Captain Beefheart book review – Martin Burns for DPRP.Net

1995 – 2022

Album Reviews

Issue 2022-102

Published Saturday 29 October 2022

It’s Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Opher Goodwin — On Track: Captain Beefheart




Orpher Goodwin - On Track: Captain Beefheart


Martin Burns

The quote on page 46 from Orpher Goodwin’s On Track: Captain Beefheart of the track When Big Joan Sets Up, encapsulates what makes Beefheart special, and at the same time why he remains a niche artist.

“… a great melody that carries it through. It’s meaningless but full of insight, so frenzied that it shouldn’t work, yet it does. It hangs together. That’s what is so great about Beefheart’s music – it pulls you in; the music is complex; the lyrics seem full of meaning, but everything is just beyond one’s grasp. You find yourself hooked. It propels you. It’s visceral. It tugs at the cortex. Rewarding.”

This applies across all of Beefheart’s recordings. Not without the odd exception of course, such as the mid-period ‘commercial’-leaning releases and things like Beefheart’s contribution to Frank Zappa‘s Willie The Pimp on Hot Rats. One of the things I find interesting about these two maverick forces of musical nature (Zappa and Beefheart) is that both went to Antelope Valley High School in the small Californian Mohave desert town of Lancaster. They remained friends on and off after leaving Lancaster; when their monumental artistic egos would allow. With Zappa, being more successful, helping the often-broke Beefheart out.

This is a great addition to Sonicbond Publishing’s ever expanding Every Album, Every Track series. This looks at Captain Beefheart’s studio output as well as the plethora of live releases and bootlegs that have followed since his death in 2010.

Comprehensive and critical where required, self-confessed Beefheart obsessive Opher Goodwin, knows his way around an incisive phrase and sets each of the studio albums into a context of time and place, record company and management shenanigans, and contemporary critical reactions. As well as assessing the various incarnations of the Magic Band, and how well they were able to translate the Captain’s ideas into actual music.

After making his brilliant final album, Ice Cream For Crow (1982), he left music-making on a high point, and turned back to painting. Beefheart, under his own name of Don van Vliet became a renowned abstract expressionist painter, gaining the level of success in the US that had eluded him musically. A happy ending of sorts.

This makes an excellent companion to Mike Barnes’ Captain Beefheart: The Biography (Omnibus Press) where neither shy away from Beefheart’s obsessive and bullying behaviour that were part of his artistic makeup. Opher Goodwin’s On Track: Captain Beefheart is a great guide and companion to this often-challenging artist.

If you’re curious, for me the place to start is with 1978’s Shiney Beast (Bat Chain Puller), but every Beefheart fan will have a different gateway release to recommend.


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