Gary Lucas on Strictly Personal

One of Gary’s top ten albums from his list compiled for a Facebook challenge in 2020 …

Rolled round de corner comin’ up
SEVEN Come Eleven
My lucky number Lord
Ah feeeeel like I’m in Heaven
Ah said
–“Ah Feel Like Ahcid”, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

And **LUCKY SEVEN** it is today in the Bang On A Gland Roll-Call of the Ten Most Happenin’est, Earth Shakin’est Albums reverberating still in the hippodrome and flippodrome of my skull, until the last syllable of recorded time even (or something like that–I keep revising my list to try and keep it fresh due to multiple lists of same requested by all sorts of folks and media outlets over many a year). And today’s lesson is mighty important, remember: Bullwinkle is a do…NOT that lesson! This lesson:

On Jan. 15th 1941 Sue and Glen Vliet of Glendale California became the proud parents of little Donnie–a gifted only-child, a prodigal prodigy you might say, with way-big ears, an impressive aptitude for sculpting and painting, and a pronounced ability via sheer mental energy and his commanding bark to bend folks (in his immediate vicinity anyway, long-range was an iffy-er proposition) to his Will–we’re talking real Nietzschean Ubermenschen stuff here (Don always said it was due to his being born near a nuclear testing area).

Young Don possessed fantastic poetical gifts and a whole new way of seeing the world afresh, accelerated in the mid-60’s by the liberal use of psychedelics (which he at times denied– but hey, he wasn’t the first artist out there to dabble and then try and cover his tracks / obscure his origins in an attempt to escape The Anxiety of Influence, pace Harold Bloom). Anyway, his folks up and moved themselves with Don to the High Mojave Desert about an hour and a half from LA shortly after Don was offered an art scholarship in Europe.

Once there, his burgeoning friendship with a young Frank Zappa in the town of Lancaster Ca. contributed to his lifelong avid passion for Blues, RnB, and Free-Jazz, ingredients he drew on heavily to create his own music by putting together his first Magic Band. Jumping straight out of the box with a hit single on A&M Records, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Was Diddy”, Don embarked on a series of albums beginning with 1967’s “Safe As Milk” to establish himself as a Force of Nature– perhaps the most Artistic (down to the tips of his toe-nails) Avant-Garde Shaman in Rock, Jazz, Blues, or what-have -you… Call it what you will, but his is a singular, and unmistakeable (and lonely, despite many pretenders to the Throne) visionary voice , which though stylistically borrowing from elder bluesman especially Chester Burnett a/k/a Howlin’ Wolf (who Don as was his wont denied ever listening to–“well, it might have been on in the same room I was in, but I mean, I never LISTENED to it”… he had a great line in blarney did Don) nevertheless was refashioned and made Beefheart’s own. And what’s in a name? Christened Don Vliet, he had his name legally changed back to the original Dutch surname Van Vliet in the mid-60’s when he assumed the musical persona of Captain Beefheart (“I have a Beef in my Heart Against Humanity” he claimed; Zappa said it derived from somewhat more earthy origins buried deep in Don’s childhood).

Which takes us to my #7 album “Strictly Personal”. Designed to look (kinda) like a manila envelope containing pornographic pictures inside (it comes to you in a plain brown wrapper), with day-glo stamps from Costa Rica and Glassdom Glassdom bearing the visage of each band member on the outside (Van Vliet of course, plus guitarists Alex St. Clair Snouffer and Jeff Cotton, bassist Jerry Handley and drummer John French), the album is a full-frontal assault on the senses from minute one, commencing with the psychedelic bluesy whimsey of “Ah Feel Like Ahcid” (basically a re-imagining of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” put through a blender on a bender), with Don raving and gesticulating and hand-clapping ‘n bottleneck guitars springing willy-nilly off-kilter every which a’way like Mexican jumping beans (“U Bean So Cinquo”)–and closing with the childish wonderment / immersion in the acid-bath (everyone into the Gene Pool) of “Kandy Korn”, the Magic Band (truly) shooting off sparks and tripping the light fantastic ‘cross a rainbow bridge over the Abyss, spanning Here to There and Vice Versa while Don and the boys intone “Be Reborn…Be Re-formed…Stay Stay Stay Warm”) (what Chaplin advised Groucho to do before Chaplin died).

The album on Kras and Artie Ripp’s Blue Thumb Records went on sale in Syracuse in 1968 at full price at Bob Mears’ The Record Runner (a nifty little walk-down off Syracuse University’s Marshall Street), and a few months later it was a cut-out and marked down to $1.97, at which point I snapped it up. I didn’t honestly know what to make of it then, it made for an extremely rugged listening experience, but in time over the years (and because I was forced to learn how to play some of it during my later stints in The Magic Band and with Fast ‘N Bulbous) I grew to love it — even though Don claimed producer Bob Krasnow got in there with Don’s cousin Victor Haydon (The Mascara Snake) on LSD one night while Don’s back was turned and ruined it with a lot of cheap psychedelic effects, thumping heartbeats, phasing … Pish Tush and Pshaw! It’s a great album, it never gets picked, so here I go 🙂

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