Those Beefheart Blues

By Tony Wilson

Melody Maker, February 3, 1968

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART WAS sitting in the corner of his hotel room in London, running through a new song, as I entered. The Magic Band, Alex St Claire and Jeff Cotton playing acoustic guitars, and Jerry Handley plucking his bass guitar, were seated on beds working through the backing. When they finished, the Captain greeted me and told me the group hadn't slept since their gig at the Middle Earth the night before. The Magic Band kept on playing and conversation with the Captain was carried on between songs.

"Frank Zappa and I were making a movie and decided to start a band," he explained to my questions about the origins of the Magic Band. "But we didn't. I went and started with Alex, and Frank started a band called the Mothers. We recorded a song  'Diddy Wah Diddy', which was a turntable hit in the United States, then the turntable stopped turning and we stopped doing 'Diddy Wah Diddy' – and started realising that everything was nothing. We had a year of isolation in the desert and got ourselves together. We got high in the desert."

'The numbers on the Safe As Milk album were written about 18 months ago and the album has been out in America for about 11 months. We found Bob Krasnow, who didn't think our music was negative. He put out the record and it did OK in the United States."

Conversation was broken by another song and then I asked the Captain about the blues influence in his music. "I was unhappy as a child – now I'm happy and growing. I like to talk, too. When I'm talking I'm practising my singing and when I'm singing I'm practising my talking. And when I'm walking I'm practising my stalking..."

The Captain and his Magic Band have appeared at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco; "In fact, anywhere there are cars, man."

He was impressed with London's underground centre, Middle Earth. "It was one of the warmest audiences weve played to recently. When I came off the stage, I nearly broke my leg. I put my foot though the stage and I saw these two green eyes shining through the floor. It might have been a rat, but man, it was really avant garde."

Pause for another song with words about "blue cheese lace, blue cheese lace" (he told me he had written two songs about England, one with Pete Anders of the Anders & Poncia duo, fellow Kama Sutra recording artists, who went travelling with the Magic Band. "The love imagery is fantastic. The castles, the bricks, everything is positive here – unless it's made negative. But even after we've gone, we'll still be here. I wrote a song with Pete Anders. I also wrote another one called 'Fifth Dimensional Judy'. We physically love England," added the Captain.

The Magic Band, meanwhile, were grooving along nicely and John French, their tall, mysterious drummer had come in and was beating tattoos on a case with drumsticks.

"Were making a new album – its really far out," continued the Captain. "I hope we don't get in vogue." The new Beefheart album is still being prepared but the cover has already been planned. The album itself will be titled "It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper" and the cover will appear to be a wrinkled brown paper envelope addressed to Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band with the wording "5,000 Microgrammey Tubular Planet Estates, Glasdom".

The stamp on the envelope will bear the heads of the Magic Band, engraved and superimposed on to old Spanish stamps. It will be a double album and the Captain would like to get it mixed in England. He then asked me was I going to ask him who he liked, "Alright," I replied, "who do you like?"

Said the Captain, "I like Zappa, Ornette Coleman, Anders & Poncia and Penny Nicholls and dimes and quarters and Billy." Before I could find out who Billy was, the Captain was away into another song with Pete Anders of Anders & Poncia, songs unlimited, throwing lyric suggestions to the Captain. After that song, the Captain turned to me and said, "What I would like to say is, 'Let the living live, and the dying die.' That's from one of our new songs, 'You Gotta Trust Us'.

"Ma, I'd like to have sung that in front of the Immigration Bureau. Those customs people who were so stately. Yeah, it's with a hyphen," added the Captain leaning over my pad. It was at this point that Bob Krasnow, Beefheart's record producer, entered to break up the session and get the Captain Beefheart Magic Band on the road for the Speakeasy. The Captain was saying something about sleep but went off instead to do another interview. Anders & Poncia picked up where the Magic Band left off and I walked into the cold, Sunday night, slightly dazed, slightly amazed.

This article was reprinted in The History Of Rock #4 1968 with the title "We got it high in the desert".