Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band
Trout Mask Replica (Straight)
Dennis Duck: So…this begins with a confession. I was late to Beefheart.
Back in 1969, I was a junior in high school and pretty much ignorant of any music beyond The Beatles, The Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, The Moody Blues, etc. Every week my friend Brad (who was a year behind me in school) and I would hang out at his parent’s home in Temple City. His parents had the classic huge stereo console, made of solid walnut, with large speaker cabinets on either side and a flip-up door on top that would reveal the actual turntable.
I have to admit, Brad was far ahead of me in terms of discovering new music. He played me Ziggy Stardust. Ok, that was weird. Hadn’t really heard anything like that before, but I kinda liked it. So…good so far. But then he pulled out an album with a red cover featuring someone holding up what looked like a catfish in front of his face. “You gotta hear this,” he insisted. “It’s amazing.” The tone arm dropped and from the first riveting chords of “Frownland” I was confused. Ok, Bowie was one thing. At least that sounded like “rock.” By the end of the first side I told my friend that this wasn’t music. It was just noise. I didn’t hear any structure or melody or “rock” rhythm. It was all just a blur of cacophony.
I’m pretty sure Brad kept trying to persuade me and played the album a few more times in the coming months. But I wasn’t convinced. This was nonsense.
Fast forward a bit and we found out that Beefheart would be playing a show in Long Beach. “We’re getting tickets,” he said. “You wanna go?” I told him I would go, only to once and for all prove to him and some of our other friends who were believers that this was rubbish. The show would prove that.
The show began and on stage I saw the strangest group of musicians I had ever seen. They launched into the first song (can’t remember now what it was), but by the end of that first song something in my brain switched. Maybe this isn’t chaos. It actually sounded coherent and engaging and powerful. And by the end of the show I was transformed. A newly minted Beefheat lover and fanatic. Going back to Trout Mask Replica after the live show was a new revelation. Now this made sense. For the first time, I heard the structure, I heard the melody, I heard the rhythm. Yes, this IS music. Really wonderful, strange, adventurous, earthy music. I got it!
So this, among all of the incredible albums I’ve enjoyed over the years, is the one that truly, permanently changed my perspective on music. What it could be. The possibilities. I later went on to be part of an incredible group of artists and improvisers, the Los Angeles Free Music Society. If not for Trout Mask Replica, I don’t think my musical and artistic life would have taken that direction.
But I’m sure glad it did.
The Dream Syndicate on Beefheart: The Dream Syndicate’s album Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions is out June 10 through Fire Records.