Captain Beefheart – Safe As Milk (1967)

A sample from the On Track book.

Thank you to all the kind responses to the Beefheart book. I’m glad that so many of you are enjoying it. Please leave reviews on Amazon. I have sent out all of my personal copies and ordered in another batch if anybody else wants a copy.

Safe As Milk (1967)

Personnel:

Don Van Vliet: vocals, harmonica, marimba

Alex St. Clair Snouffer: guitar, bass (9, 10), percussion

Jerry Handley: bass (except on 8, 9, 10)

Ry Cooder: guitar, slide guitar, bass (8), percussion

John French ‘Drumbo’: drums

Sam Hoffman: theremin (6, 12)

Russ Titelman: guitar

Richard Perry: harpsichord

Milt Holland: log drum, tambourine, percussion (2, 4, 8)

Taj Mahal: tambourine, percussion (7)

Studios: Sunset Sound; RCA

Producers: Richard Perry, Bob Krasnow

Engineer (and demos): Gary (Magic) Marker

Label: Buddah

This album is a very good entry point for those who are unfamiliar with the work of Captain Beefheart. Don had been listening to jazz musicians John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, and had a clear vision for the way he wanted the band to go. He wanted to be more experimental and move away from straightforward blues to incorporate African rhythms and jazz, and take on the acid vibe of the day. However, that was a work in progress, and for this album he retained the heavy blues base which made it accessible to the uninitiated. This was still desert blues, but now with an acid tinge.

   Much was happening in 1966. It was a watershed year of great change. The key factor was drugs. While marijuana and speed had been staple drugs for the blues/R&B vibe, there was now the sudden influx of LSD. It transformed the attitudes of the musicians and audiences. In England, this had an impact on established bands like The Yardbirds, the Stones, The Animals and The Pretty Things, who changed quite dramatically from straightforward bands playing Chicago blues, into experimental psychedelic bands. The process could be clearly seen with The Beatles’ evolution on albums from ‘Please Please Me’ to the psychedelic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Newer psychedelic bands like Pink Floyd and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were starting out just as a new underground venue scene sprang up to cater for them.

   On America’s West Coast, a new style of music labelled acid rock was emerging. Bands such as The Doors, Love, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Country Joe and The Fish and Grateful Dead, were sweeping in. Beefheart was on the crest of this wave.

   In order to achieve his new vision, Don knew that changes had to be made. Clearly some of the band members – though well versed in the blues – were unable to make the transition to acid rock. The first to go was drummer Paul Blakely, who was replaced by John French (later named Drumbo). This was an important change, because not only was John (incidentally, also from Lancaster) an accomplished drummer and master of the complex polyrhythms that Don was envisioning, but he could also read and transcribe music, so was able to interpret Don’s ideas from his piano-playing, humming or singing, notating them and organising the band to play the music that was coming from Don’s mind. This talent would become more and more important as the band developed, the music became more complex, and the Captain became stranger and stranger.

   With John onboard, the band moved to Los Angeles in order to break into the wider music arena and seek a record deal. The underground scene was beginning to take off with venues like the Avalon Ballroom, where they found their own specific type of audience. The second change, was to find a guitarist who could handle the more complex arrangements. Don had been impressed by the guitar-playing of young musician Ryland Cooder who was in a moderately successful folk/R&B band called The Rising Sons. Ry was a 20-year-old guitar/slide prodigy whose skills Don coveted. Don knew that Ry could transform the band’s sound. However, what followed was – sadly – a game of intrigue and deception.

The book is available through Burning Shed (The publishers own distribution site) Captain Beefheart On Track (burningshed.com)

Or through Amazon:

Captain Beefheart On Track: Every Album, Every Song: Amazon.co.uk: Opher Goodwin: 9781789522358: Books

I do have a batch of copies that are available signed (including post and packaging) for: £17 – UK     £20 – Europe   £23 – USA

If you are interested please message or email me with your address. Payment through paypal – opher.goodwin@gmail.com

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