By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Incredibly, the core of this formidable unit hung together for four more records, despite the ongoing chaos on which Beefheart thrived. (French departed briefly after Van Vliet threw him down a flight of stairs.) The Dust Blows Forward contains generous samplings from Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, the bluesy, more listener-friendly 197072 albums that featured noteworthy contributions from a trio of exMothers of Invention, Art "Ed Marimba" Tripp (who memorably complemented Harkleroad on steel pans), bassist Roy "Orejon" Estrada and guitarist Eliot "Winged Eel Fingerling" Ingber. But the shithouse collapsed in 1974 after Beefheart took up with new management -- whom most observers characterize as a pair of L.A. hucksters resembling Zappa's music-biz caricatures -- and cut his disastrous "commercial" album, Unconditionally Guaranteed. Horrified by the watered-down, heavily sweetened music on the record and burned out after years of hard labor and penury, the Magic Band mutinied, and Beefheart finished another gruesome album, Bluejeans & Moonbeams, with a cast of hired guns.
BEEFHEART ALWAYS DISPLAYED AN amazing ability to rebound from imminent disaster, and, after a short mid-'70s hiatus, he returned for three fine valedictory albums. He enlisted a new coterie of young players/fanboys -- guitarists Jeff Moris Tepper, Richard Redus and Gary Lucas, keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, drummers Robert Williams and Cliff Martinez (the latter a former member of L.A. punk act the Weirdos) -- and schooled them in his Zen-style compositional technique. Grow Fins' fifth disc includes a couple of unique work tapes from this period: One shows how a whistled fragment grew into a guitar transcription (by the ever-faithful recidivist French) and then a full-band version of "Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee"; the other displays the transmutation of a solo piano excursion into the completely realized song "Odd Jobs."
The music on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow was largely magnificent, as The Dust Blows Forwardedifyingly reveals, but by the early '80s Captain Beefheart had grown impatient with his lot and his audience; on a live Grow Fins track recorded in 1980, he is heard snarling, "Shut your mouth, boy!" at a vocal fan.
Don Van Vliet has since retreated to Northern California to fulfill the lyric to a 1980 song: "Run paint run run." There he remains, in reportedly poor health, working at his easel; he has chosen not to revisit his life in music in the rare interviews he has granted over the last decade. Happily, these lavish new reissues of his work afford both fans and newcomers an opportunity to plunge into his vital, visionary trove, which remains a lantern for musical explorers of all persuasions.
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND | Safe As Milk: The Mirror Man Sessions (Buddha) Grow Fins (Rarities 19651982) (Revenant) | The Dust Blows Forward (An Anthology) (Rhino)