Date – 25 April to 2 May 1968
Studio – Sunset Sound, Hollywood
Producer – Bob Krasnow
Engineer – Gene Shiveley, Bill Lazerus
Don Van Vliet – vocals, harmonica, electric flour sifter
Alex St Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals
Jeff Cotton – guitar, backing vocals
Jerry Handley – bass, backing vocals
John French – drums, backing vocals
According to legend the album was ruined by producer Bob Krasnow who tried to make it more “commercial” by adding psychedelic post-production phasing effects to the recordings. This was done supposedly without the band’s knowledge while they were away in England.
Don Van Vliet denounced the album’s production in numerous indignant interviews of the time:
So he hands me the album, and there’s the album cover I did with the stamps and manila envelope. Everything just as I did it. So I put the album on and, my God, it’s not the same album! He had put psychedelic Bromo-Seltzer all over the tapes we’d made – you know, phasing, whooooosh. The music – there are diamonds in the rough tinder there, but it sounds like some kid’s got a hold of a Mona Lisa. A mean little kid. All of a sudden I find this album a shambles with psychedelic Bromo-Seltzer all over it. I didn’t know what to do.
The truth may be different, however.
Beefheart’s ‘ruined’ classic doesn’t sound half bad at all, amazing in fact, despite the slightly dated effects. Outtakes without the effects have appeared on numerous releases over the years and perhaps sound even better but there is no denying the album’s curious allure due to its great wordplay, humour, pounding throbbing rhythms, unique vocals and great lumbering blues. It’s often totally OTT in the best possible way.
I have so many favourite bits but when the phased vocals start to warble in at the beginning of “Son Of Mirror Man – Mere Man” just after the bass and drums explode in… that’s pretty magic.
To me, there is a clear distinction between the albums up to Strictly Personal and that which followed. After this point, nothing was to sound quite the same ever again….
A note from the late Gerry Pratt:
This is Krasnow’s story that Don said he liked it while the band hated it (this came from a friend of John “Drumbo” French). Don’s opinion changed when it got bad reviews/sales. Krasnow may have told him it was going to be a hit album and that Beefheart and the band would make lots of money – this was at a time when they had little if any income.
In my Beefheart ‘zine (Steal Softly Thru Show #4 – Old Fart At Play) I will be publishing a telephone interview from January ’94 of Bill Harkleroad AKA Zoot Horn Rollo by John Ellis – this sheds some new light on the Summer 1968 period after the April/May ’68 recording sessions and before the October (?) 1968 issue of Strictly Personal by Krasnow on his own Blue Thumb label:-
JE: This is Bill Harkleroad that I’m talking to and thanks very much for doing this interview for us…the first question I want to ask …which you’ve probably been asked before…was how did you become the guitarist for Trout Mask Replica?
BH: For Trout Mask Replica or for Captain Beefheart?
JE: Well did it start before then?
BH: Well actually yeah…I was in the group before Strictly Personal came out and recorded some of the tunes that…we were going to redo that album…I’m sure that you know the history because of our past conversations
JE: I’ve heard some really convoluted stuff…that it was recorded for MGM at one point
BH: I recorded two tunes in the studio as my first studio thing…Zappa was the engineer and producer of that…we were going to redo the album… then a guy called Bob Krasnow kind of put out the album without anyone knowing…so we dumped what we had…
JE: He’s President of Elektra now and I’ve actually heard from him that he’s interested in reissuing that album…the unmixed album …I also heard that someone contacted a friend of mine in England…said that Capitol or EMI had got hold of it and might be putting it out on CD
BH: Strictly Personal?
BH: Before he added all the…phasing and stuff?
BH: Interesting…anyway so your question was the Trout Mask Replica thing
JE: Can you remember what the two tracks were?
BH: “Kandy Korn” and “Moonlight on Vermont”
BH: “Moonlight on Vermont” was going to be on that album but ended up going onto Trout Mask Replica
JE: Very interesting …so Zappa was the producer of that so he probably has the tapes…
BH: Probably yes…I guess I don’t know what’s happening with his stuff now
If anyone is able to complete or update any of the information above, then please do get in touch.