Extract from Captain Beefheart On Track: Every Album, Every Song.
The Legendary A&M Sessions (EP) (1984)
Don Van Vliet: vocals, harp
Alex St. Clair Snouffer: drums
Jerry Handley: bass
Doug Moon, Rich Hepner, Alex St. Clair (‘Moonchild’): guitar
Paul Blakely: drums (‘Moonchild’)
Producer: David Gates
Studio: Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA
Release date: October 1984
Having established themselves on the local scene by playing covers of blues numbers, the band rapidly built a following. Their sound reflected the blues of the 1960s British Invasion, with inspiration from bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things. Many people thought Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band were British. The Howlin’ Wolf covers – which dominated their act and can be heard in the live recording from the Avalon Ballroom – suited Don’s vocal style. On the strength of their performances, the Magic Band were signed to A&M Records for a two single deal.
In 1965, they took their first steps into a recording studio and laid down five tracks. Four of these came out on the two A&M singles, and one languished in the vaults: undiscovered until the 1980s when this EP was released by first A&M then Edsel.
‘Diddy Wah Diddy’ b/ w ‘Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?’ and ‘Moonchild’ b/w ‘Frying Pan’ were released as singles. Just think, if these tracks had received sufficient airplay, they might well have broken through, and this R&B version of Beefheart might’ve gone on to produce more in the same vein to rival The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things and Downliners Sect. The Magic Band were good enough. But it wasn’t to be.
‘Diddy Wah Diddy’ (Blake, Dixon, McDaniels)
This was selected from the five tracks recorded by A&M as being the most likely to be a hit. It was originally written by Blind Blake in 1929 as a ragtime blues titled ‘Diddie Wa Diddie’. Willie Dixon adapted the music and lyric, adding a distinctive Bo Diddley riff and a rock-and-roll/R&B vibe for a single in 1956.
The Beefheart arrangement is much heavier, with a thumping bass. The track is reminiscent of British-Invasion R&B, but has fuzz bass that gives it a punchier characteristic. Don’s voice was greatly suited to this delivery, and his blues-harp-playing added a rich bluesy element. Unfortunately for Don and the boys, the Boston group The Remains released an adaptation of the song simultaneously. Synchronicity, huh? The Remains’ version is also great, though not as heavy as Beefheart’s. They probably undercut each other, so neither reached the national charts. The single became a local hit, but broke no further than that. If it had, things might’ve been different: perhaps they might’ve stuck with A&M and remained an R&B band, who knows? History turns on small events.
The song was later covered by many notable people, including Leon Redbone, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, The Sonics, The Blues Band and Manfred Mann.
The book is available through Burning Shed (The publisher’s own distribution site) Captain Beefheart On Track (burningshed.com)
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