A few months ago, the Republican candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted: “I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!”
Not so much, Jon. But the former governor of Utah isn’t alone in his enthusiasm. Last year, the Library of Congress inducted a Captain Beefheart record into its National Recording Registry. Trout Mask Replica (1969) is part free jazz, part blues, part beat poetry. Frank Zappa (who gave singer-songwriter Don van Vliet the name Captain Beefheart) produced the album. “It sounds like it’s been made up on the spot,” describes Mike Barnes, van Vliet’sbiographer. “But in fact it was rigorously learned so the players would play the tracks the same way every time.”
John French was the album’s musical director and the Magic Band’s drummer. “Captain Beefheart realized the possibilities that existed in music if you looked past the rules.” That made for some grueling, 70s-cult-style recording sessions. “They had a very harsh work regime,” Barnes explains. “Beefheart would deprive people of sleep, he would keep them up all night.”
But the result was a sound that redefined the boundaries of rock. “I just had never encountered anything filled with so much abandon,” musician Tom Waits remembers. “It’s so unlike anything that we all consider music to be.”
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