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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Record Bin: The bizarre world of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band's "Trout Mask Replica"

The circumstances revolving around the recording of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band's third album, "Trout Mask Replica," were about as hellish and unbelievable as you could imagine. Captain Beefheart himself (AKA Don Van Vliet)—a self-described paranoid schizophrenic—practically held the band hostage as they learned and recorded the songs that would make it on the record. But for a little context, let's go back a few years. 
The band's first single, a cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy," was released by A&M in March 1966, but after it and a subsequent single failed to deliver commercial success, the label dropped the band. Shortly thereafter, Buddah Records signed the band and released their debut LP, "Safe As Milk"—and though the album did find some measure of critical and commercial success, the label quickly became known for artists specializing in "bubblegum pop," and the band knew that this was not a place where they needed to be. 

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. (Photo: Contributed)
After a few independent studio sessions—the bulk of which would later become their "Strictly Personal" and "Mirror Man" records—it fell to Van Vliet's childhood friend and über-musician Frank Zappa to help the band realize their musical potential. It was around this time that Zappa had started a pair of record labels (Bizarre Records and Straight Records) and offered the band an opportunity to record with total artistic freedom. The resulting sessions produced the songs that would make up "Trout Mask Replica."
Having rented a small house in the Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles, Van Vliet began asserting his creative and emotional dominance over the band immediately. This would include sessions of lengthy verbal abuse and, according to the band, would often involve some measure of physical violence. The whole situation was described by drummer John French as having a "cultlike" atmosphere, and a visiting friend was recalled as having said that "the environment in that house was positively Manson-esque." 
And though the means can't always be said to justify the end, the music the band produced with the "assistance" of Van Vliet (and the production help of Zappa) was fractured, awe-inspiring and often downright bizarre. Working from within a confluence of genres, including folk, jazz, rock and blues, the band became the model for rhythmic experimentation. Touching on aspects of politics, love, conformity and even the Holocaust, this album seemed like the unconscious thoughts and ramblings of mad men—which to some degree, it could be argued, it was.


Don Van Vliet (born Don Glen Vliet; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010) was an American musician, singer-songwriter, artist and poet known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. His musical work..


Don Van Vliet (born Don Glen Vliet; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010) was an American musician, singer-songwriter, artist and poet known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. His musical work..

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