Frank and the Captain: the reunion worked out

By Mick Farren

New Musical Express, 8 November 1975

THE STORY so far.

“Bongo Fury”, the new album credited to Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Mothers, had been schedule for as-soon-as-possible release by Warner Brothers.

And then, and then . . .

Along came Virgin Records, with an injunction: Virgin have issued the last two Beefheart solo albums in this country, and understandably wanted a slice of the action this time. The current situation is that no one knows if or when “Bongo Fury” will be available in Britain. Which is a pity, ’cos, as MICK FARREN says, it ain’t at all bad . . .


AT LAST, from the long and stormy romance between Frank and the Captain, there has come a child.

Of course, there has been other issue from this tempestuous relationship. There was “Trout Mask Replica“ and the magnificent “Willie the Pimp”, but never before has there been a fully fleded, cooperative album with (wait for it) double billing between Zappa and Beefheart.

What we have here is a part live, part studio album. The major part was recorded at the celebrated Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, a funky nightspot of the psychedelic Deep South that Zappa maintains has a charming 1967 ambience.

Ambience or not, Zappa did take the tapes back to the record plant in L.A. and tart them up quite considerably.

Side one opens with the Captain shouting prodigiously to the spasmodic accompaniment of the Mothers.

(For those of you who are interested, the Mothers in this instance are much the same as from “Roxy and Elsewhere”: Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Tom Fowler, Bruce Fowler and Chester Thompson. Ruth Underwood, however, has gone, and been replaced by Terry Bozzio on various percussion. Jeff Simmons by Denny Walley, and of course the Captain has been brought in on harp, vocals and shopping bag”.)

“Debra Kadabra”, another of Zappa’s adventures into L.A. massage parlourland along the same route as “Penguin in Bondage”, moves straight into “Caroline Hardcore Ecstasy”. This time the bizarre is of the rock and roll variety.

“She put a Doobie Brothers tape on.
I had a Roger Daltrey cape on.”

Caroline, a close cousin of Camarillo Brillo, likes to get into S/M on the tiled bathroom floor.

Next comes the first of the two songs written by Beefheart. It starts, as a Beefheart recitation with (mainly) horn and guitar underlining, and then progresses into a jerky boogie that could easily be the first and finest Magic Band.

“Poofters Froth Wyoming Pans Ahead” is a cowboy song with free form harmonica, about bicentennial souvenir junk. It will also convince an English audience that Zappa doesn’t have a clue what poofter means.

“200 Years Old”, finds Zappa complaining some more about the bicentenary and the state of America after two hundred years. He is in fine “Over Nite Sensation” voice.

Side two opens with another of Frank’s lyrical vignettes of southern California. Entitled “Cucamonga” (an L.A. suburb, beloved of Jan and Dean), it follows the light melodic pattern of “Dog Breath” and “Village of the Sun”.

“Advance Romance” is a full 11-minute complex ramble that with any other band would be called a jam, except that Frank probably scored every last note and even the shouted asides.

Beefheart’s second original composition, “Man with a Woman’s Head”, is another rolling recitation. The Captain spews out long random phrases that he appears simply to like the sound of (“poofter” is once again innocently used).

The final cut is “Muffin Man”, a hymn to that “prince of foods, the muffin”. From its sound, it could be the son of Studebaker Hawk.

The final segment is an extended solo that leaves no one in doubt as to the superiority of Frank Zappa’s instrumentalist chops.

This is not an epic Mothers album. It seems more like a document on the (to date) ultimate collaboration between Beefheart and Zappa.

The experiment is, however, a success, so don’t think that any home could possibly be without one.