Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band

By Derek Lister

Creem, March 1969

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band are in the peculiar position at the moment of being well-known in England, and yet practically unheard of in their native America. They are bizarre to say the least, and make a very strange account of themselves by today’s wretched standards. (Beefheart was once arrested at London Airport because he insisted he was a pilgrim from the 21st Century). Yet, like the Soft Machine, they remain one of those elusive groups who just crop up every so often and dissolve again in clouds of mystery. They owe much of their present success in Europe to the foresight and the dogged persistence of the inimitable John Peel, who brought them from relative obscurity in San Bernardino County and introduced them to England. I first heard them there about two years ago when I was a fledgling in the struggling London underground, when Peel used to play them on his early morning pirate radio show, and later on those incredible hypes he used to pull on the BBC. The album then was Soft as Milk on the Buddah label. At that time, when you and I were just turning on to Country Joe, Doors, and the Airplane, Beefheart had already gone back to basics and recorded a collection of heavy, pounding originals, like “Electricity”, “Abba Zaba”, “Zig Zag Wanderer” and “Sure ’Nuff ’n Yes, I Do.” Now, when everybody is going back to old rock, Beefheart has brought out a second album – Strictly Personal on Blue Thumb. The music they have evolved on this record is quite unique. Conventional song forms are thrown to the wind, and more eccentric and imaginative structures put in their place. The result is a vast rag-bag of sounds, disjointed images, shock effects and sheer audio force. It’s not easy music to get into. In that sense, they’re still a very obscure band, but there’s definitely a lot there. John Peel once remarked that he couldn’t explain the vibrations he got from Captain Beefheart. I know exactly what he means: they have a curious way of affecting people. It would do you well to see for yourselves.