In the month since Don Van Vliet died, I’ve been considering my connection to the music he created under the name Captain Beefheart. His albums “Trout Mask Replica” and especially “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” provided some of the soundtrack to my high school years. I’m glad I was an adolescent when a major label saw fit to record and release Beefheart’s music.
Though Van Vliet’s musical career only spanned sixteen of his 69 years, that decade and a half overlapped with my own awakening curiosities. Among them was an interest in music. With my bass guitar, I formed or joined a series of bands in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, until the early ’70s when I headed off to college and not-college and college.
By 1979, I’d been living in Boston for a while, when I had an urge to play in a band again, something I’d not done since leaving Erie. Checking listings in the weekly arts paper, the first one that leapt out at me, unexpected and impossibly perfect, stated “Seeking bass player to play music of Captain Beefheart.” The band was six musicians including two singers, and augmented by a couple additional musicians on saxophone and marimba, in the few instances they were needed.