Safe As Milk sleeve notes from the Repertoire release

The following text is from the “Repertoire” release of Safe As Milk, sent to Justin Sherill by Elijah Popov.

Captain Beefheart

Under the philosophy that “life is art and art is life” (CREAM), DON VAN VLIET alias CAPTAIN BEEFHEART went down as one of the most dazzling personalities in rock history. This stubborn musician, painter and sculptor, whose voice ranged seven and a half octaves, allowed his extraordinary creativity run totally free, to the extent that categorisation attempts of any kind simply bounced off his productive genius.

“Delta blues, avantgarde jazz and rock & roll” (ROLLING STONE) entwined themselves to become a twentieth-century music style that had lasting influences on american bands such as “The Residents”, “Pere Ubu” and “Devo”. BEEFHEART’S chaotic “Magic Band”, members being recruited from the milieu of schooltime friend Frank Zappa, stereotyped to none and his records were far from being commercial. VAN VLIET remained a figure for the intellectual scene, who in the end made more money with his painting than with his music. Born on 15th January 1941 in Glendale, California, this individualistic artist was as a child already influenced and encouraged by Portuguese sculptor Augustino Rodriguez, when at the age of thirteen his family moved to Lancaster, California, where he first met Frank Zappa. It was the blues that first turned VAN VLIET into music, with which he taught himself harmonica and soprano sax, and played with regional bands like “The Omens” and “The Blackouts” before visiting the “Antelope Valley College” for one semester in ’59. In due course he found himself in the californian Cucamongo where he and Zappa formed “The Soots” with the intention of shooting the film “Captain Beefheart Meets The Grunt People” Both projects ammounted to nothing, but VAN VLIET had at least found a suitable pseudonym. Zappa went to Los Angeles and the CAPTAIN returned to Lancaster.

VAN VLIET next went out door-to-dooring for vacuum cleaners. In 1964 he formed the first “Magic Band” to record Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Way Diddy” The single reached an edition which justified the making of an album. Label-boss Jerry Moss found the material “too offensive” and merely released a further single, “Moon Child”/ “Fryin’ Pan”. BEEFHEART dissolved the band and searched for a company that would market his “world electronic blues” (Harald Inhulsen). “Buddah Records” took the bait and with a second generation “Magic Band” they recorded the LP “Mirror Man” that was not released however until 1970. At this time VAN VUET had already found a new business partner, bringing the album “Safe As Milk” into the shops in 1967 as the first official taste of his surrealisticly lyricised psychedelic blues, featuring slide guitar playing from Jeff Cotton. BEEFHEARTs vocal and lyrical qualities were already fully developed” (SOUNDS) and his “Magic Band” added a fascinating completion to “The Mothers Of Invention” and their ever-slapstick manner. BEEFHEART was celebrated as an outsider, flippantly combining rock-traditional appeal with alienated fragments of various styles. The recording of “Strictly Personal” turned out the same. However, white he was passing time in Europe, producer Bob Krasnow re-mixed his work, and on the grounds of this, a renewed BEEFHEART changed labels again.

Meanwhile Frank Zappa, with the help of his manager Herb Cohen, established the bizarre company “Straight Records” Zappa gave BEEFHEART total artistic control over his productions and there upon in less than ten hours, VAN VLIET composed the twenty- eight songs for his double-album “Trout Mask Replica” “The Fellini of Rock” (NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS) presented another weird mixture of free jazz, blues snatches, horn solos and crazy vocal acrobatics, conventional song structures being abandoned with numerous melodies running simultaneously and/or against one another. BEEFHEART’s vocals, “put down without any apparent feeling for tempo” (SOUNDS), told of hard-to- grasp curiosities, dominating above the well thought-out instrumental confusion. His message contained left behind a trail of irritation.

In ’69 CAPTAIN BEEFHEART worked on Zappa’s LP”Hot Rats” and recorded a further album for “Straight Records” called “Lick My Decals Off” Interest rose around this wayward character, and in 1970 he risked his first international tour.

“The Spotlight Kid” and “Clear Spot” appeared in ’72. Both LP’s exercised a simplification of the “typical rhythmic variations and overlays” (SOUNDS) yet the CAPTAIN still remained true to his individualistic inspirations. Driven on by his manager Andy DiMartino he attempted to conquer new markets with first-time concessions towards current pop/blues structures with the LP’s “Unconditionally Guaranteed” and “Bluejeans & Moonbeams” in ’74. The well-known oblique BEEFHEART-rhythm did not work as well as on previous albums. The “Magic Band” seemed less radical than in the past, and the banknotes printed on the “Unconditionally”- cover made their intentions obvious. From this, the “Magic Band” went on to record two mediocre electric blues- rock albums under the name of “Mallard” VAN VLIET appeared as leadvocalist on Frank Zappa’s LP “Bongo Fury” in 1975.

With an altered “Magic Band” that same year, the new album “Bat Chain Puller” was supposed to appear. The release was hindered with rights problems, and the material finally came out in a modified version in 1978 under the name “Shiny Beast”.

VAN VLIET used the long pauses inbetween record productions to secure his reputation as an acknowledged and cultivated artist. In the meantime he retreated with his wife to the Mojave Desert, living in a luxurious mobile-home.

His musical output eased off in the eighties with the albums “Doc At The Radar Station” and “Ice Cream For Crow”, as well as the twelve-inch “Music In A Sea Minor” His old company brought out the “Legendary A & M Sessions” in ’84. Live performances appear very rarely on his agenda.

VAN VLIET became, however, more and more popular as a painting artist. His inventiveness and untrained, inhibition free wealth of ideas stayed intact and his influences on musicians of the punk and new wave generations are undisputed. He was and still is “one of rocks originals’ (SOUNDS).


Safe As Milk (1967) Buddah, BDS 5001 Strictly Personal (1968) Sunset 50208 Trout Mask Replica (1969) Straight, STS 1053 Lick My Decals Off (1970) Straight, STS 1063 Mirror Man (1968) Buddah, BDS 5077 The Spotlight Kid (1972) Reprise 44162 Clear Spot (1972) Reprise 54007 Bluejeans And Moonbeams (1974) Virgin, V 2023 Shiny Beast (1978) Wamer Brothers 3256 Doc At The Radar Station (1980) Virgin 202870 Ice Cream For Crow (1982) Virgin 204957

1 Comment

  1. AHOY!

    I am trying to track down two pictures on the inner sleeve (I THINK) of SAFE AS MILK.

    Headshots: One is Tom Donahue (big, bearded) and the other is Bobby Dale (bald, glasses). They are two wonderful DJs, I ‘ve been compiling oral histories about, for a book on KMPX/KSAN, where I worked in the “Gnus” Department in the late 70s before Reagan came in in 1980, KSAN went country and we were all canned…etc

    I’m fascinated and curious as to how those pix of Tom Donahue and Bobby Dale got on the LP?! I wonder if Don knew them in San Francisco in 1967 when the LP came out, or what went down exactamente!?

    Thanks for listening!
    Radio Radio,
    Hank Rosenfeld

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