Strictly Personal – the inner sleeve

The front cover of Strictly Personal was, at the time, quite unusual although it didn’t really hint at the strangeness that lay within those vinyl grooves. However, if you opened up the gatefold sleeve you were confronted head-on with the weirdness that was Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band even if he did say himself that “I may be hungry but I sure ain’t weird”. This certainly wasn’t your usual band photo call, no cheesy smiles, no macho posturing and no dodgy hairdos.

Have you ever wondered who was who in that iconic photograph by Guy Webster?

Well, we can tell you. Thanks to Jerry Handley …

Left to Right: Jeff Cotton, Alex St Claire, Don Van Vliet, John French, Jerry Handley

The story behind this photo shoot is that the band had been taken to the Western Costume rental in Hollywood where they rummaged around for some suitable attire.

The mask that Don is wearing has been identified as being used in the 1951 film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, The Man from Planet X.

Here are some stills of the alien from that film:

Jeff Cotton is wearing a helmet from an episode of the second series of The Outer Limits called ‘Soldier’ written by Harlan Ellison, first broadcast in September 1964:

The helmet was later slightly modified in the 1980s and worn by Robin Williams in Mork & Mindy:

Jerry Handley’s bell-shaped headpiece is a strange one. If you’re quick enough you can just spot it in the film The Lone Wolf’s Spy Hunt from 1939. It appears in a section of the film (about 40 minutes in) that takes place at a surrealist party:

Alex St Claire’s outfit comes from the Vincent Price horror, The House of Wax from 1953:

The source of John French’s helmet has taken the longest to identify but thanks to the sharp eyes of Will Herrara I am pleased to tell you that we now know that helmet came from the 1959 Three Stooges’ film Have Rocket Will Travel.

In one reissue of the album on Blue Thumb a negative of the original photo was used:

Here are a couple more photographs from that session.

Don is holding his shehnai (sometimes it’s called a simran horn), a double reed instrument from the Indian sub-continent. It’s usually made of wood with a wood or metal flared bell.

At the same session they were photographed as their alter-egos, the 25th Century Quakers although the concept didn’t really get followed through:

John French recalled this photo shoot in a post on Facebook :

That was a fun photo shoot at A&M Studios, which was the old Charlie Chaplin Studio. The late Guy Webster did the shoot. He had a backdrop that had been sitting outdoors, which he brought in. It had been leaning up against the outside of the building on the north side. He loved it, because it had “aged” and had all these stains in it from the weather. The headgear was from Western Costume Company, along with a lot of the clothes. Alex decided to go with the nylon over the face look. We had a great time with Guy. There are some outtakes of this shoot in my book. Guy said that he loved working with us because of the experimentation and freedom we gave him.


  1. Great to have this information. The Man from Planet X is a pretty good film as is House of Wax. Have not seen the others, really not a Three Stooges fan.

  2. When I bought Strictly Personal when I was 18 in 1972, the inner sleeve photo really struck me as a brilliant work of art. I bought another copy and mounted the sleeve on my bedroom wall. Alex St. Claire looks like he’s wearing a silk stocking over his face and grimacing, I originally thought that was Beefheart. I’m an artist and I borrowed that face for a surreal piece of art I did, it made such an impact on me. It would have been more fitting to use a similar black and white photo for Trout Mask Replica. Thanks for the article.

  3. You’ve got it backwards – the negative cover is on Blue Thumb, not Liberty, while your original is taken from the Liberty version.

    1. Author

      Well spotted. It’s always a problem proofreading your own work!

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