Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica - The best album ever
It's been more than 7 months since I first visited Steemit - as much as it's been since my first larger music article. Tastes change with time, and this process can even be very dynamic. It seems that not even a year has passed, but even in my life a lot has changed. Today I actively try to support the Steem community - a community I didn't know about 7 months ago, but which I wish today only as much success as possible and in the development of which I try to take an active part. The music I listened to seven months ago is completely different from the music I listen to today, and it is also different from the music I listened to a year ago, for example. I'm still eager to come back to many of the albums I've met at that time, but I'm not going to come back to some of them anymore and it's no wonder - everything should have its own place and time.
However, there are some things that have not become outdated during these 7 months, such as the content of the entry that I am just presenting to you, which was made as one of the first on my account, but in a much poorer version and in the Polish language. The album I'm going to talk about makes the same impression on me despite the passage of time. I am still able to rediscover it on many levels - from the extraordinary music it contains, through the extraordinary poetic lyrics of individual works, to the unique history of its creation, covered with many mysteries.
I have a problem with the "Trout Mask Replica" - before I got to know it, I was convinced that a person who confessed that he had his favourite work in some field of art, he had his favourite song or album and he is a person who at the same time said that he loved music, that he wanted to explore it, discover, should quickly give up his stupid impression and quickly expand his music collection. He should look for, read, bury and discover, because finding the thing that would seem to be the best, the most perfect, means only that we looked too briefly.
And it seemed to me that everything was working well - there is a list of favorite and best albums in my head, they are ranked in the line randomly next to each other, because it is impossible to compare them in any way, because they lack any common denominator. The music is rich, multidimensional, immeasurable, THE BEST, but... This is where my problem with "Trout Mask Replica" comes in.
"Trout Mask Replica" is the best album ever released, and how much I can't compare it to anything else I've listened, makes everything else fade, disappear and decrease. [Link to YouTube]
My initial response would have been similar to my response to [first] hearing Little Richard or The Ramones: you didn't know what you thought. You suspected that is was crap just because it was unlike anything else you'd ever heard in your life. Whoever you are, your value systems are based on comparative judgments and you can't listen to something in a kind of state of grace, and "Trout Mask Replica" had no reference points. You could approach it from any direction, you could interpret it in any way, because it bore no resemblance to anything else you'd experienced. And I'm sure my initial response was "he's blown it". (...) If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then "Trout Mask Replica" is probably that work.
John Peel about "Trout Mask Replica" - album he thought was the best ever recorded.
Born as Don Vliet, 15 January 1941 in Glendale. In 1965, together with Alex Snuffer, a secondary school friend and founder of Magic Bandu, they were prosecuted by the police on charges of smuggling sponges from Nevada ( I'm not kidding) and changed their names - Don added himself "Van", so since then he had been called Don Van Vliet, Alex Snuffer, in turn, became Alex St. Claire.
Don's girlfriend, Laurie, lived with him, his parents and his uncle Alan in Lancaster. Uncle Alan, that's how it happened, was used to bare himself before Laurie. For example, when he was peeing, he never closed the door to the latrine, and when Laurie was just passing by, he mumbled about his phallus:
The same school that the two young members of Magic Band studied at was also attended by Don's good friend Frank Vincent Zappa. They were united by a common passion - music (I don't know what else you expected). When they were both 14, they were fascinated with blues and avant-garde jazz. Zappa often brought home records that they listened to together for hours while eating cookies, which Don's father traded with, and which did not sell that day.
It was Frank who was soon to become the producer of "Trout Mask Replica" and to a large extent was responsible for the shape of this work and its legend.
I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever heard. I said to myself, they're not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. Then I listened to it a couple more times, because I couldn't believe Frank Zappa could do this to me – and because a double album cost a lot of money. About the third time, I realised they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I'd ever heard.
Matt Groening - creator of "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" about "Trout Mask Replica"
The Magic Band
Capitan Beefheart decided in July 1968 to record a work the world had never heard before that was innovative, groundbreaking and his own. Together with his Magic Bend he managed to release 2 albums earlier. The first one, purely blues in character, was to become the key to their career, and after its release they even had a planned concert at Monterey Pop Festival (next to such distinguished artists as Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Byrds, The Animals or Simon and Garfunkel, etc.), but during rehearsals, Beefheart panicked while performing one of the tracks and when trying to escape from the stage he fell straight on the group manager sitting next to him.
Magic Band's career was in ruins, since then they have become an avant-garde group, which seemed to never be able to earn money anymore and has not become popular. Disappointed with these events, Alex Snuffer, the leader of Magic Band, left the group, which brought Beefheart to absolute authority. It was then that Don decided to record his revolutionary work. He signed a contract with Straight Records - company owned by Frank Zappa. Frank had promised him full freedom in fulfilling his aspirations.
Zoot Horn Rollo
After Alex St. Claire left the group, his place was taken by Bill Harkleroad. Bill's paths and those of Magic Bandu had already crossed many times before, he played many times with the musicians of Lancaster, took part in many jam sessions and was a great fan of both Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.
After joining the group, the Captain gave him the pseudonym "Zoot Horn Rollo", which had been attached to him for ever. His distinctive guitar style has become a core element of Trout Mask Replica's sound. In his book Lunar Notes he describes cooperation with Beefheart as a curator, and the process of creating the album "Trout Mask Replica" as a real nightmare. Despite that, he claims that from the very beginning he knew that he was involved in the creation of something unusual and unique and that is why he didn't decide to leave.
Antennae Jimmy Semens
The second guitarist was Jeff Cotton. He joined the group as early as 1967, and the reason for that was the impressive heavy and harsh sound of his guitar. He was often mistreated by Don while he was working on the album. He was responsible, among other things, for writing down texts invented by the leader, and later often for reciting them. His work with Beefheart on this album has had really devastating psychological and physical effects on him. This has forever left a mark on his psyche.
He took the pseudonym "Antennae Jimmy Semens". On the album "Trout Mask Replica", apart from his heavy guitar we can also hear his crazy, bizarre falsetto in the songs Pena and The Blimp. Performing Pen has always been a great sacrifice for him because it has always been tantamount to wearing his throat off. After recording "Trout Mask Replica" he left the band.
Mark Boston was undoubtedly an outstanding bassist. When he joined Magic Band in 1969, suggesting what he had heard before at the band's concerts, he was sure he would play blues with them - he did not expect what kind of hell was going to face. He trained his aggressive bass playing under the influence of Beefheart. He accepted the pseudonym Rockette Morton and played with Beefheart until 1974. Together with Bill Harkleroad, they had until then been the mainstays of the Magic Band.
Don has hated religion and despised Christianity since he was a child. No wonder that it is the young, deeply believing drummer of the group, John French, who will be the object of the greatest humiliation and oppression in the group. Devastated by Captain Beefheart and hounded by the rest of the group, he had to escape from the city at cumulative moment to free himself from the destructive influence of the band leader. However, he decided to come back soon, because he was sure that the album they were preparing would be his life's work.
He has played Magic Band since its beginnings. Beefheart has given him a pseudonym "Drumbo". Although he really devoted himself to the creation of "Trout Mask Replica", by Beefheart's decision he was not even mentioned as a member of the band on the first release of the album.
They were all locked up by Don in a small house in the suburban district of Los Angeles, Woodland hills. They played there for the next 8 months, day after day, from 14 to even 18 hours a day, the goal of Beefheart was to make the members of the group live with the music they perform. Zappa did the same, but working with Zappa differed from Beefheart's, how the holiday on the Costa Rica differed from sending to Siberia.
Am I exaggerating? Captain Beefheart's whole event was supposed to have been overwhelmed by the reading of books on the so-called brainwashing, and thus he founded a real physical and mental terror for the whole group. Interestingly, Don had no idea about the theory of music, notes and rules of harmony. He composed everything on the piano, and the transcription was done by John French, which was a huge challenge, as you can easily guess. Nevertheless, when one day during the rehearsals he played something not as Donald wanted, when he had a bit worse day, he really got angry. Having seen the other members, without hiding their horror, they quickly jumped on French with their fists, then Beefheart approached and hit him in the face. In the end, he heard that after the next such issue he would leave the rehearsal room immediately, but not through a door, and whether the window would be open was just his problem.
Another time that French put himself in front of Don, threatening to leave Magic Band, he brutally, unceremoniously dug him out of the stairs. It was then that French fled and that's why he wasn't finally listed as a member of the band on the album cover.
Beefheart and his group, at the time of creating the material for "Trout Mask Replica", were in extreme poverty, all living in starvation, supposedly their diet consisted of a can of soya a day. Furthermore, each member had a ban on leaving the house, although this ban was broken several times. The yield of this is that once Magic Band was locked up in custody for stealing food from a nearby store. It was only after two days that the members left on bail, paid by Frank Zappa.
Turning to the question of how "Trout Mask Replica" was composed at all. Van Vliet did not really know the notes, progressions, chords, he never learned to play any instrument, he only mastered the technique of playing wind instruments, but in their case he was also self-taught. The whole album was composed by him on the piano, he knocked on the keys until the sound came out of it identical to the one he had in mind.
The band members, in turn, had to learn to play it in some way, which was a huge challenge and to this day nobody except them is able to play most of the Magic Band songs. For example, Beefheart pressed 10 piano keys, and then claimed that the chord he received Harkleroad must definitely play on his guitar. It is worth mentioning that the guitar has only 6 strings, which makes this task impossible in theory, which Beefheart did not care about at all and which he did not even try to acknowledge. He claimed that since Harkleroad is a guitarist and has learned all of these rules for musicians, he simply has to deal with it.
For months Bill trained the technique for a dozen of hours a day, and finally he mastered about 80% of the material prepared for him by Beefheart.
Captain Beefheart once said he really needed a new form of art.
And finally, with his music he can almost say that he created one. With his instruments, his voice (which he uses as an instrument with apparently unlimited scale and colour), his whole body and his Magic Bandem, Captain Beefheart expresses common emotions. You have to feel his music, it's not something to intellectualize...
Steve Peacock - Music journalist about Captain Beefheart
After eight months of a horror of work in sweat of brow, in March 1969 Beefheart appeared at Zappa's to announce his readiness to start recording. Zappa's proposal was to record the material at home, in Woodland Hill, to make it as natural and organic as possible.
To separate the instruments from each other and to achieve special acoustics, the instruments were placed in different rooms of the house. The drums were placed in the bedroom, the clarinet was placed in the kitchen, the vocals were to be recorded in the bathroom, and so on. Thanks to this, the quality of the recordings was to be similar to that of the studio, with the detail that the musicians could feel at home... Because in total they were at home!
After recording a few tracks Donanld got angry with Frank, accused him of cutting costs and demanded that he get his ass in gear and rent a real studio for the band.
The instruments were transferred to Glendale, to Whitney studio, owned by Mormons. Due to the small budget, the studio was hired by Zappa for only 6 hours, which meant for the musicians that they had to record 20 scheduled tracks in those 6 hours, so for each track the group had 12 minutes. For comparison, the average time to record one track at that time was 2.5 hours. For Frank Zappa, the idea that the group could form seemed completely impossible. He informed the group about how beautifully he organized it, and how he heard about it: "6 hours? There is no problem". Frank laughed in his mind, sat down behind the mixer and... After some time he fell asleep there.
The recording went unearthly fast, the musicians encountered the problem only when recording the vocals, because... Beefheart firmly refused to put his headphones on when he was recording them! The only sounds he heard and tried to sing to were those that reached him through a triple window separating him from the director's room. When the members of the group said that there was no chance to synchronize with the music in this way, he only said:
"That's what they do before a commando raid, isn't it?"
Finally, it turned out that the vocals were recorded practically flawlessly. The group's murderous eight-month torment brought results. Beefheart woke up Frankly after 4 and a half hours and said that they had just finished recording.
And indeed, they have really finished!
Zappa was speechless, however, a few days later he asked the group to go to the studio and record the material again, just in case he needed to replace some part of the recording with another one. Beefheart didn't refuse, they appeared again in the Whitney studio, played everything in one shot, gave the Zappie tape and again the same thing - the second version was perfectly identical to the first one!
The new album that Beefheart has just made is a 2-disc set and its origins are the blues of Delta as well as avant-garde jazz, such as Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, and many others. You can really hear these influences and they are perfectly combined in the new musical language. This is all his. And it does not resemble anything that others do. And the words are also his [...].
Frank Zappa about "Trout Mask Replica" in an interview with Dick Lawson from August 1969
Trout Mask Replica
Frank Zappa finished editing the album on Easter Sunday around six o'clock in the morning. He called everyone and said, "Come, your record is ready". Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band all appeared wearing elegant outfits, interrogated the recordings and said they liked it very much.
The album consists of 28 tracks, 8 of which are from Woodland Hill and 20 were recorded in the studio. Outstanding both in the literary and musical layers, he had a great influence on both the world of experimental music and this mainstream. Magic Band's influence is confirmed by people such as Paul McCartney, Micka Jagger or Kurt Cobain. The style of the group will significantly influence both the formation of art rock in Europe and the subsequent formation of punk rock.
While constructing this article in the Polish version, I decided to identify and analyse my favourite songs from "Trout Mask Replica". During this time I listened to the album another 10 times, which had some effects. Quickly trying to make any selection I realized that I hadn't missed any of the first 10 tracks, which made me unable to describe everyone - this time I won't make this mistake, my post is already too long so a detailed analysis of Trout Mask Replica I will write in a separate article.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to get to know this album in the best possible way and I wish everyone to be able to embark, just like John Peel, Matt Groening or me, on an extraordinary journey, which is discovering once again and again, this amazing, unique piece of art. Believe me, it really works!