DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - interview
'I WISH ACID HAD NEVER BEGUN' SAYS CAPTAIN BEEFHEART
england 1 may 1972 BEAT INSTRUMENTAL and international recording studio #108
note: additional pictures by michael putland from a 22 march 1972 photo shoot
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
one might be forgiven for thinking of captain beefheart and his magic band as an esoteric cult taste, scattered outposts of admirers holding regular seances in magnificent isolation while their less hip brethren mutter 'incomprehensible' and slope off down to the pub.(*)
when beefheart was introduced to england by [disc jockey] john peel in the mid-sixties, he seemed the archetypal freak. other peelian revelations such as [the english bands] t. rex and jethro tull seemed more possessed of potential large-scale appeal while beefheart soon assumed a reputation of a mysterious visitor from another planet who from time to time descended from the clouds to impart wisdom and bop.
his association with frank zappa, who plonked him on his label in the company of such others as alice cooper and the gtos, added to the legend, and, by the way, to beefheart's displeasure - he loathes the idea of, as he puts it:
... becoming some big heavy tablet. people have the habit of trying to make me over and putting my whole being in some capsule.
after his initial visit to england (in 1968 - t.t.), when he stirred up widely varying opinions of his music and person, nothing more was heard of him except through the zappa thing and a vast 'rolling stone' in-depth study which, although interesting and illuminating, couldn't help contributing to the myth of don van vliet (the captain's other name).
not forgetting, of course, the records. 'safe as milk' came out in 1967 on pye, mono only in england - now on a cheap label. says beefheart:
all of a sudden everyone took it to mean something about lysergic acid (aka lsd, a popular heavy soft drug at that time - t.t.) - what i meant, was: milk wasn't safe because it had strontium 90 in it.
next came 'strictly personal', now re-released on a budget label. while beefheart was touring in england (may 1968 - t.t.), the album was re-mixed in the states by producer bob krasnow, who adulterated it with all sorts of phasing effects:
they poured bromoseltzer all over it.... fizz! at the time it was supposedly emulating the noises one hears on acid.... it's too weird. there's a lot of good music, a lot of diamonds in the mud, and the mud wasn't my fault. well, someday i'm going to remix that album and put it out so people will know how it should be (funny thing is: he never did - teejo).
there was a track on that album called 'ah feel like ahcid'.
not a reference to lsd, but a spelling mistake. it should have been 'ah feel like ah said'.
so the legend grew and grew. 'trout mask replica' followed, and it seemed so utterly weird that any possibility of appreciating the music for what it was, minus supernatural glow, rapidly diminished. beefheart's huge, startling imagination and originality exhibited on this, the first album where he was allowed to do everything the way he felt like doing it, had to be explained by something too weird for words.
then ('lick my decals off, baby' - t.t.), another label, reprise, and his latest album 'the spotlight kid', and captain beefheart was to arrive in england in march. everyone got out their geiger counters in readiness for the visit.
A FITTING FACE
trust a businessman to disregard the oddness associated with the man. fred bannister, along with many other promoters, had been trying for three years to get him over.
fred bannister: finally it was our face that fitted. i try to keep my ear to the ground and not lose contact with the kids, and two names kept on cropping up when i asked them who they wanted to see brought over: the grateful dead, and captain beefheart.
and any fears of beefheart being a minority attraction were not shared by bannister. [he was right,] every show was sold out.
fred bannister: we could have grossed maybe twenty per cent more, but the good captain had it written into the contract to keep admission prices down.
PUNS AND JOKES
with trepidations - just what would beefheart turn out to be? - i turned up at kinney records' head quarters. a limousine had been laid on to whisk some writers down to the first concert on the tour: bristol, colston hall. annie ivil, doing the publicity, told me about the difficulties she'd had in getting journalists to talk to him at his reception. excuses were the order of the day - 'well, no, i'd rather not talk to him.... er, only heard one album you see'.
'but he's a lovely fellow,' said annie, which was confirmed by her assistant. 'he's always making these puns and jokes,' she said, 'but if you don't understand them, he's very careful to smile and tell you he's only fooling about.'
the hall at bristol was full of happy people, having a whale of a time in joyful anticipation. out on stage came, not the captain, but...: a ballet dancer. she had a hard time - somebody threw a paper dart which got her on the head, and remarks were shouted - but she did her dance and got huge applause from the big-hearted crowd.
next on was a belly dancer, then a pregnant gap, and out came this man in a floral suit, panama hat and bright red boots, with a waxed frenchie moustache. he plugged in his bass guitar, suddenly leapt into action and came out with a shattering bass solo with dance. rockette morton (mark boston), of the magic band.
he finished, bowed, then out came the rest of the band and played a fiery instrumental. the captain strolled out on stage in a big black cape and red and black shoes, sang, played soprano sax and mouth-organ, and the house went barmy. the sound was pretty rough and his vocals were distoned, but as he and the band blasted through the act, there wasn't a foot left untapping.
high voltage, super-efficient rock, a relaxed cheerful captain. 'more, more,' yelled everyone, the time seeming to have gone by much too quickly. and as the band walked off, the captain asked if we wanted: 'more'?. yeeeeeeaaaah! for fifteen seconds he whistled the [usa tv] tune 'more', and said good-night.
various record company people backstage said they had never heard an audience call so long and hard for an encore. this incredible stamping and clapping went on for a quarter of an hour, practically nobody leaving, and they finally came back on to play.
beefheart says he has only appeared on stage
about 120 times, and apparently he just never does encores. well, in bristol
he did. and i imagine at every other concert on the tour....
i waited - he was long over-running the schedule and giving much more than the planned half-hour to his interviewers - and then his face appeared around the door.
(grinning:) will my next patient please step this way....
his wife jan sat quietly on a sofa reading, and the captain, who never reads books (at least, that's what he said, yes - teejo), handed round the sullivan powell turkish cigarettes. a big man, soft and deeply-spoken, he sported a mandarin smoking cap, and was keen to talk.
from time to time, his remarks left us a little bewildered; a conversation with him isn't like a natter in the saloon bar, but you quickly learn to make adjustments to appreciate his odd, but exact, use of language, even if some of his references and jokes don't become clear until some time later.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, CLICK CLACK TO PAGE TWO