Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band and their wild and crazy LP “Trout Mask Replica.”
It is curious that the general public has an easier time accepting the avant-garde in art and literature before music. It is a part of the history of music in the 20th century that music diverged into a never ending ever expanding delta instead of the river it used to be. Part of this divergence was directly attributable to the fact that some musicians and composers no longer sought or even cared about public acceptance of their music. Captain Beefheart was this type of musician. What you are about to hear is not an accident. It’s not a result of bad musicianship. And equally true, this is not some kind of joke or farce being perpetrated on you the listener. This is an attempt to make art for the artist sake whither anyone else enjoys it or not.
This record was made in 1969. It was produced by Frank Zappa. Frank actually named Donald Van Vliet “Captain Beefheart”. Van Vliet once told David Letterman that his named symbolized that he had a “Beef in his Heart against this society.” This may give insight into the genesis of this record. This record is highly acclaimed by Rock historians and critics. It is on The Rolling Stone top 100 LP’s of all time list and top 500 recordings of all time. It is also included in the book “1,000 recordings to Hear Before You Die” by Tom Moon.
The album would never have happened without Frank Zappa. Frank owned two record labels so he offered to put the record out on one of his labels if he could produce the LP and then he gave Captain Beefheart full creative authority to do what ever he wanted… Let’s just say that Captain Beefheart took full advantage of his creative freedom.
This songs were all meticulously composed by Van Vliet. The band moved in together and rehearsed the compositions for 8 months in a relentless, physically and emotionally abusive, cult-like atmosphere created and driven by Donald Van Vliet. At one time or another every member of the band bordered on having a nervous breakdown. None of them had any money and they subsisted on Welfare and shoplifting for food.
Van Vliet claims that all of these songs were written in one 8 hour session, however; it has been proven that at least 2 of the songs were written in 1968. What is true is that all of the music tracks were recorded in one 6 hour session. Vliet spent another 2 or 3 days adding in the horn overdubs and vocals. I guess rehearsing 14 hours a day for 8 months paid off. Keep all of this in mind when you hear the songs. Everything you hear was rehearsed until it was perfect. Hmmm… The band consisted of the follow cast of characters:
Donald Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart): Vocals, Tenor and Soprano Sax, Bass Clarinet, Musette, Smiran Horn, Hunting Horn, and jingle bells.
Jeff Cotton (Antennae Jimmy Semens): Slide Guitar and Vocals.
Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo): Slide Guitar and flute.
Victor Hayden (The Mascara Snake): Bass Clarinet and Vocals.
Mark Boston: (Rockette Morton): Bass Guitar and narration.
John French (Drumbo): Drums and Percussion.
Without any other comment to influence your opinions and/or insights to this album. I present to you the complete set of songs from the infamous album “Trout Mask Replica”!
The Dust Blows Forward ‘N The Dust Blows Back
Hair Pie: Bake 1
Moonlight On Vermont
Sweet Sweet Bulbs
Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish
My Human Gets Me Blues
Hair Pie: Bake 2
When Big Joan Sets Up
Sugar ‘N Spikes
Ant Man Bee
Orange Claw Hammer
She’s Too Much For My Mirror
Hobo Chang Ba
Steal Softly Thru Snow
Old Fart At Play
Veteran’s Day Poppy
So there you have it. Trout Mask Replica in all it’s avant-garde, bluesy, free jazz glory! Did you like it? I think it gets better and better the more you listen to it. Most listeners probably won’t be able to do that. So, is music for the composer or the public? Here is a great example to debate. This album influenced people like Tom Waits, P.J. Harvey, The Sex Pistols and punk rock in general, even modern composers like John Cage. In the end I have to vote in favor of the composer. If it were not for the bold artist, writers, and composers that didn’t care about popularity, some of the greatest art, music and literature of all time would never have come into being. That’s what I think. But I’d love to hear what you think. In the end Captain Beefheart summed it up the best with the opening line of the first song…”My smile is stuck, I can’t go back to your Frownland…”