DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - story
THE MAGIC MUSIC FROM THE DESERT
from england 1 february 1968 RECORD MIRROR #360
captain beefheart (real name don van vliet) and his magic band are a group of 'progressive blues' musicians, whose unusual rock-blues format is starting to take off in britain - as you may have noticed!
the captain possesses an incredible voice, throatily gutsy, and it is often used more as an instrumental factor with the rest of the sound, rather than a vehicle for putting over lyrics.
there is certainly something very magic about this band when it comes to creating an impact in group-sodden britain. the group's elpee 'safe as milk' has been issued in america for nine months - and has sold over five thousand imported copies at nearly three pounds each. their single which has been taken from the lp, 'yellow brick road', was bubbling under in last week's top fifty.
yet until this splurge of interest in beefheart, nothing happened commercially for the band either in britain or the states. the music is not blatantly commercial, nor is it immediately catchy. but record producer peter meaden heard the elpee early last summer and began to take an interest in the captain. the interest culminated in meaden organizing beefheart's visit here, and two vastly successful dates in london clubs, several radio dates, plus the release of a single, and the release of the first album - both on pye. a second album, the double-record set 'censored' is on the way to u.s. release via buddah records (while i have always thought it would be titled 'it comes to you in a plain brown wrapper'! - teejo).
all was not smooth sailing getting the band into the country. no trouble occurred when fellow buddah stars anders & poncia and penny nichols arrived, but at the appearance of the magic band, all confusion broke loose at london airport. the officials were put off by the bizarre appearance of the band and the fact that the group only had about ten dollars between them, and called themselves 25th century quakers, didn't help much. also here were work permit difficulties. but these things were cleared up, customs officials were pacified and the captain entered britain.
unlike many promotion campaigns, this one was justified by the unique product. credit must go to bob krasnow who produced the lp, which is certainly one of the pop music gems of last year.
the captain and two original members of the magic band (alex snouffer aka alex st. clair and jerry handley - t.t.) had left their homes some two years ago to live in the california desert. they lived with their music and conceived 'safe as milk'. it was recorded a year ago and released shortly afterwards by buddah, a u.s. subsidiary of kamasutra.
before, captain beefheart had been living in suburban california and had known frank zappa from some eight years back when the two of them would experiment with unusual musical sounds, reverse tape effects, and other advanced ideas. beefheart had previously only been brought up on a diet of classical music and even now has not heard of many other pop groups - their music is strictly original.
but the psychological side of the music of captain beefheart and the magic band must not be underestimated. their power and drive, comparable to early rock 'n' roll records, is matched by insidious and subtle cross-rhythms and complicated vocal patterns, making the record incredibly interesting and able to be heard over and over again, always with new nuances coming through.
for a group with no compromise towards pop trends or commerciality to come through so strongly is some achievement - but it remains to be seen whether the public will accept beefheart as a unique musician, or merely a passing fad.