Answers To Opaque Questions That Would Bug Most People

A formaheap prize quiz

1) What was Don Van Vliet’s favourite gargle while on tour?

Was it a) Blue Bols b) Green Chartreuse c) Black & White Whisky d) Red Rum

Connor McKnight’s 1972 interview in Zig Zag #29 includes this description of Don on a tour bus:

[wp_quote]” relieve a sore throat, he was passed a tiny bottle of Green Chartreuse, with which to gargle. Having taken a swig and swirled it around his throat, he became harassed – as if looking for a receptacle in which to empty the stuff. Finding none, he spat it onto the floor of the bus, just under the seat, explaining very apologetically that he had been unable to swallow it in case it’d made him drunk!”[/wp_quote]

By the time of ‘Clear Spot’ Don had lost that shyness about swallowing. Bill Harkleroad in his book ‘Lunar Notes’ recollects drinking Cognac, Drambuie and Grand Marnier with Don. “His favourite was a French liqueur whose name escapes me – it would really coat the throat and ease the vocal chords.”

2) Name either of the two dancers who opened Captain Beefheart’s concerts on an early 70s UK tour.

In 1972 it was not unusual for groups to have dancers gyrating to the music on stage. Some of them even took off their clothes.

Only Captain Beefheart would think to employ dancers as opening acts; soloists dancing to their own music, a world away from rock, pop or jazz.

Beefheart’s Royal Albert Hall concert opened with a satirical variation of the ballet ‘Les Sylphides’. The lone ballerina in the spotlight was Karen Bernard.

Nowadays Karen is based in New York and is still dancing professionally. She continues to challenge conventional expectations of what dance should be, not least because of her physical shape.

The New York Times described her as, “a big, forthright woman with an interest in nontraditional dance movement and a gift for capturing the essence of a gesture.”

[wp_quote]”I do not have a dancerly body – and therefore my work deals with the unexpected image…”[/wp_quote]

Recent unexpected images from Karen include a subversive interpretation of the catwalk movements of fashion models; and a woman who pulls banknotes out of her underwear in a reverse pastiche of private dancers.

In 1972 Karen Bernard was studying at London School of Contemporary Dance where an audition notice for the Beefheart tour was posted.

[wp_quote]”The creation of the piece was left up to me … I now look back — and am amazed – because it was the first dance I ever made. I remember that I had to work around big speakers and equipment – which I didn’t expect.”

“These performances were frightening to me – because I was a novice performer plunged into performing in front of a huge audience. The other act … was a pro. She told me to have a steak before performing – that it would calm my nerves.”[/wp_quote]

Dressed in white and wearing a tutu, Karen appeared as the corny stereotype of a ballet dancer. The other soloist, The Fantastic Farina, completed Don Van Vliet’s visual pun by performing as a belly dancer.

[wp_quote]”This was a very unusual act – to go before a rock band. It related to what they were doing – because it was sureal.”[/wp_quote]

Karen particularly remembers one tour venue where she performed in a boxing ring. This would have been in Liverpool.

[wp_quote]”The crowd was very rowdy. They weren’t prepared to see a ballet dance … When I first came out they booed – I even had a tomato thrown at the stage (or what seemed to be a tomato – could have been my own paranoia) – anyway the happy ending to this story is that I completely won them over.”

“The band also wanted to have a third act before their show – a glass blower – but that never happened – strange idea – just as strange as the band.”[/wp_quote]

Thanks to Danny Houston who once asked, “Who was this ballerina? Why have I never read an interview with her?”, and to Karen Bernard for granting me that interview, which took place by e-mail in April 2002 after I spotted the magic words Captain Beefheart and a reference to that UK tour on her website.

3) The Edgar Broughton Band enjoyed a minor hit in 1970 with their Van Vliet/Bermann/Lordan collage, ‘Apache Dropout’. But which former Edgar Broughton Band member recorded a version of ‘The Dust Blows Forward And the Dust Blows Back’?

A publicity photograph of a Broughtons line-up, which included a young Andy ‘Lewis’ Taylor, can be found at Lewis Taylor’s fan site. According to Mojo of September 1997 Lewis Taylor played with The Broughtons for three years in the late eighties.

In September 2003 Lewis Taylor posted this message for the discussion group at his fan site:

[wp_quote]”During a particularly ‘dry spell’ i decided that i was gonna cover the whole of trout mask replica. This i started with unprecedented gusto. But halfway through ‘Neon meate dream of a octafish’ i thought w**k this for a game of scrabble and gave up. But everything up to that has been recorded.

No idea what i’m gonna do with it.”[/wp_quote]

Since that time Lewis Taylor’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’ has been heard in the form of a demo CD and as mp3s online. There are no plans to release it commercially. Some of the tracks can currently be heard at Lewis Taylor’s website.

4) Don Van Vliet said that New York is a bowl of a) Cherries b) Soul c) Underpants. Which?

Kristine McKenna’s interview with Don in the January 1988 edition of Spin magazine included this exchange:

[wp_quote]”Have you ever spent time in a city where you felt something special and extraordinarily creative was going on?”

“Yeah, New York, but that was quite a while ago. These days it reminds me of a bowl of underpants. It’s filthy there.”[/wp_quote]

5) Which popular Czech protest singer, artist and poet who recorded twelve albums included on his 1970 LP a song whose title is shared with a Trout Mask Replica composition.

Paul Wilson, the Canadian writer, translator and journalist, who in the 70s was a member of the legendary Czech band The Plastic People Of The Universe, replied in a mail to my questions about Karel Kryl’s song ‘Dachau Blues’.

Paul has been a Beefheart fan for more than three decades and wrote a long tribute to him in the early 1980s. He didn’t know if Kryl was interested in Beefheart but Paul did look at the Czech lyrics I supplied.

[wp_quote]“..there is no connection between the two songs, at least not lyrically. Kryl’s song is a lyrical poem full of pathos and images of suffering, torture, bad dreams, etc – hard to translate, but written in a highly formal Czech poetic style. Beefheart’s lyrics – but you know this – are pretty colloquial, and even playful.”[/wp_quote]

I still wanted to know whether Karel Kryl had been alluding in any way to Beefheart’s ‘Dachau Blues’. It was important to get this right. I was researching one of The Czech Republic’s cultural icons, a man who in 1994 received a funeral that was attended by thousands. Many of the mourners were foreign dignitaries and the President sent flowers. Who better to ask than a man who was a music critic before he became the closest aide to The Czech Republic’s most famous Frank Zappa fan, that same President, Vaclav Havel?

Vladimir Hanzel assured me that it was a coincidence that Kryl used the title ‘Dachau Blues’. Karel Kryl would not have known about Captain Beefheart or his music, especially in 1970. Kryl did occasionally use foreign words as song titles, but in any case the words Dachau and blues have international meaning.

It was clear that there were no more questions to ask. I’d heard some of Kryl’s ‘Dachau Blues’ online. There was not a hint of Van Vliet in the music. At least Paul and Vladimir had answered my mails. So many others had not.

The lyrics and chords for Karel Kryl’s ‘Dachau Blues’ from his album ‘Maškary’ are widely available online. An English language introduction to Karel Kryl can be heard at Radio Praha’s website.

Thanks to Vladimir Hanzel and to Paul Wilson for their tolerance, and best wishes to all the Czech writers, musicians and artists who did not feel the need to dignify my questions with an answer.

6) Name two of Don and Jan Vliet’s wedding guests.

Mike Bugbee wrote a long, detailed and fascinating account of the marriage of his friend Janet Huck, which he attended. “What a strange wedding party we made. Harkleroad and his girl looked like characters out of Lord of the Rings. Beefheart looked like a prosperous German immigrant circa 1890 with Jan as his new immigrant bride. I looked like some 1950s Beat lumberjack poet.”

7) Explain Garth Brook’s reference to Ella Gurus in his song “The Old Stuff”.

[wp_quote]”In 1988, concert promoter Ashley Capps opened a restaurant/nightclub called Ella Guru’s in Knoxville, Tennessee’s newly revived “Old City” district. For more than two years, the club hosted the Neville Brothers, Bela Fleck, Garth Brooks, Wynton Marsalis, Alison Krauss, Widespread Panic, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and many other national artists.”[/wp_quote]

– Thanks to Jeff Economy for this model answer.

8) What did Don Van Vliet say that the title ‘Safe As Milk’ referred to? Was it a) oral sex b) LSD c) STP D) DDT e) strontium 90 f) sushi

Sometimes Don said that it was about DDT and at other times Strontium 90. In the same breath he would insist that it was not about hallucinogenic drugs but about poison in mothers milk. The following quotes are from 1972, but Don continued to repeat this theme in conversation up until his final tour in 1982.

[wp_quote]”I don’t often write very heavy things. ‘Space Age Couple’ on the ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ album meant something. So did the title of my album ‘Safe As Milk’ – I was talking about the dangers of D.D.T. in the mother’s milk then, but everybody thought I was on about L.S.D. – the freak thing, you know.”[/wp_quote]

– from Caroline Boucher’s interview in Disc & Music Echo.

[wp_quote]”… now what I meant was milk wasn’t safe any longer; it had Strontium 90 in it. But it was interpreted as lysergic. All of a sudden everybody said, Oh yea man, really. Cool cat. I have never tried to be a hip cat.”[/wp_quote]

– from Andrew Weiner’s interview in Creem.

9) Which phenomenally successful boy band recorded a version of something which is on ‘Safe As Milk’? Name the band, the title of the track and the CD on which it appears.

‘Safe As Milk’ was recorded at RCA’s Hollywood studios in April 1967 and released in the USA in September of that year. Side two opens with the album’s co-producer Richard Perry speaking these words, “The following tone is a reference tone recorded at our operating level.” An audio tone is then heard rising into the guitar intro to ‘Yellow Brick Road’.

Refererence tones were used at RCA and other studios in the sixties and seventies to calibrate tape recorders prior to recording, and later for playback. These tones can be found on various test records but it is highly unusual to find them on commercially released discs.

The wording of Richard Perry’s announcement and his measured vocal delivery seem to be based on the delivery and text used by Robert Keith Morrison, the “voice” of Ampex alignment tapes. (His voice can also be heard on Standard Tape Laboratory alignment tapes.)

[wp_quote]“The following tone is a reference tone of 700 cycles, recorded 10dB below operating level.”[/wp_quote]

Within weeks of the release of ‘Safe As Milk’, on October 9th 1967, The Monkees recorded a session at the same RCA studios where ‘Safe As Milk’ had been laid down. The name of the LP they were recording was ‘Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.’ One of the sound engineers on that album was the same man who a few months previously had engineered ‘Safe As Milk’, Hank Cicalo.

During this Monkees recording session some (and probably all) of a spoken word track was recorded as an introduction to the album. The track featured the voices of Peter Tork and another un-named member of the band. At the beginning of November it was decided to issue the LP without it.

This track was not to be heard until 1995 when Rhino re-released the album on CD. Six bonus cuts were included, ‘Special Announcement’ being the spoken word piece.

[wp_quote]Special Announcement:

“The following tone is a reference tone of 700 cycles per second recorded at operating level. Set the playback controls so that the tone reads zero on the VU meter. All following tones will be at this level.”

a tone is heard

“Ten thousand cycles.”

a higher tone is heard

“Thirty thousand cycles.”

a yelping dog is heard

© 1995 Rhino Records[/wp_quote]

The final tone, inaudible to humans, combined with the dog yelping, is probably a parody of the first playout track on The Beatles ‘Sgt Peppers..’ album, a John Lennon joke. The second and ‘endless’ playout track on ‘Sgt Peppers..’ was also parodied by The Monkees on their ‘Live, 1967’ album.

Although one source suggests that the recording of the Monkees spoken word section was done in June 1967 and not in October, all other sources agree that the dog yowling part was done by a Monkees member during that October session. It is hard to imagine that such a simple track would require two different recording sessions. In any event, both these dates are later than the Captain Beefheart recording dates and one of them is after the release of ‘Safe As Milk’.

Explaining the rejection of this track for the original LP Andrew Sandoval gave this theory in his sleeve notes to the Rhino CD, “Perhaps sensing that this joke was just a little too obscure, The Monkees deleted this piece when the album was reassembled at the beginning of November ’67.”

By the beginning of November 1967, when the final selection for The Monkees album was made, ‘Safe As Milk’ was already being appreciated by a great many people. It had been on sale for over a month. Rather than being obscure, the joke, or the kernel of it, was becoming rather well known. It was surely for that reason that the track was pulled.

I won’t speculate on whether the resemblance of this Monkees intro to the Beefheart intro is anything more than coincidence, or whether the combination of recording studio and sound engineer which existed for both albums is relevant.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know who The Monkees imitated – Beefheart, Robert Keith Morrison, or both of them. But wouldn’t it be fun to be able to say that the first cover version of Captain Beefheart material was by The Monkees?

Thanks to John Woram (Recording Engineer at RCA RECORDS, 1959 – 1971) for the information in the second paragraph, and to a Monkees fan called Jennifer for helping me with Monkees recording dates.

Layo & Bushwacka’s 2002 dance hit ‘Love Story (Tim Deluxe remix)’ brings the story nearly up to date. During that summer clubbers worldwide danced to samples of a Nina Simone song, ‘Rags And Old Iron’, mixed with Devo’s ‘Mongoloid’ and introduced, in timeless fashion, by the following words, “The following tone is a reference tone recorded at our operating level.”

Whoever said you couldn’t dance to Beefheart?

10) Which English soccer club’s supporters sailed with Captain Beefheart and Captain Beefheart’s men?

Stockport County supporters include this song on their unofficial web site. Captain Beefheart was the nickname of one of them.

[wp_quote]When I was young and lazy
As lazy as could be
I said goodbye to the mother-in-law
And off I went to sea
I sailed with Captain Beefheart
And Captain Beefheart’s men
And off I went down Castle Street
In a black Maria fan[/wp_quote]

If anyone has a recording of the Stockport terraces resonating to these words please get in touch

11) Give a URL for a website where you can download a Beefheart ring-tone. (You should be able to hear the tone when you click on the link.)

[both links sadly now defunct]

12) Name the Spanish concerto from 1940 which was adapted by an American trumpeter in 1959. Some of this music was used in “Sugar n Spikes” in 1969.

[wp_quote]”‘Sugar ‘N Spikes’ half conceals another one of Van Vliet’s favourite tunes. It starts off on an agitated Delta blues rhythm but the mood swiftly changes as the singing guitar lines shadow the vocals in the chorus. This section is constructed around a melody lifted directly from Miles Davis and Gil Evans’s version of Joaquín Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto De Aranjuez’ from ‘Sketches Of Spain’ (1959), an album he and Zappa used to listen to as teenagers.”[/wp_quote]

– from Mike Barnes’ book ‘Captain Beefheart’.

13) A major part of Don Van Vliet’s 1965 composition ‘Frying Pan’ was incorporated into a 1973 song by a famous American rock band who still play that song in concerts today. Name the band, the song title and the album on which it originally appeared.

The drummer on Captain Beefheart’s 1965 recording of ‘Frying Pan’, Alex Snouffer, says that the song, “was just a takeoff on a Delta blues thing. Don wrote the words, we threw three chords together, and that was it.”

Albert Bouchard, the drummer on Blue Öyster Cult’s 1973 reworking of the ‘Frying Pan’ riff, acknowledged that Beefheart had inspired their song but added that the riff goes a long way back to some early blues/jazz piece of the mid to late fifties.

‘The Red and The Black’ is on the BÖC album ‘Tyranny and Mutation’. An earlier BÖC cut, ‘I’m On The Lamb, But I Ain’t No Sheep’, also used the riff.

The Swedish band The Nomads evidently spotted the Blue Öyster Cult ‘Frying Pan’ connection. In 1986 they re-named themselves The Screaming Dizbusters to issue a single with Vliet’s ‘Frying Pan’ on the B-side. ‘7 Screaming Dizbusters’ is a BÖC song title.

Thanks to Bolle Gregmar of The Blue Öyster Cult fan club for telling me about his conversation with Albert Bouchard.

14) ‘Tropical Hot Dog Night’ is music from a tropical island, occupies one CD of a 2 CD set, and is not a Don Van Vliet composition. It is played on a traditional instrument with vocal accompaniment. Identify the album.

Singapore Gwa by Tsuha Koutoko

[wp_quote]”Stunning double CD is contender for the best Okinawan album of 2000. Disc 1, Singapore-Gwa, is a glorious blend of Okinawan sanshin with guitar, drums, bass, organ, sax, tuba and more, with warm vocals, singing songs of emigrating to Singapore by boat, and other emigration songs. Disc 2, Tropical Hot Dog Night,is a straight, traditional, sanshin and vocal set.”[/wp_quote]

– from the record company’s online catalogue.

15) In which present-day unauthorized Rolling Stones cover band is there a guitarist who worked with Captain Beefheart?

Mark Banning plays Ronnie Wood in The Unauthorized Rolling Stones (or The URS). He kindly e-mailed me twice, in February and March 2004, in response to my questions about the time he played with Captain Beefheart.


“I played with Don a short time around ’74 or ’75. We talked for hours at a time on the phone at which time he asked me to join this band. It was a tough decision because I had just formed my dream band. Don came out and played with my band at a gig in the Lancaster/Palm-dale area, close to where he lived at the time. A reel to reel tape was recorded that night of the performance. Unfortunately, I never got a copy of it. I know that several copies of it exist somewhere. I remember we played a very cool version of “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf and an even cooler version of “Willie The Pimp” by FZ that must have been somewhere between 20 – 45 minutes long! I marvelled at how close Don sounded like the Wolf, and his soprano sax chops on “Willie”. I could swear I heard 2, possiibly 3 notes at the same time out of his horn! I’ve never heard anything like it before or after that night. I was also extremely happy with my guitar playing that night. It’s very possiible that Zoot was there, and Sally Struthers, too. Don gave me tickets to his new years show at the LA Forum with Frank shortly after this gig. (Maybe that will help you to know what year it was.) Could you let me know if you have heard a live recording that fits this description? I didn’t use any fictitous names with him, but one might be attached with that recording. I hope that this answers your questions. I haven’t spoke to Don since that era.”

“Thanks for the help. It was prior to the Zappa/Beefheart show at the LA forum ’75 that I played with Don. To my knowledge, there was no connection to Sally Strothers and Zoot, other than being under the same roof. The name of the band was “Thumbs”. Keyboardist John Thomas was in that band. He went on to play with Bruce Hornsby, and a cast of thousands. Bassist Tim Myers went on to work with Michael Jackson and David Bowie doing synthesizer mods. Vic Beach played drums and Jan Wolfe played keyboards and woodwinds. I never rehearsed with Don in his band. I don’t know how he heard my playing, but it must have been with Thumbs playing often in the Antelope valley or by word of mouth. John and Tim were friends of Zoot and Drumbo. I played a lot more experimentally than I do with the Unauthorizers. (Duh!) It would be so cool to hear that recording again.”


Thanks to Mark Banning for his mails and to Steve Froy for clarifying dates. If anyone has information about the tape please get in touch.

16) “She’s a red hot pig, She’s a hobo wire toaster, She’s a circle on a spit, She’s a Hot Head, Hot Head, Hot Head.”

How would you make a hobo wire toaster and what would you do with one?

[wp_quote]”A hobo toaster would be a wire coat hanger with an impaled slice of bread on the end of it, dangling near a flame. Also very effective for hot dogs – until the coat hanger starts to get too hot to hold. (This is one cooking utensil unlikely to be found near the late Joan Crawford’s kitchen or outdoor barbecue.)”[/wp_quote]

– from a mail to The Fireparty sent by Gary Marker

17) Which university has recently been offering an introductory course on Beefheart and two other American groups?

Andy Hollinden’s sixteen week course on The Beach Boys, Beefheart & The Residents was held at Indiana University’s School of Music. Mike Barnes’ book ‘Captain Beefheart’ was required reading and the students had on-line access to all of the albums.

18) A beauty product for the dedicated Beefheart guitarist – Sun Zoom Spark™ nail varnish. What colour is it described as?

Sun Zoom Spark™ Metallic with Micro Glitter Nail Polish™.

The manufacturers of these cosmetics products seem to have trade-marked quite a range of names from late 20th century culture – from Strawberry Fields™ and Marmalade Skies™, through Siren’s Song™ and Purple Haze™, to Asphalt Jungle™ and Blue Velvet™.

19) In 1976 Don Van Vliet held an art exhibition in conjunction with another artist who is well known for his record album cover work. Name the other artist and the venue of the exhibition.

The other artist was Cal Schenkel, Frank Zappa’s ‘art engineer’, who also worked for other artists represented by Herb Cohen, including Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Captain Beefheart. Perhaps one of Cal’s best-known album covers is ‘Trout Mask Replica’.

The venue was an art gallery at the school which Matt Groening was attending at the time; Evergreen Galleries at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Matt Groening’s interest in Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band is well known.

It is remarkable that this exhibition, along with Don Van Vliet’s 1972 show at The Bluecoat Galleries in Liverpool, does not appear in published lists of Don’s exhibitions.

Many thanks indeed to Melvin N. de Snoids for alerting us to the fact of this show having taken place and for providing a scan of the poster.

20) ‘Opaque Melodies That Would Bug Most People’ includes John Zorn, Carl Stalling and Captain Beefheart, among others. Where?

This is an academic essay by Dr Darren Tofts, Associate Professor in Media & Communications, Faculty of Life & Social Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

It was presented originally as a spoken paper/performance at the (Dis) Locations symposium on new media art, Cinemedia at Treasury Theatre, Melbourne on December 1, 2001. It was then accepted for publication as an online essay in Senses of Cinema. It can also be found at an online publication called Rhizomes. It was never published as a print document.

Thanks to Dr Toft, who signed his e-mail “darren (“…particular about the point he made…”)”


  1. Hey there I am the guy in question 2!!Thank you so much for a very entertaining read. Great research. Important work. Thanks again.

  2. Hi there I’m danny houston the ballerina question guy..Hope you are well and good in your bubble.Just noticed you say “black maria fan ” in that STOCKPORT story .I’d say it’s “black maria VAN” ….. wiki:
    A police van (also known as a paddy wagon, patrol van, patrol wagon, police wagon, Black Mariah/Maria or police carrier) is a type of vehicle operated by police forces. Police vans are usually employed for the transport of prisoners inside a specially adapted cell in the vehicle, or for the rapid transport of a number of officers to an incident.
    You have done an amazing job on the CB front. Thank you.

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