Cannes is what people make of it. I doubt that Captain Beefheart was a regular visitor, but in this video of his band playing on the beach in front of the Martinez in 1968 he leaves a deep impression. The 69 year-old pioneer of blues rock died on Friday, December 2010 after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. Critic Lester Bangs cited Beefheart as “one of the four or five unqualified geniuses to rise from the hothouses of American music in the Sixties”. The BBC’s late John Peel narrated a documentary on him. His influence reaches far beyond his own success as a performer.
His maverick style will continue to influence generations, and so Cannes can consider itself lucky to have hosted him briefly and that someone 42 years ago had the foresight to tape the show.
The heart behind the beef
Captain Beefheart was the stage name of Don Vliet. He started out in 1964 as the leader of the Magic Band, one of many groups to follow the lead of British rhythm and blues bands. Just a few years later, Rolling Stone magazine was calling him one of the foremost white blues singer – if only he could tone things down. He didn’t – as that was exactly his purpose in life.
The double album “Trout Mask Replica” set the tone. “I was 15 when I first heard Trout Mask Replica,” recalls Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), “and I thought it was the worst dreck I’d ever heard in my life. I said, `They’re not even trying, they’re playing randomly.’ I played it again and I thought, `It sounds horrible but they mean it to sound that way.’ By the seventh and eighth time I thought it was the greatest album ever made and still do.”
For more (wonderful) anecdotes about Captain Beefheart’s writing and recording, visit Beefheartcom.