The Grow Fins sleeve. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The official Revenant blurb
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band set rock on its ear from 1965 until 1982, when leader Don Van Vliet retired from music. Engineering a mutant strain of musical DNA (tuff-ass garage punk R-n-B, extraterrestrial field hollers, austere “classical” miniatures, loping sea shanties, scorched-earth delta blues, free-blowing skronk, fat-bottom groove and post-everything clangor all found their way into the soup), CB&HMB are now regarded as one of the most original and consistently compelling bands ever waxed.
The closest to a Best Of collection as we are likely to see, this career-spanning set corrals rare tracks from a variety of sources (band members’ personal archives, live tracks, demos, worktapes, radio spots) along with over 30 minutes of enhanced CD footage of live performances, 112 pages of text and never-before-published photos, the complete Trout Mask Replica house sessions, and John ‘Drumbo’ French’s “colorful” history of the band. Hear a captain and his truly magic band. If you got ears, you gotta listen.
“Captain Beefheart is the most important musician to rise in the Sixties, far more significant and far-reaching than the Beatles; as important for all music as Ornette Coleman was for jazz, as Leadbelly was for the blues.”
-Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone
“Beefheart & His Magic Band were the first rock group to truly blow me away.”
-David Fricke, from the liner notes
“What Beefheart inspired was not a reproduction of his Delta atonality or famous multi-octave range, but a willingness to rethink rock from the bottom up.”
-Spin Alternative Record Guide
The 5 CD box set contains a 112 page hardcover book featuring David Fricke, John French and John Corbett’s notes, rare photographs and a wealth of other information.
A special vinyl edition was also released on Table Of The Elements containing 6 LPs, a a poster and a 24 page libretto.
Album overview from Graham Johnston
This set received a bit of a mixed response from fans and reviewers. On the one hand there’s the beautiful packaging, incredible photographs, insightful notes from John French and interviews with many ex-Magic Band members. On the other hand there are all the hundreds of mind-blowing unreleased tunes not included (licensing problems) and the variable sound quality which some have complained is worse on occasions than their bootleg versions of some of the tunes.
Personally I loved it when I first heard it and still do – the early stuff is perhaps my favourite on here – if you’re a fan of Safe As Milk, the first two discs will be a delight.
The Trout Mask Sessions discs are fascinating, but perhaps suited more to rare special occasions than regular listening. I probably end up only listening to these instrumental tracks, rehearsals, field recordings and Trout House / studio chit-chats once every couple of years but it’s always an experience.
The final disc is the most variable, with one especially shining moment which would make the whole set worthwhile alone: Orange Claw Hammer from 1975 sung completely straight with Frank Zappa playing acoustic guitar. I love Orange Claw Hammer on Trout Mask Replica, but this… so stripped down, so honest and so lovely makes my eyes.. a Beefheart fan’s eyes flow out water… salt water.
Despite what the official blurb above says – it’s not a best-of collection and certainly not an introduction to the world of Beefheart, but it is an amazing extension.
A selection of goodies
Designed specially to get you drooling all the way to the nearest record shop, the Radar Station is pleased to present a selection of promotional items for the Grow Fins set:
- The April 1999 issue of The Wire featured a two-page special about the box-set written by Mike Barnes. For the ultimate appetiser, read The Bathroom Tapes. Many thanks to Mike for permission to feature this.
- Revenant’s colour A4 Grow Fins advertisment, featuring the sleeve and other info.
- Revenant have produced a beautiful monochrome promotional advertisement in addition to the one above, featuring a Cal Schenkel photograph.
- There is also a Grow Fins promotional sampler CD which was released by Revenant in March 1999.
- Revenant’s Grow Fins retail Promotional Flyer
- Who are Revenant anyway? Find out in these two articles: Resurrection Shuffle by Byron Coley and The Weirdest, Coolest Reissue Label In The World by Mark Coleman.
- My Ears Stand Up When I Hear That Sound by Graham Johnston – the Radar Station’s review for Grow Fins.
- Byron Coley’s review for Grow Fins taken from the May 1999 issue of The Wire. Many thanks to Byron for his permision to feature it here.
- Cosmic Soldier Back In The Fray With New Discs by Tom Moon. This review looks at all the Beefheart discs issued in 1999 (Grow Fins, The Dust Blows Forward, Safe As Milk and The Mirror Man Sessions) and was taken from the 27th June 1999 Philidelphia Inquirer.
- Grow Fins (Rarities 1965-1982) by Ramsay Pennypacker. Taken from the 30th June edition of the Philadelphia Weekly, 1999.
- Bully for Beef by Sean O’Hagan. Taken from the 16th July edition of The Guardian’s Friday Review.
- Hungry and Weird by Richard Gehr, taken from the 20th July 1999 Village Voice.
- Monica Kendrick’s review from the Chicago Reader – used by kind permission.
- The NME’s Grow Fins review
- Oh Captain My Captain by David Bowerman, at salon.com.
- There’s Magic In The Madness – the City Paper review.
If any of these links become broken, or if you spot other reviews elsewhere, please let me know.
CD 1 Just Got Back From the City (1965-67)
- Obeah Man (1966 demo) (2:46)
- Just Got Back From the City (1966demo) (1:55)
- I’m Glad (1966 demo) (3:43)
- Triple Combination (1966 demo) (2:50)
- Here I Am I Always Am (early 1966 demo) (3:17)
- Here I Am I Always Am (later 1966 demo) (2:33)
- Somebody In My Home (live Avalon ’66) (3:03)
- Tupelo (live Avalon Ballroom ’66) (4:15)
- Evil (live Avalon Ballroom ’66) (2:33)
- Old Folks Boogie (live Avalon Ballroom ’67) (3:15)
- Call On Me (1965 demo) (3:04)
- Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do (1967 demo) (2:11)
- Yellow Brick Road (1967 demo) (1:45)
- Plastic Factory (1967 demo) (2:57)
CD 2 Electricity, 1968
- Electricity (live at Cannes 1968)
- Sure Nuff (live at Cannes 1968)
- Rollin n Tumblin (Kidderminster 1968)
- Electricity (Kidderminster 1968)
- You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond (Kidderminster 1968)
- Kandy Korn (Kidderminster 1968)
- Korn Ring Finger (1967 demo)
CD 3 Trout Mask House Sessions, 1969
- hobo chang ba and dachau blues tuning up
- “bush recording”
- HAIR PIE (BAKE 1)
- HAIR PIE (BAKE 2)
- HOBO CHANG BA
- hobo practice
- Hobo Chang Ba take 2
- DACHAU BLUES
- OLD FART AT PLAY
- PACHUCO CADAVER
- SUGAR N SPIKES
- SWEET SWEET BULBS
- Frownland take 1
- ELLA GURU
- SHE’S TOO MUCH FOR MY MIRROR
- STEAL SOFTLY THROUGH SNOW
- MY HUMAN GETS ME BLUES
- WHEN BIG JOAN SETS UP
- Candy Man
- CHINA PIG
If you want to hear just the album tracks, then program just the tracks in capitals. If you want to hear them in the order they appeared on the album, program as follows: 17, 9, 19, 3, 12, 15, 30, 25, 4, 27, 13, 21, 6, 23, 10.
CD 4 Trout Mask House Sessions Pt. 2, plus Enhanced CD
- Blimp playback
- “Herb Alpert”
- “Septic tank”
- “We’ll overdub it 3 times”
Plus the following cd-rom-accessible video/audio footage:
- Cannes Beach live ’68 (“Electricity” and “Sure Nuff”)
- Paris Bataclan live ’73 (“Click Clack”)
- ‘Detroit Tubeworks’ program, winter of late 1970/early 1971. (“Big Joan,” “Woe Is Me,” “Bellerin Plain”)
- Amougies live ’69 (“Too Much For My Mirror,” “Human Gets Me Blues”)
CD 5: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Grow Fins (1969-81)
- My Human Gets Me Blues (live Amougies ’69) (4:02)
- When Big Joan Sets Up (live ‘Detroit Tubeworks’ 1971) (6:30)
- Woe Is Uh Me Bop (live ‘Detroit Tubeworks’ 1971) (2:26)
- Bellerin Plain (live ‘Detroit Tubeworks’ 1971) (3:24)
- Black Snake Moan I (KHSU ’72) (approx 1:00)
- Grow Fins (live Bickershaw ’72) (5:11)
- Black Snake Moan II (WBCN ’72) (approx 1:24)
- Spitball Scalped Uh Baby (live, Bickershaw ’72) (9:30)
- Harp Boogie I (WBCN ’72) (approx 1:20)
- One Red Rose That I Mean (Town Hall ’72) (2:12)
- Harp Boogie II (WBCN ’72) (approx :40)
- Natchez Burning (WBCN ’72 (approx :42)
- Harp Boogie III (1972 radio phone in) (approx :52)
- Click Clack (Paris, ’73) (2:50)
- Orange Claw Hammer (’75 from radio with Zappa on accoustic guitar) (4:25)
- Odd Jobs (Don piano demo, ’76) (5:05)
- Odd Jobs (full band demo ’76) (5:10 )
- Vampire Suite (1980 worktapes / live) (3:48)
- Mellotron Improv (live ’78) (approx 1:25)
- Evening Bell (Don piano demo ’81) (1:00)
- Evening Bell (Lucas worktape ’81) (2:15)
- Mellotron Improv (live ’80) (approx 4:00)
- Flavor Bud Living (live ’81) (1:10)
For the track listing and other information about the vinyl sets, please head towards the Grow Fins on vinyl information page.
Apologies to Gary Lucas from John French
In the Grow Fins booklet, I made a small but misleading error regarding Gary Lucas, on page 42 I wrote: “Meanwhile, Gary Lucas, a young college student in Syracuse NY,” which should have actually read “young high school student.” Gary actually wasn’t in college for several years and actually went to Yale University. Because he was walking on a college campus during the moment to which I was referring, I somehow mistakenly twisted the words, making it appear that Gary was a few years older and also that he was going to Syracuse University.
Also: Revenant Records wishes to apologise to Gary regarding the live version of Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on my Knee.” Mr. Lucas actually should be credited with Bass on that live performance and somehow it was overlooked. Thanks to Gary Lucas for all your help!
-John French and Dean Blackwood.
Purchase Grow Fins
Interested in how this box-set came together? Find it all in the Revenant Beefheart Boxset Update Archive
- Grow Fins on Wikipedia
- Grow Fins on Discogs
- Grow Fins on AllMusic
- All Grow Fins-related items here at the Radar Station
Help us out
If anyone is able to complete or update any of the information above, then please do get in touch.
I like listening to The Legendary A&M Sessions followed by the 1966 demos on disc 1 of Grow Fins as one playlist/”album”. It is a good collection of the pre-Safe As Milk style of The Magic Band. The Trout Mask instrumentals and the Odd Jobs and Evening Bell demos are big highlights of this collection for me and Korn Ring Finger (my favorite “out-take” from the Mirror Man/It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper sessions) was only available on CD on this collection before Buddha put it out as a bonus track on the 1999 CD re-issue of Safe As Milk. The Vampire Suite is also a real gem.
This is much better than the “polished’ final versions on the released recordings. It sounds more like Howlin’ Wolf played by a teen garage band.
I’m not sure why they tarted up the final version; maybe to make it less sharp around the rusted edges? Much better with the dangerous edges exposed!
Also, a very fine dissing of Herb Albert on “Herb”.