Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. Trout Mask Replica.

By Andy Aledort

Guitar World, June 1999

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Trout Mask Replica

(Reprise) Produced by Frank Zappa

DENSE AS A RAIN FOREST, SOMETIMES grating and often hard to grasp, Captain Beefheart's best-known album, Trout Mask Replica, is the poster boy of late-Sixties avantgarde rock. And rightfully so. No other album from that era brought together as many disparate influences in such an utterly original, aggressively confrontational and thought-provoking manner.

Big – 28 tunes in one hour and 20 minutes – Trout Mask was originally released as a double album. The album features the Magic Band's most legendary lineup: Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad), Antennae Jimmy Semens (Jeff Cotton), Rockette Morton (Mark Boston), Drumbo (John French) and The Mascara Snake (Victor Hayden). Assimilating the sound of hard-driving African rhythms, Appalachian folk melodies and cadences, sea shanties, Delta blues licks and free-form atonal jazz, the Magic Band provided the perfect backdrop to Beefheart's wailing/barking/spewing stream-of-consciousness singing. The cumulative effect is an explosive assault on the senses, that later proved to be influential on such bands as Pere Ubu and Devo.

Legend has it that Beefheart wrote all 28 songs in eight and a half hours, although band members recall that developing the music took somewhat longer. In his new book, Lunar Notes: Zoot Horn Rollo's Captain Beefheart Experience (SAF Publishing), Bill Harkleroad describes the experiece: I spent nine months learning the parts to Trout Mask. It was very hard work, [because Don's] ereativity wasn't clear cut as far as being very musical. He adopted the mentality of a sculptor, using sound, bodies and people as the tools."

Most of the material was conceived at the piano, but Beefheart also used the guitar. "He would beat the shit out of the guitar," Harkleroad says. "The result can best be described as [abstract expressionist painter] Jackson Pollack trying to play like John Lee Hooker."

The album's opening track immediately offers a hint of the madness to follow. "The opening lick was in 7/8, but, like most of these tunes, it had those broken sections to it," Harkleroad details. "Everyone played in their own time signature and own key, and came together at some points and not at others. You'd hold onto your part for dear life against the thrust of what everyone else was doing."

And what of those crazy band member names? "Frank Zappa, who had produced us, gave Don the name 'Captain Beefheart,' " explains Harkleroad, "so Don bestowed those of us in the Magic Band our own nicknames. The name 'Zoot Horn Rollo' was suggested for me, and I thought, what? I don't know if I like it! Then I had a change of heart and thought, 'Oh, whatever – I'm in the Beefheart band and this is the coolest thing on earth. I'm going to be rich and famous and I won't even have to go to college!' "

– Andy Aledort

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