cream of the crate: album review #103 – captain beefheart: trout mask replica
cream of the crate: album review #103 – captain beefheart: trout mask replica
CD Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"Captain Beefheart, the only true dadaist in rock" - (Rolling Stone - July 1969) ... "When you listen to it for the first time and think its jamming, it's not!" - (Frank Zappa in a radio interview in 1969)

This is album number one hundred and three in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

Over the past 102 album reviews, there would not be more than 3 or 4 reviews that feature an artist/group that could not be considered as having popular support. This artist and album fits into the category with groups such as “The Village Fugs” and “The Last Poets” in terms of being waaay out left field!

Captain Beefheart with his 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica and was released on vinyl on both the Reprise and Straight labels.

This is the Cd and it was released by Warners on the Reprise label 1989. There were a number of releases of this Cd, released worldwide for the first time that year, and this is the European release. Its code is 927 196-2.

cream of the crate: album review #103 – captain beefheart: trout mask replica
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The album is in fact the third album by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band and was notably produced by Beefheart’s friend and a former schoolmate Frank Zappa. In fact it was Frank’s label – Zappa’s Straight Records label, that led to it being released on it first.

The Cd contains the original 28 tracks that were on the original gate-fold vinyl album, and runs for a tad over 78 minutes.

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Frownland (1:39)
2. The Dust Blows Forward ‘N The Dust Blows Back (1:53)
3. Dachau Blues (2:21)
4. Ella Guru (2:23)
5. Hair Pie: Bake 1 (4:57)
6. Moonlight On Vermont (3:55)
7. Pachuco Cadaver (4:37)
8. Bills Corpse (1:47)
9. Sweet Sweet Bulbs (2:17)
10. Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish (2:25)
11. China Pig (3:56)
12. My Human Gets Me Blues (2:42)
13. Dali’s Car (1:25)
14. Hair Pie: Bake 2 (2:23)
15. Pena (2:31)
16. Well (2:05)
17. When Big Joan Sets Up (5:19)
18. Fallin’ Ditch (2:03)
19. Sugar ‘N Spikes (2:29)
20. Ant Man Bee (3:55)
21. Orange Claw Hammer (3:35)
22. Wild Life (3:07)
23. She’s Too Much For My Mirror (1:42)
24. Hobo Chang Ba (2:01)
25. The Blimp (mousetrapreplica) (2:04)
26. Steal Softly Thru Snow (2:13)
27. Old Fart At Play (1:54)
28. Veteran’s Day Poppy (4:30)

cream of the crate: album review #103 – captain beefheart: trout mask replica
Rear of the CD – [CLICK to enlarge]

OK, now let’s get one thing completely out in the open. This is not an album for the faint hearted!

This is not an album of lullaby’s, it is not an album of ballads, nor is it Rock & Roll, or really, any readily identifiable style.

The fact that Frank Zappa plays a strong fundamental role gives us an indication that music boundaries are going to be stretched. Stretched? Hell, they are positively wound into some form of a four dimensional auditory challenge!

Yet this is not just fine, it is necessary to have an album such as this released upon the unsuspecting masses. It is both unique, and yet not.

It is not jazz, although there are elements of jazz improvisation in it, but, the “Free Form” jazz of players such as, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders and even Charlie Mingus, to name but a few – were similarly presenting audiences with similar musical challenges, as this album does.

If we consider music as very much a form of art, we can make sense of what we are hearing. “Art” appeals because it touches our sense of beauty, of harmony, it pleases us on many sensual levels, it can transport us back to a time and or a place that has had an impact upon us, it can suggest places and things we would like to experience.

But, “Art” should also confront, make us feel uncomfortable in our organised lives, throw up into our faces power, chaos and even elements of uncertainty.

This music does all that! It is free form, it is improvisation, it has a structure and it is happy to bend that structure. 

It also consists of altered chords and at times dischords, there are strange tempos and even altering tempos within a phrase of music and, like the free form jazz players who would use harsh overblowing or other techniques to elicit unconventional sounds from their instruments.

Now under Zappa’s production, he demands the musicians on this album do the same thing.

As Frank Zappa commented in 1969 in a radio interview that was focused on this album, “When you listen to it for the first time and think its jamming, it’s not!”

Well, this album certainly did confront when released, and continues to do so even 45 years further on!

So before we have a look at the tracks on this album, a few words about Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

The “good” Captain was born Don Vliet in 1941 he changed his name to Don Van Vliet around 1964.

He was a child prodigy sculpture and in 1954 won a scholarship to study art in France, but his parents were interested in moving to Europe, and Don being only 13 years of age, was forced to move with them to the California desert communities of Mojave, then Lancaster, where Vliet met the young Frank Zappa.


Van Vliet & Zappa

He learned to play sax and harmonica, did one show with a group called The Omens, who promptly kicked him out.

It was his intention to form a band with Zappa to be called the Soots, and there was even talk of a film with Frank, with the working title of “Captain Beefheart Meets the Grunt People.

Both projects fell through, and while Zappa went to Los Angeles to form the Mothers of Invention, Vliet returned to Lancaster and, adopting the Beefheart stage name, formed the first Magic Band in 1964. (Rolling Stone Archives)

In many ways it’s a shame that this didn’t occur because my mind certainly boggles at what these two may have achieved back in the early to mid 1960’s.

He had a regional EP hit in 1966 with a good cover of Bo Diddley’s Diddey Wah Diddey, and it received sufficient acclaim to assist in his desire to gain access to better venues, however, it probably was the first and only “commercial” single that he recorded.

As Captain Beefheart he recorded a number of tracks to little enthusiasm, and in 1967 and 1968 released two albums, Mirror Man and then, Strictly Personal.

Strictly Personal was released and The Captain decided to leave the US and tour Europe.

Unfortunately as soon as he left producer Bob Krasnow did a major remix and released the album on his own Blue Thumb label as the band toured Europe.

Van Vliet, disgusted, retired to the San Fernando Valley until Zappa, now in charge of his own Straight Records, promised him complete artistic control over his next recordings.

Oh, as for the 1967 album Mirror Man, Buddha didn’t release it until 1970, after Beefheart had left the label. It was claimed that Van Vliets compositions were “too negative”!

Encouraged by Zappa’s own music experiments and free thinking approach to composing, Van Vliet as Captain Beefheart formed a new Magic Band and recorded Trout Mask Replica over the next year.

cream of the crate: album review #103 – captain beefheart: trout mask replica
Rear plate of the booklet – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

That album and 1970’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby brought Beefheart critical acclaim and, along with his appearance on Zappa’s Hot Rats (1969), enough interest for a national tour.

The next two albums, marginally more commercial-sounding, reached the lower echelons of the pop charts.

The story of Captain Beefheart is far too complex and lengthy to be told here, but suffice to say that he actually retired from the music industry after 1982′s Ice Cream For Crow album to concentrate on his primary love – to paint and sadly he passed away in 2010.

As alluded to, there were a number of changes to the make-up of The Magic Band, but on Trout Mask Replica, the personnel were as follows – although I did have to dig deeper than the liner notes to reveal the artists names where alias’ were used:

* Zoot Horn Rollo [ Bill Harkleroad] – Glass fingered guitar & flute
* Antennae Jimmy Semens [ Jeff Cotton] Steel-appendage guitar
* Captain Beefheart [Don Van Vliet] – Bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax & vocals
* The Mascara Snake [Victor Hayden] – Bass clarinet & vocals
* Rocket Morton [Mark Boston] – Bass & narration
* Drumbo [John French] – Drums and percussion

Let’s start our experience with track No. 3Dachau Blues!

Hells Bells, even the title is confronting, given the history associated with Dachau.

Certainly the choice of name is no accident when the listener is confronted with the lyrics and please, just because it has “Blues” in its title, it is not reflective of any blues music structure you have ever heard.

It is the blues however when you consider the nature of the lyrics are righteous, a call for the end of war, a plea from the heart that we do not suffer a third world war.

Let’s not forget, that this was the time of “Love, Peace, Beads and Flowers“, and this was one very confronting song.

The only other work comparable at this time was by the Village Fugs, who recorded “Kill For Peace” that appeared on their 1966 album.

Dachau Blues was written and sung by Beefheart, and the spoken dialog by Mark Boston – sorry, “Rocket Morton“.

Dachau blues those poor jews
Dachau blues those poor jews
Down in Dachau blues, down in Dachau blues
Still cryin’ ’bout the burnin’ back in world war two’s

One mad man six million lose
Down in Dachau blues down in Dachau blues
Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor jews
The world can’t forget that misery

‘N the young ones now beggin’ the old ones please
T’stop bein’ madmen
‘Fore they have t’ tell their children
‘Bout the burnin’ back in World War Three’s

War One was balls ‘n powder ‘n blood ‘n snow
War Two rained death ‘n showers ‘n skeletons
Danced ‘n screamin’ ‘n dyin’ in the ovens
Cough ‘n smoke ‘n dyin’ by the dozens

Down in Dachau blues
Down in Dachau blues
Three little children with doves on their shoulders
Their eyes rolled back in ecstasy cryin’

Please old man stop this misery
They’re countin’ out the devil
With two fingers on their hands
Beggin’ the Lord don’t let the third one land

On World War Three
On World War Three

Spoken:
“and, it attracted a lotta rats, and, uh, they close the doors, and uh,
they all got shotguns and rush out on the grass. Nothing happened, they
couldn`t get the rats to move, see. So, they got one fella down there, he said,
er, ah, heeeeeeeeee s-stammered; when he got excited he couldn`t talk at all.
They got him down there and er, Walt said, “I`ll get `em outta there,”
and he took a stick, beating them, started hitting them, tryin` to get them
outta there. Then he started shooting from all directions. And `ole Walt
thought he was gonna get killed…”


Dachau Blues

 

Track No. 7Pachuco Cadaver.

Alright the first thing to get straight is to define “Pachuco”, I’ll assume we all know what a Cadaver is.

Pachuco and Pachuca are terms coined in the 1940s to refer to Mexican American men and women who dressed in zoot suits or zoot suit-influenced attire. Now apart from the fact that in some folks eyes (or rather ears), there is a semblance of a song here, it’s a mistake to take the lyrics on face value.

Captain Beefheart in his guise as Don Van Vliet, was in fact a very clever lyricist! On the surface it sounds like a song just about a gal driving around in a car

Wrong!

It is in fact a song about The car – called “Forever Amber”, with references to The girl, an older woman, driving it ! There are many theories on the song when you dig deep into the many Captain Beefheart fan web sites.

When she wears her bolero then she begin t’ dance
All the pachucos start withold’n hands
When she drives her Chevy Sissy’s don’t dare t’ glance
Yellow jackets ‘n red debbles buzzin’ round ‘er hair hive ho
She wears her past like uh present
Take her fancy in the past
Her sedan skims along the floorboard
Her two pipes hummin’ carbon cum
Got her wheel out o
f uh B-29 Bomber brodey knob amber
Spanish fringe ‘n talcum tazzles FOREVER AMBER
She looks like an old squaw indi
an
she’s 99 she won’t go down
Avocado green ‘n alfalfa yellow adorn her t’ the ground
Tatooes ‘n tarnished utenzles uh snow white bag full o’ tunes
Drives uh cartune around
Broma’ seltzer blue umbrella keeps her up off the ground
Round red sombreros wrap ‘er high tap horsey shoes
When she unfolds her umbrella pachucos got the blues
Her lovin’ makes me so happy
If I smiled I’d crack m’ chin
Her eyes are so peaceful thinks it’s heaven she been
Her skin is as smooth as the daisies
In the center where the sun shines in
Smiles as sweet as honey
Her teeth as clean as the combs where the bees go in
When she walks flowers surround her
Let their nectar come in to the air around her
She loves her love sticks out like stars
Her lovin’ sticks out like stars

The explanations that jelled the best for me is the following:

Yellow jackets and “red debbles” are the pachucos .. they’re wearing yellow jackets and red devil jackets, and of course she’s sporting the bee hive hair do. So, they’re buzzing around her for the car, like they used to buzz around her in her youth.

She wears her past like uh present,takes her fancy in the past” is indeed about the car itself. There is a culture there, and much work was done on the car over time – with visible results to the other pachucos in the barrios.

Tattoos – the car is elaborately designed, tattooed if you will. The undercarriage is painted a bright broma seltzer blue and has a hydraulic system for lowering.

Going down – the car itself is “hopping” on it’s hydraulic system .. not ready to just “go down” and cruise low until after the peacock strutting at the car show is over (this also explains the line about the pachucos getting the blues when the umbrella is folded – that would mean the hopping is over, show’s over)

“When she walks flowers surround her” – this may refer to the rear of the car being so low to the ground that sparks are flying – not uncommon. The sparks are the flowers and would indeed give off a scent.

“Her lovin sticks out like stars” – Self explanatory at this point, but since I’ve come this far .. all the work that went into the car was a labor of love – and it shows brightly and beautifully for all to see … like stars.

Pachuco Cadaver

So as we dip deeper into the album, the music vacillates between serious dadaism/surealism and a semblance of conventional structure with lyrics that confront and often confuse.

With track No.15Pena we have a track that is seriously avante-garde both in music content as well as lyric content.

At the beginning of Pena, Beefheart and Victor Hayden (aka “The Mascara Snake“) recite an absurd routine, with Beefheart leaning so hard on Hayden that the latter exasperatedly grunts “Christ!” under his breath.

Would a control freak have left such moments unedited? No, but Beefheart was more interested in the conflict and tension than seamless craft. The lyrics are literally splashed across the accompanying instrumental backing like a form of bizarre sonic art.

Pena” rolls along on an even keel musically until John French races off on a spectacular tangent towards the end, leading the band into sounding as if they’re suddenly playing the song inside out.

Pena

Track No. 25 is the stand-out oddity on an album that is filled with bizarre and challenging pieces.

It is titled, “The Blimp (mousetrapreplica)“.

The best description of it is that it is a spontaneous poem, apparently based on the newsreel of the Hindenburg airship crash, read by Cotton with Van Vliet playing sax in the background.

It commences with Zappa’s voice questioning whether “they” are ready. As we hear the recitation of the zepplin catching fire, the music reflects the chaos and the urgency of the moment.

Yes it does bring a smile to the face, but at the same time it is really a very cleverly constructed piece of music. The end comes when Frank, at the recording desk, declares – “It’s beautiful, I think we have a final take and just use it as is for the album.”

Good call Frank!

If you listen and conclude that the opening riff is very Zappa like in its construction, well good for you having a great ear and appreciation of the Mothers of Invention (Frank’s group). In fact it is a previously recorded Mothers track.

In discussing this Frank explained the unusual circumstances of the recording in 1993. “I was in the studio mixing some other tapes, and the band that’s actually playing on “The Blimp” is actually The Mothers Of Invention.

The vocal on “The Blimp” was recorded by telephone. He had just written these lyrics, and he had one of the guys in the band recite it to me over the phone.

I taped it in the studio, and recorded it onto the piece of tape that I had up at the time, which was my track. The piece is called “Charles Ives.” We used to play it on the ’68-‘9 tour.”

The Blimp (mousetrapreplica)

So to the final track to review and it is the final track on this album, track No. 28Veterans Day Poppy.

Musically it might be claimed that this is possibly the closet the guys come to playing their instruments in a conventional manner. The guitar work is nice and tight and the sound is not unlike the guitar sound achieved in the group, Country Joe and the Fish.

Sure the melody is just as twisted as everything else on this album, but it’s that neat little certain something guitar sound that feels good on your nerves after all that jive.

Now hidden away in the track is a neat piece of sampling – El Rancho Grande by Gene Autrey!

If you check out the first example about 37 seconds into the track, and thereafter scattered throughout, you will hear that it is most certainly a sample, and cleverly integrated at that. Most likely the work of Zappa.

In case you aren’t familiar with El Rancho Grande, here is a short sample:

El Rancho Grande – Gene Autry

I cry but I can’t buy
Your Veteran’s Day poppy
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
It can never grow another
Son like the one who warmed me my days
After rain and warmed my breath
My life’s blood
Screamin’ empty she crys
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
Your Veteran’s Day poppy.

Veterans Day Poppy

 

There are thirteen albums released by Captain Beefheart with no compilations.

The albums were released between 1967 and 2012.

The 2012 release, Bat Chain Puller was released postumously with the twelth album, Ice Cream For Crow (1982) being the last album released while he was alive.

Post 1982 he began that new career as a painter. For his remaining years he was a rock and roll recluse, though unlike Sly Stone and Syd Barrett, he continued to communicate with his audience through his artwork

Beefheart/Van Vliet passed away at the young age of sixty nine years of age in December 2010 from complications resulting from multiple sclerosis.

Look there is no doubt in my mind that anyone reading this review and listening to the music for the first time will be at the best, totally confused, and at the worse totally alienated. I did start by saying this was not music for the faint hearted.

Many reviewers report at being totally confused, if not turned off when they first listened and then go onto say, when they played it a second time, something “clicked”, and they had a whole new appreciation.

Interestingly no one seems to have identified just what it was that “clicked”.

It does seem as though his music has reached the ears of people we might not suspect would experience that “click”!


Obama

Fortunately I have always been slight “off-the-planet” with my music tastes so there was no issue for me, although it was challenging at times.

Even having a good re-listen to the album to write this retro-review, I found it really did appeal even more.

I guess it’s partly about overcoming the uniqueness of the music, putting down your preconceptions of what melody and even music timing should be. Of course if you can’t do this, it is not the album for you.

Personally, I believe it is bizarre, but it really does do what quality art does, it confronts and challenges abut also provides a new experience and hell, that’s something the “pap” being produced today has NO chance of ever achieving.

In 2003, the album was ranked 58th by Rolling Stone in their list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

On April 6, 2011, the album was added to the United States National Recording Registry for the year 2010 by the Library of Congress.

The album is readily available, although if you want something a bit more conventional I would suggest his 1974 Bluejeans and Moonbeams album.

However the Troutmask Replica album will cost you between $45.00 and $70.00 for the vinyl, and that includes copies of the re-released vinyl, however the Cd will only cost you around $15.00 (inc postage), so unless you are a serious collector, the Cd is the way to go.


VIDEOS:

There were a good selection of clips on Youtube despite the fact that music videos were still a rare thing in the early 1970’s.

 

Electricity – 1968

 

Click Clack – 1973
 
She’s Too Much For My Mirror & Human Gets Me Blues – 1969
 
 

Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise