The Captain

Following the announcement of the death of Captain Beefheart yesterday, regular Gruts commenter Nite Owl writes:

As I sit to type this, the numbness is starting to ease. Along with Frank Zappa, Don Vliet was a very big part of musical upbringing from age 13. I bought my copy of Safe as Milk (with 2 tracks missing) on the Marble Arch label & wore it out quickly. (I should have bought a better stylus).

To listen to interviews with Don was like listening to an alternative comedian who was so far out that nobody instantly got the joke. Even now, when I watch the Letterman shows, I hear things I missed before. A simple sideways look would speak volumes.

It's really not the time to say he will be sadly missed because that happened in 1982 when he jumped ship (sorry) & replaced his microphone for a paintbrush.

As a teenager I felt that Don lived outside a world that didn't make sense and he was saying something to me… & that meant everything. I think of myself as one of that small elite group who couldn't wait to buy Troutmask Replica the week it came out (Peel played a track a week) & not just because it was fashionable to own a copy.

There will now be a rush of obituaries in the music press from those who only smirked at the weird man & his weird music. The rest of us will simply bow our heads & whisper 'thanks Don'.

John Peel said it all when he said that he heard Don's influence in so much music. Bless you Andy Partridge, P.J.Harvey, Mark Lanegan, Edgar Broughton, John French et al for believing in his music.

As Frank Zappa once said… 'be quiet & listen to this man's music, because if you don't, you might miss something important & we wouldn't want that to happen to you'.

Thank you, Richard for this opportunity. I am now going to listen to Ant Man Bee with the volume all the way up, just like I did in my old bedroom, except this time there are no neighbours to bang on the wall!

… and Hitchin writes:

When I was about 13 a girl (yes, not a male only pursuit) at my school had the names of the Magic Band albums written all over the covers of her books. They were obviously great titles, but I didn't get round to buying my first one, Trout Mask Replica, for several years. In common with most listeners I didn't get it all to begin with. But perseverance paid off.

There's nothing else remotely like it. Some reviewers have said that the Magic Band sounded like they came from another planet. Not to me; they were born in the desert, came on up from New Orleans.

I think it was me that introduced the proprietor of this web site to the Captain. I believe, in an effort to put him off the scent, it might have been the loony-voiced Pena, "her little head clinking like uh barrel of red velvet balls" exclaiming "that's the raspberries". It didn't work of course, as Gruts amply demonstrates.

I've loved Captain Beefheart's music for 30 years and am more upset than I can say (or would have imagined) by his passing.

The dust blows forward 'n the dust blows back.

Richard's iPod

It was indeed Hitchin who introduced me to the Captain (performing Pena) back in 1984. I thought it was dreadful. But it was my own musical tastes (if tastes is the right word) that were truly dreadful back in those days. A short while later, I discovered The Blues Brothers and asked Hitchin to do me a 'bluesy' mix tape. I dubbed the result the Hitchin Connection. Hitchin took the opportunity to sneak in four Beefheart tracks (all three of which were from Trout Mask Replica): Click Clack, Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish, Pena and The Old Fart at Play. My ears stood up when I heard that sound. I was hooked.

When Jen and I bought each other iPods for Christmas five years ago, I had mine engraved with a quote from my favourite Beefheart song (and, therefore, my favourite song full-stop), Gimme Dat Harp Boy. The same song is the ring tone on my phone. It always gets a laugh when it goes off in meetings. I'm playing it now, with the volume set to 11.

I still have Hitchin's tape. It changed my life.

The last words should, of course, go to the great man himself. Here he is with the Magic Band singing Sure 'nuff 'n Yes I Do—and demonstrating beyond any doubt that a harp (harmonica) ain't no fat man's toy. Brace yourselves…

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.


  1. D'oh! For some reason, I ALWAYS get that one wrong! I think it must be because I associate it with the Hitchin tape, which I associate with Trout Mask Replica. It's a self-perpetuating mistake.

  2. My condolences on your loss. Like certain other things in life, the good old Captain passed me by without stopping. If it's not too late at the age of 59, where should I start?

  3. Which is a relative concept...but it's worth it, even it it doesn't grab at first (or even twenty first) hearing. The world's poorer for his passing.

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