US - California - Full Moon 35 - 08/26/99
Capt. Beefheart & His Magic Band
A short interview with Revenant head man
The Revenant label released the 5 CD
Beefheart box set Grow Fins this summer.
According to Revenant:
"Captain Beefheart &
His Magic Band set rock on its ear from 1965
until 1982, when leader Don Van Vliet retired
from music. Engineering a mutant strain of
musical DNA (tuff-ass garage punk R-n-B,
extraterrestrial field hollers, austere
"classical" miniatures, loping sea shanties,
scorched-earth delta blues, free-blowing skronk,
fat-bottom groove and post-everything clangor
all found their way into the soup), CB&HMB are
now regarded as one of the most original and
consistently compelling bands ever waxed. The
closest to a Best Of collection as we are likely
to see, this career-spanning set corrals rare
tracks from a variety of sources (band members'
personal archives, live tracks, demos,
worktapes, radio spots) along with over 30
minutes of Enhanced CD footage of live
performances, 112 pages of text and never-before-
published photos, the complete Trout Mask
Replica house sessions, and John 'Drumbo'
French's "colorful" history of the band. Hear a
captain and his truly magic band. If you got
ears, you gotta listen."
Aside from being a fan of Captain
Beefheart & his Magic Band for all these years,
how exactly did the burden of realizing the box
set fall into Revenant's lap?
Dean Blackwood: Nobody else was doing it,
and it's a job that cries out to be done right.
We weren't going to wait on some half-assed
studio track anthology effort from Rhino
purporting to "sum up" the work of the good
Cap'n. The main thing that struck us is that
it's impossible to capture the best of what this
guy was doing if you stick to studio recordings -
most of the best of his stuff is revealed in
more off the cuff settings. We thought about
calling it "field recordings" instead of
"rarities" but it was too late by then. The
centerpiece of the collection is obviously the
alternate universe of Trout Mask Replica,
presented by way of the rehearsal tapes (CD 3).
Where did these tapes come from?
Dean Blackwood: Held by members of the
band themselves. We weren't able to get the
original reels, which have disappeared out from
under Richard Kunc, the original engineer. We
were able to get first generation dubs from
these reels, though, and they're pretty
Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band was
unfortunately well-known for their tangled web
of legal and label troubles. What sort of
problems did you run into being the ninth (or
tenth) label to release some of this
Dean Blackwood: It's always problematic
dealing with an artist who's recorded for a
major label, and certainly more so when he's
recorded for 5 or 6 different majors over his
career. It was interesting navigating the scene,
given that he was under exclusive contract to
someone at almost every point in his career. You
have to rely upon a lot of handshakes, frankly,
from sympathetic folks at the majors who aren't
interested in needlessly keeping the material
from being released.
What were the aims of this project?
Dean Blackwood: To my ears, the box is on
one hand a documentation of the Band's musical
evolution (as the Grow Fins title
refers). But there is also a great de-mystification of the aura surrounding the music
and the man, Don Van Vliet, as well as a new
appreciation for what mainstays like John
French, Bill Harkleroad, Gary Lucas, etc. did
within the band.
As a fan, does the music still hold up
after the myths have been lifted?
Dean Blackwood: I think it actually
serves as quite a testament to his brilliance.
Again, just because it did not spring forth
fully formed in a gush from his forehead does
not mean the stuff does not have the very real
force of genius behind it. It just means that
one has to recognize that the raw materials and
the notion of whether it "feels right" were
something only a genius like Van Vliet could
arrive at, but he certainly had a lot of help
shaping and refining his vision.
But when it comes down to it, through all
the eras of the music of CB&HMB, what's the one
Dean Blackwood: Van Vliet.
Copyright © 1999 Andy Beta