1 february 2018

i will spare you the details, but after a year of hopelessly suffering my quickly degenerating web host i have decided to discontinue our collaboration - and spread the word: freewebs sucks!

which means that with immediate effect captain beefheart electricity will be flashing on at the new address
see you there, you're welcome...

captain beefheart electricity

reviews and rants

GROW FINS rarities 1965-1982

more REVIEWS not by me:

based on 5ceedee box set

by: jacob haagsma from: 07.08.99 oor #16, holland

Since '82 we have to live without the impossibly growling and snarling voice of Captain Beefheart. He retreated to the Mojave desert and only demonstrates himself as an art painter. Maybe a sly stroke: no routine albums in the fall of a career, only those two handful of records that changed the world of pop music. Which specially applies to Trout Mask Replica, the double album from '69 which Don van Vliet wrote in eight and a half hours, as legend has it.

One of the merits of the five ceedee set Grow Fins is that this myth is disproved, on the disc as well as in the exceptionally extensive notes. An important part of the set consists of the Trout Mask House Sessions: the Magic Band which - in the living room of Van Vliet's house - works its way through the neckbreakingly difficult material. Without Beefheart's mighty voice - the intention was that it would be dubbed in later, but eventually all was re-done in the studio (where the basic tracks were recorded in four and a half hours, for that matter). That way the extraordinary rhythms, atonal guitar parts gearing into one another, and vile hooked lines of the tracks beautifully come to the surface.

Grow Fins contains more beauty that makes the mouths of the devotees water. The early demos on the first ceedee show that the Magic Band of the time (with a completely different crew than on Trout Mak Replica), following in the footsteps of the Rolling Stones, could very well get by with rhythm and blues and soul, though now and then already something can be heard of Beefheart's later brilliant madness.

The live material on the second ceedee (partly visible on the enhanced-cd) is just as heaven-storming, and among other show how deeply Beefheart - whose grandfather owned a plantation in the Deep South of America - is rooted in the blues. Ceedee #5 puts up diverge live material and other curiosa from the years between 1969 and 1980: the last period, which with the exception of the unanimously crunched Unconditionally Guaranteed [what's with that other one? - teejo] still yielded enough fine things.

Grow Fins is a monument for Captain Beefheart and for everyone who ever played in the Magic Band (including Ry Cooder and Frank Zappa) and thus had a not to be underrated role in the construction of Beefheart's unique musical world.

a gorillacrow trancelation 060899

[added 060899]


based on 5ceedee box set
note: more a kind of essay - teejo

captain beefheart, de eeuwige muzikale eenling
by: raymond van den boogaard from: 07.01.00 nrc handelsblad, holland

captain beefheart, the eternal musical loner

Captain Beefheart would have inspired great present-day artists. Bullshit. You can't compare his music with anything or anyone.

With the internet you're never alone anymore. I used to think I was about the only one who was dumbfounded by Captain Beefheart's album Safe As Milk in 1967. The interesting and partly incomprehensible music was a beacon in a sea of easy pop music without any intellectual pretensions. But since we have the internet, I know better: I share my passion with a newsgroup and websites inhabited by a devoted crowd of Beefheart fans.

Captain Beefheart, stage name of Don van Vliet, definitively may have exchanged his music for painting in 1982 - tired after fifteen years without commercial success and quarrels with record companies - but it hasn't been in vain. As a musician he is a living legend. Sometimes he is mentioned as a source of inspiration by modern artists, like Tom Waits or P.J. Harvey. We, the fans, know that it's nonsense: Captain Beefheart will be a musical loner for ever.

1999 was a fruitful year for Beefheartians. At the end of last year the Rhino label, well known for its tasteful compilations of 'authors' from the popular musical genre - and in which the first musical steps and lows of their careers aren't forgotten - released the double album The Dust Blows Forward. Grow Fins had been released earlier, a cute designed box of five ceedees with rarities which till lately only circulated among the most dedicated admirers, like radio interviews from the 70's in which our star doesn't scruple to sing something by telephone, or play on the mouth harp.

Don van Vliet was born in Glendale, California in 1941. In the first years of his life he seems to have done his best to confirm all the blocks about 'the only child': aversion to get about with other kids, leading to prolonged non-attendance at school, and solitarily making drawings, modelling clay, and listening to music in his small room.

Even introvert children make fruitful contacts in life. In the case of Van Vliet we particularly must mention Frank Zappa, another brilliant musical loner in the margin of the commercial popmusic. Van Vliet would have a love-hate relationship with Zappa during the whole of his life, in which the latter seldom was too rotten to give practical support when Van Vliet's career had come to a dead end again because record company pricks didn't understand him and sales figures were bitterly disappointing.

In mid-60's American record companies diligently were looking for an answer to British pop groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That's how Don's very first band, The Omens - which had a certain local reputation in South California (even though just because dissatisfied people wanting to dance often threw empty bottles direction stage) - got a chance. On The Dust Blows Forward we get to hear Don's first single: a cover version of Bo Diddley's Diddy Wah Diddy. Didn't The Stones start their career with Bo Diddley covers too?


It soon became clear to Don's first record company (A&M) that their discovery couldn't be prod any further towards easy-listening music. Fact was that Don, who meanwhile called himself Captain Beefheart (a doubtful pseudonym because 'beef' was a four-letter word for the male organ) and his musicians the Magic Band, showed a cordial dislike for music without frequent changes of tempo. Music which goes on in the same speed all the time, is hypnotic music, Beefheart later explained. "I'm striving after non-hypnotic music, because the world in itself already is paralyzed enough." (free interpretation by the writer of beefheart's more likely utterance: 'i'm doing non-hypnotic music to break up the catatonic state...' - teejo)

His first album, released on a smaller label in 1967, makes clear what he means. Safe as Milk merely contains songs in which the time signature changes constantly, and which immediately show one of the most important characteristics of Beefheart's music: there's only a very restricted room for improvisation, everything is composed through and through and has been thoroughly rehearsed before the recordings [here you see the result of the fact that the terrible lay-out of the liner notes to 'grow fins' makes people nót reading them - teejo].

The cover of Safe as Milk gave the impression that it was a psychedelic album like they where fashionable in the summer of love. Maybe that's why I've bought it, I can't exactly remember. But the music doesn't have much to do with the just as loving as well as pretentious woolyness the Stones and the Beatles meanwhile were guilty of too that year.

Take Electricity for instance, the best known song on Safe As Milk - in three different tempi, alternated with a strident whistle which evidently has to stand for high voltage. And of course Beefheart's raw voice which reminds us of his blues idols Howlin' Wolf, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Muddy Waters. It is said that during the recording session he regularly went outside with a wet face in order to catch a cold - for the sake of the right timbre (some people believe éverything - teejo).

In his lyrics Beefheart didn't make any concessions too. There are no references at all to the usual subjects of songs, like love and the then much-demanded 'peace and happiness', nor to the joy of psychotropic stuff. Beefheart's lyrics contain surrealistic associations and are not significant in the usual sense. For that matter, in this respect he never betrayed himself. On a website you can find (illegally 'copied'! - teejo) recordings from 1993, in which the painter Van Vliet reads new poems (should be: old texts - teejo) - with the same pleasant incomprehensibility as ever.

After Beefheart and his Magic Band had made a second remarkable album in 1969, Strictly Personal, Beefheart's name as an eccentric musician had been established. No one appeared to be willing to invest any money in a new record. Except his youthfriend Frank Zappa, who very soon understood that as a producer he'd better stay at a distance. "If I had interfered with it more", he later told in an interview, "it probably would have led to several suicides."


The result of Zappa's financial support was the double album Trout Mask Replica (1970) [jeez, í always thought it was '69 - teejo], one of the strangest pop albums ever released and to every Beefheart fan the high point in the works of the master. The production of it already was weird. For eight months Beefheart locked his musicians and himself up in a detached house in Woodland [Hill]s, California. Only once a week one of the band members was allowed to provide food at the supermarket.

The compositions developed at the piano. Beefheart - who was a self made man as a singer, piano and saxophone player - then suddenly heard something in his own, curious playing what he liked, and then one of the band members had to transcribe it. Next the compositions were rehearsed and changed with the band (should be: by the band - teejo) - sometimes twelve to fourteen hours a day, till the musicians literally fell down or the neighbours sent the police because of the noise annoyance. To Beefheart, lyrics just had the lowest priority.

When Trout Mask Replica came into the finishing stage Zappa (no, it was don himself - teejo) suggested to record the album in that house in Woodland [Hill]s as well. Thus happened and these recordings are the high point of Grow Fins. They afford a good insight into Beefheart's qualities as a composer because they're merely instrumental. Beefheart was supposed to add the vocal parts later on at the studio.

However, it never came to that. Some paranoia wasn't strange to Beefheart too, and the thought took form with him that Zappa had invented this procedure because Frank was afraid that music which was so closely connected to the place where it was created, would disappoint in the outside world. So Beefheart demanded that the whole album, both the band and the vocals simultaneously (wrong: it never was meant to be done at the same time - teejo), would be recorded in a studio after all.

When Zappa had rented one for a couple of weeks (must be: days, as frank was very economical - teejo) Beefheart recorded all of the 27 mostly very complex pieces of music [why do í have copies with 28 tracks? - teejo] on tape in just four and a half hours: eight months of rehearsing bore fruit.

Music which doesn't resemble anything, is hard to describe. It has been called a mixture of rock, blues and free jazz, but in fact that doesn't do justice to Trout Mask Replica. Maybe a comparison with the works of Zappa might help us out: he also light-heartedly switched between all the influences he liked, from rock, blues, jazz and stupid pop to street music and Varese. But the result of Zappa's music often is a cabaretesque pattern-card of styles with sometimes a brilliant turn or moment. That's what Zappa liked as well: a bit of a mess.

Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica however is characterised by a great unity of style. Sure, the songs differ in character: The Dust Blows Forward 'N' The Dust Blows Back tends towards the Delta blues, Hair Pie: Bake 1 is more like free jazz and Moonlight On Vermont like a rock song. But because Beefheart unmistakably has put his stamp on all those songs, in its entirety Trout Mask Replica convinces as a piece of art. It is unusual and weird, but it's no jóke.


Beefheart would never equal the level of Trout Mask Replica. Among the eight albums he produced later on there are better ones and badder ones, but the holy fire is missing (the writer doesn't seem to have heard 'doc at the radar station' - teejo). Sometimes he even tried to make a bit more commercial and accessible works (The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot from 1972) - after all the rent has to be paid, and one could earn much money with music selling well. Otherwise, Beefheart never managed to do the latter: his reputation never found express in [high] sales figures.

Once more Zappa would raise Beefheart from the dumps: with a joint concert tour in the USA, which resulted in the nice album Bongo Fury (1974) [wasn't it 1975? - teejo]. After that Beefheart returned to the 'difficult' music again, but albums like Shiny Beast (1978), Doc At The Radar Station (1980) and the last one, Ice Cream For Crow (1982), are only a faint reflection of his early works.

Van Vliet always had carried on with painting. In this sphere Beefheart also was a self made man, who had a big need for recognition. In 1982 a friend could convince him that as long as he didn't quit music, recognition as a painter would fail to come: he would never be more than that musician who also made paintings.

From one day to the next Beefheart turned his back to the musical life and even to society. He lives with his wife in a far-off house in the Mojave desert [this preceding part of the paragraph is not according to truth! - teejo], from which he shells the world with savage oil-paintings. Landscapes it are, and sometimes portraits of animals, especially crows. They do bear a slight resemblance to his former music: a high degree of originality, and absence of academic skills.

He doesn't attend exhibitions, gives no interviews and he doesn't want to be bothered with re-issues of his music - it's up to thém... One of the very few people who visited Beefheart over the last years is the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, who made a beautiful movie with Van Vliet (Don Van Vliet, 1993). In it, the artist - now strongly emaciated (he has been ill for years) - fortunately still appears to be a bit of an eccentric. In the movie he even gives an explanation why he has exchanged music for fine arts: "You can drown in music and get paid. I prefer swimming and painting".

The British journalist and deejay John Peel, Beefheart admirer from the first minute, doesn't hesitate to label Beefheart as "the only genius in popmusic". Well, that's a bit of a very bold claim, and besides: tastes differ. But also someone who has less entered his heart and soul into Beefheart's music will have to admit that his music isn't outdated at all. The works of Beefheart are too weird, and also too well-considered to give room to nostalgic thoughts. And that is a very seldom seen phenomenon in elder popmusic.

Yet I know another reason why the memory of Captain Beefheart can make you long for the past. Of course his musical aspirations were not without any pretension: Beefheart wanted to use what was considered to be light music... as an art form. But Van Vliet never bored us with his pretension: on Grow Fins you can hear how he drove some journalists mad by answering serious questions in passionate monologues with a poetic tenor. On the other hand, nowadays every starting musician tends to treat the press to a lecture on music history, so that we by no means will think that his music is trite or non-innovative.

a willem schwertmann translation 160100

[added 110200]

note by teejo: actually i temporarily put it here waiting for the right category for such 'updates for beefheart fans' which are a proof of the on-going puberal level of the (pop)journalism: it only méntions 'the dust blows forward' and 'grow fins', totally misses beefheart's rebirth on buddha, and just skims over the internet. no total nonsense, but no serious research too. by the way, it does nót mean the translation is bád...


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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo