Van Vliet wanted the whole band to "live" the Trout Mask Replica album. The group rehearsed Van Vliet's difficult compositions for eight months, living communally in their small rented house in the Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles.
With only two bedrooms the band members would find sleep in various corners of one, while Vliet occupied the other and rehearsals were accomplished in the main living area. Van Vliet implemented his vision by completely dominating his musicians, artistically and emotionally.
At various times one or another of the group members was "put in the barrel," with Van Vliet berating him continually, sometimes for days, until the musician collapsed in tears or in total submission. With no income other than welfare and contributions from relatives, the group barely survived and were even arrested for shoplifting food Zappa bailed them out [ citation needed ]. French has recalled living on no more than a small cup of beans a day for a month.
Physical assaults were encouraged at times, along with verbal degradation. At one point Cotton ran from the house and escaped for a few weeks, during which time Alex Snouffer filled in for him and helped to work up Ant Man Bee.
French, who had thrown a metal cymbal at Cotton, ran after him yelling that he too wanted to come. Cotton later returned to the house with French's mother, who took him away for a few weeks, but he later felt compelled to return, as did Cotton.
Mark Boston at one point hid clothes in a field across the street, planning his own getaway. John French's book Through the Eyes of Magic describes some of the "talks," which were initiated by his doing such things as playing a Frank Zappa drum part "The Blimp mousetrapreplica " in his drumming shed, and not having finished drum parts as quickly as Beefheart wanted.
French writes of being punched by band members, thrown into walls, kicked, punched in the face by Beefheart hard enough to draw blood, being attacked with a sharp broomstick.
He admits complicity in similarly attacking his bandmates during "talks" aimed at them. In the end, after the album's recording, Beefheart ejected French from the band by throwing him down a set of stairs, telling him to "Take a walk, man" after not responding in a desired manner to a request to "play a strawberry" on the drums.
Beefheart replaced French with drummer Jeff Bruschel, an acquaintance of Hayden. Referred to as 'Fake Drumbo' playing on French's drumset this final act resulted in French's name not appearing on the album credits, either as a player or arranger.
Bruschel toured with the band to Europe but was replaced by the next recording. It took the band about eight months to mold the songs into shape, with French bearing primary responsibility for transposing and shaping Vliet's piano fragments into guitar and bass lines, which were mostly notated on paper.
He was getting more into that part of who he was instead of this blues singer. The album's cover artwork was photographed and designed by Cal Schenkel and shows Van Vliet wearing the raw head of a carp, bought from a local fish market and fashioned into a mask by Schenkel. The relentless practice prior to recording blended the music into an iconoclastic whole of contrapuntal tempos , featuring slide guitar , polyrhythmic drumming with French's drums and cymbals covered in cardboard , honking saxophone and bass clarinet.
Van Vliet's vocals range from his signature Howlin' Wolf inspired growl to frenzied falsetto to laconic, casual ramblings. The instrumental backing was effectively recorded live in the studio, while Van Vliet overdubbed most of the vocals in only partial sync with the music by hearing the slight sound leakage through the studio window. It seemed to me that if he was going to create a unique object, that the best thing for me to do was to keep my mouth shut as much as possible and just let him do whatever he wanted to do whether I thought it was wrong or not.
Van Vliet used the ensuing publicity, particularly with a Rolling Stone interview with Langdon Winner, to promulgate a number of myths that were subsequently quoted as fact. Winner's article stated, for instance, that neither Van Vliet nor the members of the Magic Band ever took drugs, but Harkleroad later contradicted this.
Van Vliet claimed to have taught both Harkleroad and Boston to play their instruments from scratch; in fact the pair were already accomplished young musicians before joining the band.
When asked how this was possible, he claimed to have only eaten fruit. Critic Steve Huey of Allmusic writes that the album's influence "was felt more in spirit than in direct copycatting, as a catalyst rather than a literal musical starting point. However, its inspiring reimagining of what was possible in a rock context laid the groundwork for countless experiments in rock surrealism to follow, especially during the punk and new wave era.
But the seeming sonic chaos is an illusion—to construct the songs, the Magic Band rehearsed twelve hours a day for months on end in a house with the windows blacked out.
Producer Frank Zappa was then able to record most of the album in less than five hours. But I'd like to. Very great played at high volume when you're feeling shitty, because you'll never feel as shitty as this record. Lick My Decals Off, Baby continued in a similarly experimental vein. An album with " An early promotional music video was made of its title song, and a bizarre television commercial was also filmed that included excerpts from Woe-Is-uh-Me-Bop , silent footage of masked Magic Band members using kitchen utensils as musical instruments, and Beefheart kicking over a bowl of what appears to be porridge onto a dividing stripe in the middle of a road.
The video was rarely played but was accepted into the Museum of Modern Art , where it has been used in several programs related to music. Journalist Irwin Chusid interprets this change as " The atmosphere of The Spotlight Kid is, according to one critic, "definitely relaxed and fun, maybe one step up from a jam. This was in part an attempt by Van Vliet to become a more appealing commercial proposition as the band had made virtually no money during the previous two years—at the time of recording, the band members were subsisting on welfare food handouts and remittances from their parents.
I realized that I had to give them something to hang their hat on, so I started working more of a beat into the music. According to John French, the worst of this was directed toward Harkleroad. Clear Spot' s production credit of Ted Templeman made Allmusic consider "why in the world [it] wasn't more of a commercial success than it was," and that while fans "of the fully all-out side of Beefheart might find the end result not fully up to snuff as a result, but those less concerned with pushing back all borders all the time will enjoy his unexpected blend of everything tempered with a new accessibility.
In , immediately after the recording of Unconditionally Guaranteed , which markedly continued the trend towards a more commercial sound heard on some of the Clear Spot tracks, the Magic Band's original members departed.
Disgruntled and past members worked together for a period, gigging at Blue Lake and putting together their own ideas and demos, with John French earmarked as the vocalist. At this time Vliet attempted to recruit both French and Harkleroad as producers for his next album, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Andy Di Martino produced both of these Virgin label albums. Vliet was forced to quickly form a new Magic Band to complete support-tour dates, with musicians who had no experience with his music and in fact had never heard it.
Having no knowledge of the previous Magic Band style, they simply improvised what they thought would go with each song, playing much slicker versions that have been described as "bar band" versions of Beefheart songs. A review described this incarnation of the Magic Band as the "Tragic Band," a term that has stuck over the years. Neither was well received; drummer Art Tripp recalled that when he and the original Magic Band listened to Unconditionally Guaranteed , they " As we listened, it was as though each song was worse than the one which preceded it.
By the fall of the band had completed their European tour, with further U. Van Vliet now found himself stuck in a web of contractual hang-ups. At this point Zappa had begun to extend a helping hand, with Vliet already having performed incognito as "Rollin' Red" on Zappa's One Size Fits All and then joining with him on the Bongo Fury album and its later support tour. The form, texture and imagery of this album's first track, "Debra Kadabra", sung by Vliet, has 'angular similarities' to the work he would later produce in his next three albums.
In early Zappa put on his producer hat and, once again, opened up his studio facilities and finance to Vliet. This was for the production of an album provisionally titled Bat Chain Puller. Much of the work on this album had been finalized and some demos had been circulated when fate once again struck the Beefheart camp.
This resulted in Zappa's finances and ongoing works becoming part of protracted legal negotiations. The Bat Chain Puller project went 'on ice' and did not see an official release until In he appeared on Jack Nitzsche 's soundtrack to the film Blue Collar. Having extricated himself from a mire of contractual difficulties Beefheart emerged with this new album, in , on the Warner Bros label.
However, he and Vliet were now joined by a whole new line-up of Richard Redus guitar, bass and accordion , Eric Drew Feldman bass, piano and synthesizer , Bruce Lambourne Fowler trombone and air bass , Art Tripp percussion and marimba and Robert Arthur Williams drums. The album was co-produced by Vliet with Pete Johnson. Members of this Magic Band and the 'Bat Chain' elements would later feature on Beefheart's last two albums. Doc at the Radar Station helped establish Beefheart's late resurgence.
Released by Virgin Records during the post-punk scene, the music was now accessible to a younger, more receptive audience. One of the most important American composers of the last fifty years, [and] a primitive genius"; Van Vliet said at this period, "I'm doing a non-hypnotic music to break up the catatonic state Richard Redus and Art Tripp departed on this album, with slide guitar and marimba duties taken up by the reappearance of John French. This line-up made a video to promote the title track, directed by Van Vliet and Ken Schreiber, with cinematography by Daniel Pearl , which was rejected by MTV for being "too weird.
Raggett of Allmusic called the album a "last entertaining blast of wigginess from one of the few truly independent artists in late 20th century pop music, with humor, skill, and style all still intact"; with the Magic Band " Gary Lucas tried to convince him to record one more album, but to no avail.
One book, entitled Splinters , gives a visual 'scrapbook' insight into Vliet's life, from an early age to his painting in retirement. The second, eponymously titled, book is packed with art pages of Vliet's work. The first is bound in green linen, the second in yellow. An onion-skin wallet, nestling at the package's inner sanctum, contains a matching-numbered Vliet lithograph on hand-rolled paper, signed by the artist.
The two books are by publishers Artist Ink Editions. Throughout his musical career, Van Vliet remained interested in visual art. He placed his paintings, often reminiscent of Franz Kline 's, on several of his albums. In the mids, Van Vliet became reclusive and abandoned music, stating he had gotten "too good at the horn" [99 ] and could make far more money painting.
He was interviewed on Granada regional television standing in front of his bold black and white canvases. Bamberger [ ] and Stand Up To Be Discontinued , [ ] first published in , a now rare collection of essays on Van Vliet's work.
According to Dr. John Lane, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , in , although Van Vliet's work has associations with mainstream abstract expressionist painting, more importantly he was a self-taught artist and his painting "has that same kind of edge the music has. I'm trying to completely bare what I think at that moment" [ ] and that, "I paint for the simple reason that I have to. I feel a sense of relief after I do. Exhibits of his paintings from the late s at both the Anton Kern and Michael Werner Galleries of New York City received favorable reviews, the most recent of which were held between and He exhibited only few of his paintings because he immediately destroyed any that did not satisfy him.
After his retirement from music, Van Vliet rarely appeared in public. Many of his art contractors and friends considered him to be in good health. Vinyl, Limited Edition, January 1, "Please retry". Vinyl —. Check out our turntable store for a great selection of turntables, needles, accessories, and more. Amazon Business: Make the most of your Amazon Business account with exclusive tools and savings.
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