Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alley Cat

And of course tragically, in the midst of Zappadan, 2010, Don VanVliet died. Don, who is known as Captain Beefheart was probably one of the most influential artists of our age. His influence as a crux between raw roots American Blues, Rock and European Surrealist Dadaism opened doors that artists of the future are just beginning to cautiously peer through the keyholes. From the arid Californian Desert Town of Lancaster he began to emit strange vibrations as an adolescent. He was an odd young man and his best friend was a Lancaster musician named Frank. His parents were convinced he was a genius, but they didn't know what to do with him and just slid pizzas under the door of his bedroom as the bizarre waves and emissions wafted out under the cracks. Don was an accomplished abstract expressionist painter, but he left behind a legacy of music that changed the way we think about and listen
His early collaborations with Frank Zappa are the beginning, but somehow he got a contract with Buddha records in the 60's and recorded some of the most original fusion rock/blues surrealist pop ever made with a good beat and you could actually dance to. In 1968, Frank signed him to his own Bizarre label and made the watershed recording, Trout Mask Replica. It was an epic 2 disk set and Zappa really didn't edit it much as a producer. There are even pieces where Van Vliet "phoned in" the vocals as he rewrote his poetry. The cut in the opening video is an out take from the Trout Mask period. It does not appear on the record, but it was finally issued in the 90's on the cd, The Lost Episodes. At the time it was released, after Franks death, Beefheart heard it for the first ime in years and said that it had been a totally improvised piece and he barely remembered making it, but he thought it was a lot cooler 20 some years later than he did then.  Van Vliet was a difficult person to work with and the two boyhood friends did not work together again until the mid 70's when they toured together and recorded the epic collaboration, Bongo Fury. Here's a live cut from that collaboration, The Man With The Woman's Head...recitation and poetry by Don Van Vliet, music by Frank Zappa and the 1975 Mothers....

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