About the Author
Mark Goodall is a lecturer in the Bradford Media School at the University of Bradford. He writes about film and music and is the author of the Headpress book 'Sweet and Savage: the world through the shockumentary film lens'. He is the singer and guitarist with beat combo Rudolf Rocker.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Trout Mask Replica was recorded in March 1969, mostly at Whitney Studios, Los Angeles, and was released in the following June. The album was produced by Van Vliet's old friend Frank Zappa (the two had been to Antelope Valley High School together in the late 1950s), and was released on Zappa's Straight Records label. Van Vliet claims to have written all of Trout Mask Replica's twenty-eight tracks in eight hours, but this is contested by some of the band members. The whole album's backing tracks were recorded in one six-hour session, but the rehearsals required to reach the finished article had taken much longer. Beefheart then spent the next few days overdubbing vocal parts. The whole band had spent the previous year rehearsing the album's songs, while living in a house in the San Fernando Valley. Rumours abound regarding Van Vliet's treatment of the band's members during this period, with accusations that call to mind the softer end of the Manson Family's reputation. The band lived on very little money, and Beefheart is rumoured to have put all the band members through some harrowing experiences - there are stories of routine humiliation, escape attempts, and physical violence. The Magic Band was very much made in its leader's image; as if to cleanse them of their individual pasts and previous influences, each member was given a new name by Van Vliet - Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad - glass finger guitar, flute), Antennae Jimmy Semens (Jeff Cotton - steel-appendage guitar), The Mascara Snake (Victor Hayden - bass clarinet and vocal), Rockette Morton (Mark Boston - bass and narration), and Drumbo (John French - drums). Zappa's production on the album is unobtrusive - he doesn't add any effects in the mix, leaving the band's 'natural' sound intact (although there are some occasional tape loops and several control-room/studio interjections are preserved in the finished record. Zappa said of Beefheart that it was: "impossible to tell him why things should be such and such a way. It seemed to me that if he was going to create a unique object, that the best thing for me to do was to keep my mouth shut as much as possible and just let him do whatever he wanted to do whether I thought it was wrong or not."