Don Van Vliet and Herb Bermann wrote the songs ‘Can Fever’ and ‘Bone Crazy’. The BMI website says so, and BMI should know. BMI keeps comprehensive records of the people who write, compose and publish songs.
You’ll look in vain through the Beefheart catalogue to find ‘Can Fever’ and ‘Bone Crazy’. Even the most hardcore of Beefheart scholars have never heard these songs. So when these titles were found at BMI, years of general wonderment and speculation ensued. What might these songs be?
With Herb Bermann as a co-writer, could ‘Can Fever’ and ‘Bone Crazy’ be missing songs from ‘Safe As Milk’?
No demos or out-takes with these titles ever appeared. No muffled recordings on furtively traded cassettes were ever heard. No lyrics were found. If these songs were ‘Safe As Milk’ material no-one could confirm it.
David Jones was another co-writer listed by BMI for these songs. Davy Jones was in The Monkees. The Monkees shared a recording studio and a sound engineer with Captain Beefheart. The Monkees even recorded a version of something which was markedly similar to part of ‘Safe As Milk’.
Perhaps ‘Can Fever’ and ‘Bone Crazy’ were songs for The Monkees? Neil Diamond and Carole King were co-opted as Monkees songwriters. Had Captain Beefheart been brought in to make the Monkees even more zany?
Nothing could confirm this madcap fancy. Somebody had had too much to think.
More searches on the Internet, endlessly refined, yielded 0 results.
Archaeologists from this Big Dig contacted Barry J Coffing, another co-writer listed by BMI for ‘Can Fever’. Barry didn’t think this was one of his songs, but he had written hundreds of songs for different projects.
Herb Bermann knew nothing about these songs either. Asked about Barry J. Coffing, Herb replied, “I don’t know who he is.”
How could the listed co-writers not know each other? What sort of collaboration was this? How do you collaborate on not writing a song with someone you don’t know and still get credited for it? This story wan’t making much sense.
With Herb Bermann’s interviews about to be published here I thought I’d take another look at this problem. It had been about two years since the last time.
Sometimes Beefheart research is akin to archaeology in a tar-pit. There are bones in there and old tin cans, and maybe even treasures, but until the tar-pit decides to throw them out the chances of finding them are negligible.
My search engine spluttered into life and plunged into the tar-pit. Almost immediately it coughed out the answer.
Prosaically enough, the fact is that these are not Captain Beefheart songs at all. A band called Screeper simply sampled ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do’ on their song ‘Can Fever’ and used part of Beefheart’s song, ‘Electricity’, on ‘Bone Crazy’.
Being conscientious about the use of other people’s property, Screeper then spent a year in complicated legal negotiations before they could release a CD with these tracks on it. This 1998 CD, which is now out of print, is called ‘English Meltdown’ (Mouthy008CD). NME called it, “the best album ever by a Portsmouth band.”
Screeper eventually morphed into a band called Autons. In June last year Autons supported The Magic Band in Portsmouth. For this concert they reprised their old hit, ‘Can Fever’, complete with Captain Beefheart sample.
BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) is a prestigious American music performing rights organisation which issues licences for the rights to perform or broadcast songs. Fees are collected from licence users and are distributed to writers, composers and publishers. Along with Don and Herb, BMI lists the writers of ‘Can Fever’ as Barry J Coffing and Dave Jones. For ‘Bone Crazy’ BMI shows Don and Herb’s co-writers as Alan Buxey, Steve Coffin and David Jones.
Thanks to Alan Buxey for shedding some light.