From MOJO Magazine (Issue #21, August 1995, London, England)
"The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made"
[#28] TROUT MASK REPLICA Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band (Straight)
Recorded: Whitney Studios, Glendale, California and The Magic Band's House in The San Fernando Valley, 1969; Released: 1969; Chart Peak: Did not chart; Personnel: Captain Beefheart (vocal, bass clarinet, tenor sax, simran horn, musette), Zoot Horn Rollo (glass finger guitar) [flute is incorrect], Antennae Jimmy Semens (steel-appendage guitar), The Mascara Snake (bass clarinet, vocal), Rockette Morton (bass and narration), Drumbo (drums) [uncredited on LP]; Producer: Frank Zappa
"We just went in there, played every tune once, and he recorded it," says Bill Harkleroad about *Trout Mask Replica* and its producer, Frank Zappa. "And then about five or six hours later, we went home. I'd guess there were a couple of days spent on vocals, a day on mixing, and in four days the album was done." Toss in a couple of "field recordings" - engineered on a Uher portable tape recorder by Dick Kunc at The Magic Band's Valley abode - and those few days resulted in the double album that remains Don Van Vliet's astonishing, far-reaching masterwork.
Harkleroad, the former Zoot Horn Rollo, now summarises the Trout Mask experience as simply "these wild guys living in this house, rehearsing 20 hours a day, falling down in their tracks, and getting up and doing it again." That's him on the album's back cover - to the right of Beefheart (who manacingly brandishes a stripped-down lamp) and Antennae Jimmy Semens (whose dress looks lovely). "We're talking 1968 when that photo was taken," says the lanky guitarist. "I'm 19 years old, coming down from taking acid two or three times a week - like I *gave a shit*. Those were my clothes, actually. The cape was something some woman had given me, and I thought it looked fine. Black fingernail polish? That's cool. Lipstick? That's cool, too. I'm breaking it all away at that point. Nineteen years old - who had *brains* at 19?"
Precisely who contributed what to the sound of *Trout Mask Replica* remains the subject of controversy among its talented participants, but the album has influenced more than one generation of musicians. Nor has it mellowed with age. Since then, adds the former Zoot Horn Rollo, "I fell in love with the major scale in music - the physics of vibrations and tones. I mean, that's cool shit. *That* band was anti-music sound sculptures. And that was cool, too."
[#64] CLEAR SPOT Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band (Reprise)
Recorded: Amigo Studios, Los Angeles, autumn 1972; Released: December, 1972 Chart Peak: Did not chart (UK), 19 (US); Personnel: Don Van Vliet (vocals, harmonica, wings), Zoot Horn Rollo (solo guitar, steel appendage guitar, glass finger and mandolin), Rockette Morton (rhythm guitar, bass), Ed Marimba (drums, tattoos and percussion), Orejon (bass); Producer: Ted Templeman
The impeccably produced *Clear Spot* came packaged in a memorably nifty clear-plastic sleeve; inside the sleeve was packaging of another sort entirely. The band that created *Trout Mask Replica* and *Lick My Decals Off, Baby* was this time given the royal treatment by ace soundman Ted Templeman - the former Harpers Bizarre singer whose past production stints included the Doobie Brothers, Little Feat and Van Morrison, among others.
"We had him come in there and make it more commercial," says current day chiropractor Art Tripp, the one-time Mother Of Invention who as Ed Marimba played with Beefheart from 1970's Decals through 1974's Unconditionally Guaranteed. "We'd come up with a lot of new songs, and simpler instrumental parts and forms - and Don's lyrics, I recall, were a lot simpler and more tuned in with what other people were doing." Like Big Eyed Beans From Venus and Sun Zoom Spark? "There were a couple that were a little different," notes the ex-Mr. Marimba, "but then there were another half-dozen that were just like the normal crop you hear every time you turn on the radio. Except we had kind of a unique sound."
Indeed, Templeman brought in horns and background vocalists The Blackberries, and helped craft at least two tracks - Too Much Time and My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains - that, amazingly, stood a chance of becoming hit records. One album later, that drive for commercial success would result in the ill-conceived Unconditionally Guaranteed. *Clear Spot*, however, catches The Magic Band standing squarely at the threshold of commercial acceptance and hurling a squid at it. Dough and polyethylene bag included, naturally.
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