Occasionally I end a poetry reading by doing 'Beefheart Blues', a tribute to the Captain and also to the blues-harp, with an intro from his song - 'Gimme dat harp boy/ It ain't no rich man's toy...' I explain briefly who Beefheart is.
   Last Friday he died in California as a result of his MS, aged 69. Like the creator of The Simpsons  Matt Groening (whose life changed forever when he heard 'Trout Mask Replica' ), my life has been profoundly influenced by him.

   At 18, when I went off to Aber Uni.my two musical mentors became the DJ John Peel  and one Pete Appleby. Pete was a scouser even though he came from Wallesy and had the most incredibly eclectic taste, anything from James Brown to Albinoni. Beefheart was one of his passions and Peel was an equally strong advocate.

   I had never heard anything like it, not even the Howlin' Wolf that Pete also played. He possessed the record 'Strictly Personal' (not Beefheart's favourite, I later learnt) which, despite the over-production, was mind-blowing. It was primitive, raw, bluesy yet at the same time surreal, ethereal and full of extraordinary changes of rhythm and jagged guitar-playing.

   From that moment, I was hooked. I went on to buy just about everything in vinyl, including 'Trout Mask Replica' in a torn sleeve hiding two immaculate albums inside, from a second-hand record shop in Barry. Looking back, there is an amazing journey from the gutsy 'Safe As Milk' to the jazzy poetry of 'Ice Cream For Crow'.

   'Trout Mask Replica' is always lauded as his classic, but I don't see it that way. No one album encapsulates the restless experimentation and inventive wordplay. In this respect I'd compare him to Tom Waits, much influenced by Beefheart : there are so many albums which show his greatness and the two of them also shared one of the most original of all guitarists, Marc Ribot.

   I shared a digs with Pete and others. Pete was a blues-harp player and left his 'gob iron ' around the place. With his permission I used to pick it up and have a go : I blew and blew (often along to Beefheart) till eventually I bent the notes and produced a worthy wail.'Gimme dat harp boy ' became my anthem. Together with Pete, who played a mean boogie piano and 'Red Mal' on acoustic guitar, we would embark on late night , drunken jam sessions.

   During these I would sing improvised blues about just about anything, from stolen loaves to huge breakers. Of course, my vocal style of choice was very similar to the Captain's, that gruffly-weird wolf tone. It was the closest I've ever been to singing in a band, those raucous sessions always on the edge of chaos but never falling into the abyss, except the time when 'Red Mal' did collapse in the bogs next to his beloved guitar and was in no fit state to join in.

   A lot of the music I listen to and love nowadays bears the unmistakable mark of Beefheart : the Super Furries, Nick Cave  and , above all, Tom Waits. Many obituaries have been written, but I've heard nothing on television. Beefheart, for years a painter and recluse, was never a friend of fame. But he was a real one-off and in these times of so much manufactured music, we should look again to him.


No rich man's toy
mouth harp
gob iron
blues maker

super vamp
organ geg
busker's mate
screech merchant

Wolf's cry
Delta sky
free wailer
Dylan's charmer
street waker

Sonny Boy
note bender
high tone flier
no rich man's toy.

12/20/2010 13:59

I share your sadness at the loss of the good Captain and raise a glass to his memory
'Tropical Hot Dog Night
Like two flamingoes in a fruit fight'

12/22/2010 19:06

Fashion Conscious: Only 5% still want their man to be a hip fashion conscious "metrosexual" male


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