Sunday, January 15, 2012

Captain Beefheart Before Captain Beefheart and Other Rarities (+ Live In Boston 1971)

Celebrating Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) on his birthday, here's a great collection of Beefheart Rarities...

Captain Beefheart Before Captain Beefheart and Other Rarities - Part 1

1. Lost In A Whirlpool (Recorded December 1958 - January 1959, Antelope Valley Junior College, Lancaster, California) 

Also dating from 1958 or '59, this spectacular item, according to Frank Zappa, probably marks the recorded blues-singing debut of the teenaged, yet-to-be-christened Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet. It was taped in an empty classroom at Antelope Valley Jr. College in Lancaster, California, with Frank Zappa on lead guitar (an instrument with which he had been acquainted for only about six months), and Frank's former guitar teacher, brother Bobby, on rhythm guitar. It was recorded on an old Webcor reel-to-reel that, Frank Zappa fondly remembered, "just happened to be sitting there waiting to be plundered-maroon, with the green blinking eye." The tale of a lover spurned in rather surreal fashion, Whirlpool's lyrics were improvised by Vliet, who begins with an arresting parody of a (female?) blues singer. After a few lines, the essential vocal personality of incipient Beefheart becomes apparent. Listeners with an ear for metaphor and a penchant for "interpreting" lyrics might be advised not to burrow too deeply here. The whirlpool in question is one that is commonly found, and regularly employed, in modern households.

2. The Soots: ' Metal Man' Studio Session (Recorded Late February 1964, Studio Z, Cucamonga, California)

A. Tiger Roach
B. Metal Man Has Won His Wings

Frank Zappa: In our spare time we made what we thought were 'rock & roll records.' In this example, Vliet was 'singing' in the hallways outside the studio (our vocal booth) while the band played in the other room.
The lyrics [of Metal Man Has Won His Wings] were derived from a comic book pinned to a bulletin board near the door. The musicians include Frank Zappa on guitar, Vic Mortensen on drums, and a bass player from a surf group (identity unknown).

3. The Soots: I Was A Teen-Age Maltshop "Teen-Opera" (Recorded August 1964, Studio Z)

A. I Was A Teen-Age Malt Shop
B. Status Back Baby
C. Ned the Mumbler
D. Toads Of The Short Forest

Ben Watson: It featured Beefheart speaking in his best pantomime accents, adopting the same mixture of condescension and tease that later led to Zappa being called 'Uncle Frank' in the rock press. As connoisseurs of R&B, any approach to teen 'culture' could only be tongue-in-cheek.
It was the idea of an old man who has a daughter Nelda who was a cheerleader. The old man has a recording studio that hasn't hit and there's an evil landlord who's going to foreclose on him. So there's this group that comes in with a teenage hero that goes to the high school called med teh Mungler [sic], a teenage Lone ranger. It was just a fantasy-type thing with rock 'n' roll music on it.
John Landis, the producer of the Repertoire Workshop at KNXT, a CBS TV station, rejected Zappa's treatment in December 1964, remaining "unconvinced that the outline submitted can insure a quality show", though he did assure Zappa that he felt he had "a great dal of imagination and talent".

Captain Beefheart Before Captain Beefheart and Other Rarities - Part 2

4. I'm A Band Leader (Recorded Late 1968 - Early 1969, Frank Zappa's Basement)

A spoken/read piece written by Zappa which recounts his early experiences in lounge bands and the self-importance of the band leader, sent up wonderfully in "America Drinks and Goes Home". Don has little sense of drama, and at times falters over the words, but this makes it even more amusing.

5. 'Alley Cat' Session (Recorded Early 1969, Frank Zappa's Basement)

A. Alley Cat

A Zappa-Beefheart joint venture from Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica period. Said Frank Zappa: "That's me, Don, Elliot Ingber, and Drumbo recorded downstairs in the basement in 1969. On a Scully 2-track with a couple of mikes. If somebody came over, you could just jack the mikes into the back of the machine. There were no boards, no way to monitor what you were recording, either."

John French: I remember very little about that particular jam (Alley Cat). I do recall jamming in the basement studio and doing a thing in 3/4 time. I was the only drummer around at the time and there were quite a few musicians there. It was just before Trout Mask Replica was recorded. Frank had a little chord change/ melody written out and I just played by ear. I think Eliot Ingber was there. It turned out very nice. However, Don was very upset with me for "getting into Frank's music more than I got into his music." I tried to explain that Don's music was very difficult to learn and Franks piece in 3/4 was much simpler and left more room for liberties.

6. The Grand Wazoo Speech (Recorded Early 1969, Frank Zappa's Basement; Synclavier piece added mid-1992)

A. The Grand Wazoo

Another Zappa piece. Don recites the lyrics Frank has written as a send-up of the many 'lodges' in America. In 1992 Zappa added a synclavier background to the piece (reminiscent of the Bongo Fury backing music for Don's poems). Zappa has also spread the lyrics out so that Don's faltering reading is not so pronounced.

Don Van Vliet vaguely remembers "reading a part" as the Grand Wazoo in the late '60s, for an apparently unrealized Frank Zappa project (somehow connected, presumably, to the Grand Wazoo big band of 1972). In 1992, Frank Zappa composed a Synclavier piece to accompany Vliet's reading, and toyed with Don's voice a bit.
(When told that Frank had paired the reading with a new Synclavier composition, Vliet laughed and said, "he was a real card.")
Who is the Grand Wazoo? "Anybody in any one of those lodge organizations with a stupid hat on," said Frank, adding "actually, the guy with the biggest, dumbest hat is the Grand Wazoo."

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band in Boston October '71

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
Tuft's University, Boston, Massachusetts
October 10, 1971 

1 comment:

Andy 7 said...

A lot of these tracks can be found on the Frank Zappa CD, "The Lost Episodes", which was released about 15 years ago on Rykodisc.