CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND
history - story
THE SPUTNIK AND THE BLIMP
as we all know - from the stories that former magic band members tell - it was very hard to work with don van vliet. beefheart always wanted to be the captain and so it's a miracle some fools even resisted the torture for several years. but then, he could be very funny too, so that's maybe why...
in fact don just was a lonesome, selfish artist who by chance went into pop (oh no, wrong word) music. as he was a different fish in that school he had but few contacts with fellow musicians that lead to collaborations or participations. almost all the records he had a guest role on are products by frank zappa, his youth buddy who probably could stand don's whims because he was accustomed to them. to mention the main collaborations: their joint debut as recording artists 'the soots', don's vocals to 'willie the pimp' on zappa's first solo album 'hot rats', and the 1975 'bongo fury' tour of course - in which the captain stole the show.
and further? well, don was involved in hardly any other recording. his most well known guest appearance is his singing on hard workin' man, the main title of the paul schrader film BLUE COLLAR. that would have been all, if not... - but let's start at the start. which was me back in '78 buying the dutch release of 'what do you want from live', the live double-album that made THE TUBES famous. the inner sleeves were decorated with press cuttings of their european tour from the previous fall, and most prominent was a part of a dutch interview with head tube bill 'sputnik' spooner under the header:
about five years later i heard the cover version and don's wild guest sax on a dutch radio special, and a few years ago i bought the elpee (not re-issued on ceedee), so also know his - disappointing, as being middle of the road - harmonica contribution. but...: don has his doubts about the result of his participation. the interview captain beefheart pulls a hat out of his rabbit contains the following confession:
how do you like covers of your
songs? like the tubes' 'my head is my only house
unless it rains'?
so i wonder:
who's right?... that would have been all, if i
hadn't met someone through this website (no,
it's nót a dating site) who is a beefheart fan
but coincidentally also a good acquaintance of
the former tube. a remark about don's
participation on 'now' lead to a wild plan which
resulted in the amazing stories bill spooner was
glad to remember (whilst this is nót a chat
while this interview was in preparation some-one who didn't know anything about it provided a nice addition to the mentioned weakness of the tubes: they already did a cover version of beefheart on their 1976 usa tour (a fact bill diddn't remember)! 'gimme dat harp boy' is one of the songs on the 1991 bootleg 'darted in my own armchair'.
a last thing you need to know to understand the following tales: harry duncan, beefheart's manager at the time of don's collaboration with the tubes, was a passionated harmonica player - he even accompanied the captain and the band on their live performances around '77.
right, here we go...
A not-too-distant past...
A song credited but un-done...
A lightbulb unthreaded and gone.
Gather now, my strange
children. Hold fast against the weirdness that
lives beyond the light that mankind can see. I
have swallowed truth and the end result is
this: it is not Don van Vliet alias Captain
Beefheart on The Tubes song ‘Golden Boy’. No,
stop - don’t scurry away; I have that and more
interesting tales to be told. A reckoning of
the tale of The
The Horrible Light,
and the eternal mystery of
whére is the drawing of the Three Fat Ladies?
But bear in mind that those were strange years - the end of the ’70’s - the second coming of punk, the beginning of The Big Eighties. No small wonder, then, that two kindred souls should be drawn together in a preternaturally drawn scene at The Record Plant, in spring 1977. Bill Spooner sought the rights to record the Captain’s haunting ballad 'My Head is My Only House Unless it Rains', Don thought it would be fun to record a track for the Tubes. Seems simple, don’t it? The short of it: the track (Golden Boy) was essentially complete but all concerned agreed that a harp track from Captain Beefheart would be five shades this side of cool.
As to the album, we thought we’d have him play the harmonica on 'Golden Boy', which he didn’t end up doing, but, um - he’s credited doing it, but...
I needed to know more. I heard these stories one night over many odd plates of sushi. I settled back and let the sound of Spooner’s voice hypnotize me...
IT'S THE PHONE, BILL !
We knew, uh, someone that knew Frank Zappa - we were sharing some time with him at a studio and we said that we wanted to get ahold of Don, y’know, so he gave me his phone number and I called him up and he was really, really strange. We became phone buddies - and uh, we would just talk and talk about anything, y’know? Just talk and talk - culminating in one night, my wife called me and said it’s time to eat dinner, and we’d prob’ly been talking like, 45 minutes or so, maybe almost an hour and I said “Don, I gotta go. I gotta go eat dinner. Great, I’ll call you...” and he said, “No, no, just put the phone down and come back when you’re done.” I said “Don, no.” And he said “No, it’s fine, it’s fine, just put the phone down.” I thought for sure he was kidding but he really wanted me to go eat dinner and then come back and pick up the phone again.