these pieces were almost abstract expressions. TMR is a kind of vinyl Jackson Pollock but not an album I can really appreciate. Frank Zappa produced Trout Mask Replica and of course, the Captain guests on Zappa's Hot Rats.
Beefheart was never going to go mainstream. Beefheart is there because Mark E Smith's The Fall is there, or Dali's Car (incidentally DC lifted the name from a Beefheart track) or Public Image Limited is there. They are not exactly AOR but they cannot be discounted as mere eccentricities. Anybody who listens to his work cannot fail to find something resonating within.
Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart died of complications from Multiple Sclerosis yesterday.
Also from Safe As Milk, here is Abba Zaba