That sort of weirdo, one would have imagined, would most likely spring from the basements of the hippest quarter of some city with underground and countercultural credibility. You'd probably have been imagining these guys would emerge fully formed from Soho, Greenwich Village, Haight Ashbury or Laurel Canyon. 

That's where many of them ended up, of course, but when you delve into their origins it's not where most of them came from.

Beefheart, on the other hand seems to have spent his lifetime lurking in the suburban undergrowth, proving, I guess, that things aren't what they seem, not, in the words of Dr Strangely Strange, what they would appear.

I was aware of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band a fair while before I actually heard the music, thanks, if I recall correctly, to an article about the origins of some of the further out band names.

The introduction, when it came, was in the form of Safe As Milk, which remains, some forty-three years after I first heard it, an all-time favourite.

Those intrigued by the contrast between that album and Beefheart's subsequent efforts should note that those songs were largely cobbled together and arranged by a certain Ry Cooder, who was briefly a member of the Magic Band until circumstances surrounding a concert appearance a week before the Monterey Pop Festival (at which Beefheart was scheduled to play) had Ry walking out on the grounds that Beefheart was impossible to work with. Details here.An awareness that John Lennon allegedly owned two copies of Safe As Milk and the knowledge that Beefheart was being actively touted by the iconic underground DJ John Peel added to the cachet, but from the opening notes of Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do Hughesy was hooked. 

There's the odd less than stellar track lurking there, but through Zig Zag WandererDropout BoogieElectricityYellow Brick RoadAbba ZabbaPlastic FactoryWhere There's Woman and Grown So Ugly there's a wealth of swirling, churning, rolling and tumbling guitars, wailing mouth harp and vocals that soar and plummet between the basement and the penthouse. It's really a quite remarkable album, and one that I'll be exploring more thoroughly in an in progress Rear View here.

That's still a work in progress, and in the meantime the obituaries, of course, will deliver far more detail, so here are links to:

The Washington Post

Entertainment Weekly


The Guardian and again and yet again


Rolling Stone and from further back

a tribute from guitarist Gary Lucas and drummer John “Drumbo” French.

Lester Bangs on Beefheart (Who’s Lester Bangs?)

a tribute from NPR in the USA

and some YouTube footage, including Part 1 of a six part documentary (links to the other episodes in the side bar)

Beefheart recites poetry

and his art work.

B© Ian Hughes 2012