DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
history - story
|CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND.....
(and some more news on the adventures of the great gnome of rock 'n' roll)
aka THE GREAT GNOME BIOGRAPHY
from press kit usa mid june 1966 LEONARD GRANT & ASSOCIATES
their first appearance as captain beefheart and his magic band was, so far as they can recall, a 'battle of the bands at claremont and pomona colleges'. alex remembers: 'i don't think we really knew how to play together, but we knew that we had sufficient music in us to beat the other group (who will be nameless) in the contest. our motivation for the battle of the bands was determination to destroy the opposition. we had wanted to put them down for some time, and motivation like that can't be bad. we won.' of course.
in the lancaster area the band swiftly picked
up a following eager to support something which was not only local, but
also good. beefheart and his men played at neighborhood dances, on club
dates and, from time to time, they descended from the high desert to the
plains and valleys of the other california. in april last year, while still
semi-amateur, the group had the good fortune to meet their present management
company, leonard grant & associates. the meeting - like most of the
more fruitful confrontations in life - was an accident. don van vliet and
doug moon, rhythm guitarist, were taking part in a televised discussion
on teenage music and dorothy heard, an executive with leonard grant &
associates, happened to be there. a conversation was struck up which developed
into an earnest disagreement on the fundamentals of rhythm and blues -
an interminable battleground of opinion all over the world; may it never
be resolved - and this discussion led into talk about the aims of the magic
it became obvious that the boys were vulnerable innocents in the cruel opportunist world of pop, and being a kindly soul, dorothy heard gave them fortuitous advice on the importance of copyrighting, contract protection and so on. in return, big-hearted beefheart asked dorothy to look them over at the upcoming teenage fair in hollywood. they had a slender, impermanent arrangement for bookings and to cut a long story to its bare bone, leonard grant & associates signed captain beefheart and his magic band to a full management and publishing contract. this decision was the result of two elements: one, the blunt, bluff, honesty and off-stage charm of st. clair, van vliet, moon, handley and their drummer. and the second element is the potent musical content of the group. (their then drummer has now left; his replacement is p.g. blakely, an amiable, lanky, black-haired lad who had, in fact, been with the group in the very early days.)
van vliet recalls the teenage fair: 'at that time we were playing rhythm & blues stuff, very raw, bluesy material, plus some rolling stones hits. we were only playing other people's contemporary hits because we had no time to learn new songs. our career had taken off at a pretty rapid pace and i don't think we were completely prepared.' then, as now, captain beefheart and his magic band had only one basic aim: to play good blues. anything else - like money, fame, clothes, cars, fans - should, they reasoned, follow in the fullness of time. just so long as they made good blues music.
under their new management, captain beefheart and his magic band plunged into sporadic travelling - they worked in bakersfield, in honolulu, at the 'whisky a go go' in denver, and at 'the family dog show', san francisco. wisely, their management kept the band away from major engagements until they had produced a record. they were not allowed to work in the los angeles area, because the time was, until recently, not right. and timing, in entertainment as in everything else in life, is all. is it not?
in january this year, the time was right
and the sound was right and - so they reasoned - the material was right
for them to make their first record in the sunset sound studios in hollywood.
the song chosen was 'diddy wah diddy'. the management company made their
own master tape and then listed companies they considered most suitable.
'there were three in particular,' said alex. 'but a&m was really the
one we were after and they gave us the best deal. a firm offer came out
of the first meeting and everyone was very happy.' not surprisingly, for
in a dramatically short period of time, herb alpert's hollywood-based label
has established a threefold reputation for 1) million-dollar product; 2) energetic integrity and 3) just being great people.
additional press photo of the same guys
the record was due to be released on march
1, but contractual delays resulted in a postponement of one month. the
delay turned out to be traumatic, for by one of those coincidences which
gives artists and executives nightmares and drives fans demented with indecision,
another group released the same song. as it turned out, the damage to beefheart
was minimal for within two weeks of release, khj radio station in los angeles
was playing the magic band's record, and playing it hard. krla followed
seven days later and kbla a week after that. one month after release, kfwb
latched on to 'diddy wah diddy' to give captain beefheart and his magic
band 100% air-play in the nation's #2 market. and it was not only in los
angeles - fast becoming beefheart's adopted home base - that 'diddy wah
diddy' secured swift air-play. san diego, seattle, bakersfield, houston,
buffalo, philadelphia and dallas picked up on the blood and guts of the
magic band, and by may the record was hailed as a strong up-and-comer and
a certainty for the national charts.
what does the group consider they can bring to pop which is valid and necessary? says van vliet: 'we don't 'hokey' up the songs. we try to keep them original, yet with a little extra something. we don't use gimmicks but we add something. it's difficult to explain. i think what we're trying to say is, we're 'sincere' though the word's a bit over-used.' complementing don's judgment of the group's value to the contemporary charts, alex said: 'we've brought a hard beat to the original music. and, of course, modern recording techniques are building up the latent strength in the music.'
in fact, captain beefheart and his magic band have the endorsement of several old-time blues people. and their young following is substantial. blues, though rooted further back than beefheart can remember, is most certainly a young people's music and in europe - due, largely, to emasculated light-weight rock 'n' roll of the past year or so - blues is becoming more and more powerful. beefheart's immediate aim is to supplement the revered music of howlin' wolf, lighting hopkins, sonny boy williamson and the other high priests of blues, with their own material. their first album - due out soon - will have several group-written songs.
don, an artist who worries enormously about the quality of their personal-appearance sound, says that performing blues is better than eating warthogs or wild rice, and i don't see any reason to quarrel with that evaluation. alex describes don as 'crazy', don describes doug as 'outrageous', p.g. describes jerry as 'a beautiful human being', and doug describes p.g. as 'funny'. all of these fragile adjectives fail to do justice to the very solid and complex quality of these men from the desert. they're small town boys who have grown up very quickly, not in that sly, too aware, cool-bleak way of the city hippy, but in the traditional manner of the honest peasant. their attitude to the pure, basic business of entertainment is probably best summed up by p.g. who says: 'i enjoy seeing little people smile and i enjoy it much more knowing i'm the one making them smile.'
well, there it is at this stage in the development of captain beefheart and his magic band. except to add the endorsement of the critic of the los angeles times who sat in a thin funneled draft at the 'whisky a go go' on sunset strip when the band first exploded on a scene which, one might have expected, had become jaded with too many groups. wrote critic peter johnson: 'if all the great blues singers of chicago were annihilated, we could still take comfort in knowing that captain beefheart and his magic band would come to the rescue.' '...don van vliet has a magnificent voice for blues material, a voice which alternates from a guttural throaty shout to a tortured pinched-trachea sound.' '...the magic band behind van vliet did an excellent job of backstopping his powerful voice.'