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Fifty Year Friday: Trout Mask Replica, Brave New World

Trout Mask Replica

“I don’t know anything about music.”  Don Glen Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart)

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica

Recorded from August 1968 to March 1969 and released on June 16. 1969, Trout Mask Replica is a double album for the ages whether you might love it or hate it — and for most people, it’s rather easy to hate.  Far different from Captain Beefheart’s previous album,  Safe As Milk (which though partly confined within a traditional blues framework and ethos, provides many imaginative moments and approaches), Trout Mask Replica breaks into territory no artist has yet covered on record:  it’s been called out as the musical equivalent of rusty barbwire, and it certainly is as about as far away from easy listening as music gets.  But careful, focused, not-so-easy listening reveals the complexity in a large portion of music on the album which includes complex polyrhythms and polytonality.

Yes, there is a lot of non-musical content on the album — Frank Zappa produced this gem and granted total artistic freedom to Captain Beefheart and his band, so one doesn’t get continuous, highly refined music.  Instead one gets pockets — and the treasures here are in the instrumental accompaniment and interludes.  It’s been said that Captain Beefheart’s voice makes Tom Waits sound like Julie Andrews, that’s true, and the engineering of the album emphasizes these vocals as does their general lack of alignment with the backing instrumentation. It has been alleged that the lack of synchronization was due to Beefheart’s not wanting to wear headphones during recording, which resulted in him becoming hopelessly dependent on his own sense of time and on the immediate sonic reverberations of the studio.

Though there are people that will swear that the main value of this album is to drive away unwanted visitors, its influence on many musicians is indisputable.  Bands or individuals reportedly influenced include Henry Cow, The Residents (clearly), The Clash, Tom Waits, The Sex Pistols, Velvet Underground, The Little Feat and myriad others.  For me, the repeated polyrhythmic motifs anticipate Gentle Giant, King Crimson and some of the more aggressive math rock bands.   If you don’t like this album immediately, try it again, clearing away any possibility of distractions, as well as any expectations, taking the music and non-musical elements for what they are — rejoicing in the unusual, and what most would consider weird, amalgam of musical freedom and musical discipline.

rack listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Don Van Vliet and arranged by John French.

Side One
 # Title Length
1. “Frownland” 1:41
2. “The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back” 1:53
3. “Dachau Blues” 2:21
4. “Ella Guru” 2:26
5. “Hair Pie: Bake 1” 4:58
6. Moonlight on Vermont 3:59
Side Two
# Title Length
7. “Pachuco Cadaver” 4:40
8. “Bill’s Corpse” 1:48
9. “Sweet Sweet Bulbs” 2:21
10. “Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish” 2:25
11. “China Pig” 4:02
12. “My Human Gets Me Blues” 2:46
13. “Dali’s Car” 1:26
Side Three
 # Title Length
14. “Hair Pie: Bake 2” 2:23
15. “Pena” 2:33
16. “Well” 2:07
17. “When Big Joan Sets Up” 5:18
18. “Fallin’ Ditch” 2:08
19. “Sugar ‘n Spikes” 2:30
20. “Ant Man Bee” 3:57
Side Four
 # Title Length
21. “Orange Claw Hammer” 3:34
22. “Wild Life” 3:09
23. “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” 1:40
24. “Hobo Chang Ba” 2:02
25. “The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)” 2:04
26. “Steal Softly thru Snow” 2:18
27. “Old Fart at Play” 1:51
28. “Veteran’s Day Poppy” 4:31
Total length: 78:51

Personnel

Musicians

Additional personnel

  • Doug Moon – acoustic guitar on “China Pig”
  • Gary “Magic” Marker – bass guitar on “Moonlight on Vermont” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” (uncredited)
  • Roy Estrada – bass guitar on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Arthur Tripp III – drums and percussion on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Don Preston – piano on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Ian Underwood – alto saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Bunk Gardner – tenor saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Buzz Gardner – trumpet on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Frank Zappa – speaking voice on “Pena” and “The Blimp” (uncredited); engineer (uncredited); producer
  • Richard “Dick” Kunc – speaking voice on “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” (uncredited); engineer

Brave New World

Steve Miller Band: Brave New World 

Also released on June 16, Steve Miller and his band’s Brave New World and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica are as far apart musically as composers such as Muzio Clementi and Harry Partch.   Brave New World may display less overt, convention-defying courage than Trout Mask Replica, but the musicianship is solid and Steve Miller’s vocals flexibly fit the songs whether those vocals are reassuring and comforting as with the dreamy evocative “Seasons” or appropriately bluesy as on the Hendrix-like “Got Love “Cause You Need It.” Of course, the hit of this album, is “Space Cowboy” which borrows the ostinato-like chromatic blues riff from Lady Madonna, possibly with Paul McCartney’s blessing who jams (under the psuedonym, “Paul Ramon”,) with Steve Miller on another track on this album, “My Dark Hour.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Brave New World” Steve Miller

3:27

2.

“Celebration Song” Miller, Ben Sidran

2:33

3.

“Can’t You Hear Your Daddy’s Heartbeat” Tim Davis

2:30

4.

“Got Love ‘Cause You Need It” Miller, Sidran

2:28

5.

“Kow Kow” Miller

4:28

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

6.

“Seasons” Miller, Sidran

3:50

7.

“Space Cowboy” Miller, Sidran

4:55

8.

“LT’s Midnight Dream” Lonnie Turner

2:33

9.

“My Dark Hour” Miller

3:07

Total length:

29:52

Personnel

Additional personnel

 

Fifty Year Friday: FM Radio, Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future

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In July 1964, a battle against freedom of speech to promote freedom of speech began when the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) adopted a prohibition against FM radio stations running 24 hour simulcasts of the content on their AM stations. With an eye towards containing costs, and perhaps ensuring a continuation of the current programming status quo, many owners of AM/FM affiliate stations fought against this new regulation, causing a delay in the ultimate enactment of this restriction until January 1, 1967. It was then, in 1967, that station owners examined their options for alternative programming to what was on the AM airwaves.

And within a relatively short time, FM became a mecca of musical variety!  In the greater Los Angeles area, where I lived, I started to explore FM content around 1968 to discover the wealth of international music being broadcast on Saturday and Sunday by multiple stations with the lowest numbers (the left of the dial) as well as the greater variety of classical music on 92.3 KFAC-FM compared to their AM counterpart, 1330 kHz KFAC.

In May 1968, KSAN-FM in San Francisco lured KPMX program director Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue (also author of the 1967 Rolling Stone article “AM Radio Is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves”) and several of the KPMX staff currently on an eight-week strike to work for what would apparently become the very first 24-hour underground rock FM radio station.  At the end of KSAN-FM’s last classical music broadcast, and to start their new format, Donahue appropriately played The Steve Miller Band’s “Children of the Future” which starts off with with a forty-eight second flurry of electric cacophony worthy of the current contemporary classical composers of the time that then nicely dissolves into the very simple and relatively brief anthem of the title track, “Children of the Future”

From this time on, FM stations in the largest cities, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, begin playing “underground” music, experimental and psychedelic rock, select tracks of various rock albums, and even complete sides or complete albums.  One could find a number of free-form programs: radio slots where the DJ played just about anything that they cared to play.  Soon Donahue extended his programming reach to Los Angeles taking over KMET and KPPC, making these two of the coolest stations in the greater Los Angeles area.

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In 1967, “The Steve Miller Blues Band” changed their name to “The Steve Miller Band”, not to shorten it but to update it to match their new sound.  Steve Miller had been brought up by jazz-enthusiast parents, good friends of Les Paul and Mary Ford: Steve’s dad was the best man and Steve’s mother was the maid of honor at the December 1949 wedding of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Steve’s dad, a physician and amateur recording engineer, even played Les Paul a wire recording of Steve Miller “playing” guitar at age four, and upon hearing, Les encouraged Steve to continue with his interest in the instrument.

When his dad moved the family to Dallas in 1950, Steve dad’s recording skills and interest in music exposed Steve to visitors like world-class guitarists T-Bone Walker and Tal Farlow, and jazz great Charles Mingus.  Soon Steve would leave for Chicago to earn his living as a blues guitarist, playing rhythm guitar with Buddy Guy as well as participating in jam sessions with other blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

So it was natural that the Steve’s first band would be a blues band.  But it was also natural that Miller was a musician of his time, and by the time Miller’s band was ready to record an album, it would be a rock album, though with a significant blues footprint including four blues-based tracks on the second side.

Originally planned to be recorded at Capitol Records in the historic Studio B in the famous Hollywood Capitol Tower, Miller and crew drove down from San Francisco for a midnight recording session, and per Joel Selvin’s liner notes of a recent CD reissue of the album, the group started to record but “the Capitol engineers, who had already made their distaste known for hippie rock musicians, walked out of the sessions, leaving the band with no engineers.  Miller picked up the van and the band and went back to San Francisco.”  Later Miller and band would make the trip to Olympic studios in London to record their inaugural album under now-famed producer Glyn Johns.

The first side of this album is basically one interrupted track, knit together from several individual songs in the form of a rock suite, and includes the attention-grabbing opening of the first track and the exploratory soundscape of the final track on that side, “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing”, both possibly influenced by Steve Miller’s interest in contemporary twentieth century composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Jim Peterman’s mellotron assists in the overall psychedelic nature and spaciness of this first side.

The second side includes Boz Scaggs’ two relatively unremarkable compositions (the first with Ben Sidrian on harpsichord and the second a blues-based song), one older composition by Steve Miller, and three blues covers with which the band acquit themselves quite well, distinguishing themselves from other California-based contemporary rock bands by the quality of their playing and general understanding and approach to the blues.  Overall, this gives us a second side, which not as interesting as the first side, is still noteworthy.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

All tracks composed by Steve Miller except where noted:

Side one
Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Children of the Future” 2:59
2. “Pushed Me to It” 0:38
3. “You’ve Got the Power” 0:53
4. “In My First Mind” Miller, Jim Peterman 7:35
5. “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing (Psychedelic B.B.)” 5:17

 

Side two
# Title Writer(s) Length
6. “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” Boz Scaggs 3:24
7. “Steppin’ Stone” Scaggs 3:02
8. “Roll With It” 2:29
9. “Junior Saw It Happen” Jim Pulte 2:29
10. Fanny Mae Buster Brown 3:04
11. Key to the Highway Big Bill BroonzyCharlie Segar 6:18
Total length: 38:21

 

The Steve Miller Band

Additional Personnel

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