published: 14 /
In 'Ten Songs that Made Me Love...' Nicky Crewe reflects on her favourite songs by Captain Beefheart
Maverick, shamanic, an artist in every sense, turning to painting once he had finished with music. Psychedelic Delta Bluesman surrounded by brilliant musicians with surreal stage names. The howl, the growl, the sun zoom spark...
I am guessing this was the first Beefheart song I was aware of. I remember it being on the juke box at Roger Eagle's club and coffee bar, the Magic Village, in Manchester, where I first went to as a fifteen old in 1969. The walls dripped condensation and worse, when the gents' overflowed. In the back room was a juke box beyond any you could imagine. In these days of online play lists and instant access to recorded music from any era, it's impossible to recapture just how amazing this collection of 45s was. All available for small change and a stab at a couple of coded buttons.
This was where I discovered psychedelic music, the blues and the electrifying effect of Beefheart's music.
‘Zig Zag Wanderer’
‘Zig Zag Wanderer’ came, like ‘Electricity’, from Beefheart’s 1967 debut album, ‘Safe as Milk’. I still have a vinyl copy bought second hand at On the 8th Day, New Brown Street. This was Manchester's first hippy head shop, bringing an alternative way of doing business to the retail experience, the counter culture. It must have been about 1970.
‘Moonlight on Vermont’
‘Trout Mask Replica’, his 1969 third album, captured my imagination, not least the image on the cover of the LP. Produced by Frank Zappa, I'd begun to appreciate his music too. This was my favourite track, conjuring up a surreal landscape.
‘Willie the Pimp’
From Frank Zappa’s ‘Hot Rats’, released in 1969. Zappa and Beefheart had been at high school together. I love this collaboration. I want to go down the aisle to ‘Peaches en Regalia’, the first track on that album. It won't be as a bride, so it's one of my funeral songs. My children have been told.
‘Blabber and Smoke’
In 1972 ‘The Spotlight Kid’ was released, and it's hard to choose one song from this whole experience. It was said to be a more accessible, more commercial album, whatever that means in terms of Beefheart's visionary and experimental music.
Captain Beefheart played the Bickershaw Festival in May 1972. I was there with my friends from the already mentioned On the 8th Day. We were running a food stall called Joe's Cafe, in a great pitch between the stage and Caroline Coon's Release tent. There was an area for cooking and an area for chilling out. We served brown rice and veg, muesli and fruit juice. I don't remember sleeping. I didn't have a tent or a sleeping bag. I never found the dormitory tents advertised on the posters. The line-up was amazing, and I must have seen and heard most of the music from my vantage point, including Beefheart. This may well have been where it all got subliminal.
I have always had a fondness for trains, coming and goings, meetings and partings. The blues feel of ‘The Spotlight Kid’ seems to be concentrated in the lyrics and unusual instrumentation of this song.
Back to the water, grow fins, take up with a mermaid. Surreal fantasy, sexual imagery and primitive impulses, again on ‘The Spotlight Kid’. Leave those land lubbing women alone. I thought of myself as one of the mermaids.
‘Too Much Time’
‘Clear Spot’ came out in 1972 and Beefheart and the Magic Band toured the album in 1973. Roger Eagle of Magic Village, Twisted Wheel and Eric's fame was a friend, the manager of a band I was in and also a great friend of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart. Two men with a passion and depth of knowledge about blues music, both big presences. To cut a longish story short, this friendship meant I was included on the tour bus and the guest list as often as I could get off work to go to concerts. Work was at On the 8th Day, so that wasn't a problem. I drove all over Norfolk with the tour manager looking for John Peel's house (we didn't find it) and the Honeyrose Special cigarette factory. We did find this, and bought cartons of herbal cigarettes for Captain Beefheart to take back to the States.
I still have the vinyl copy of ‘Clear Spot’ that I was given then. No autographs, no need then. My friend Cathy was given a drawing by Beefheart, a little sketch. She gave it away when she joined an ashram and got rid of her worldly goods. Where is it now?
The songs from this album are love songs. The lyrics are poems of longing, loneliness and hope. A deep devotion, wide as the sky and deep as the ocean.
‘My Head is My Only House Unless it Rains’
The melody, from the opening notes, is beautiful, contrasting with the gravel voice of experience.
I'd had most of the romance knocked out of me by a drug dealing boyfriend, and this track, again from ‘Clear Spot’, became my survival song. It still is. My arms are just two things in the way until I can wrap them around you.
‘Her Eyes are a Blue Million Miles’
Beefheart's wife Jan was on the ‘Clear Spot ‘tour, a relationship that was obviously working for them and endured until his death. At the time I thought this was his song to her. It's certainly a love song.
It has been difficult to choose ten songs. All these came into my life before I was twenty. They are hard wired into my psyche. Over the years I have come across people who are surprised by my enthusiasm for Beefheart's music. I like the strange, crazy, raucous, experimental and discordant aspects of it too. As a teenager, his music restored my faith in human nature.
Have a Listen:-