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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 35 - 08/26/99

Capt. Beefheart & His Magic Band
Grow Fins

A short interview with Revenant head man Dean Blackwood

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 clean.

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 music?
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 constant element?
Dean Blackwood: Van Vliet.

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