Any of you out there remember Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band?! – I have to confess my recollections are just a tad hazy, except for that riveting performance of “Upon The My-Oh-My” and “This Is The Day” on The Old Grey Whistle Test circa 1974. Jeff Cotton was recruited into the Magic Band in 1967, interestingly as a replacement for Ry Cooder, the Magic Band being a bit of a revolving stage of entries and exits throughout its life. Cotton contributed unique and challenging guitar, slide guitar and lap steel guitar to live performances, and the Strictly Personal, Mirror Man albums – and perhaps most significantly, Trout Mask Replica for which he was renamed Antennae Jimmy Semens! Across the decades, the Magic Band’s power and influence has only grown in might, and the cult following for 1969’s Trout Mask Replica still excites fans to this day, in part due to the mystery and enigma of its members, including our man Jeff.
Jeff left the Magic Band in 1970, after being attacked by temporary drummer Jeff Bruschell during a “group talk” and having ribs broken! But this was probably just the final straw, having experienced the reclusive eight months of rehearsals for Trout Mask Replica during which Beefheart experimented on the group members with sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and physical violence in an attempt to break their mental state down and heighten musical prowess. Come 1974, the surviving members of the Magic Band sacked Beefheart, thoroughly fed up of….pretty much everything!
After leaving The Magic Band, Cotton (perhaps understandably!) withdrew from the commercial music business for nearly 50 years. Using the island state of Hawaii as a home base, he emerges from his seclusion in 2022 with his first ever solo album; The Fantasy of Reality. Blending together musical strands such as jazz, delta blues, Hawaiian and the hippy-ish avant-garde to create a melting pot of ideas, Cotton’s style will be instantly and comfortingly familiar to Beefheart devotees – in fact, vocals apart (he is a bit warbly at times), this could be a more relaxed, pastoral version of the Magic Band, blessed with considerably improved recording facilities.
The record is whimsical, playful and partly tongue-in-cheek, you can’t deny that Cotton plays the archetypal aging hippy very well! To me as a new listener, there’s more than a hint of Syd Barrett in some of the lyrics, whereas others are beautifully scribed paeans to Mother Nature and the world we live in, set to sometimes psychedelic, sometimes bucolic almost country-ish arrangements very reminiscent of Mike Nesmith in his wonderful post-Monkees years. As with Trout Mask Replica, Cotton delights in using a multitude of short songs to bring plenty of new ideas to the table, there being 22 tracks in the 66 minute runtime! The Trout Mask Replica connections also extend with cover designer Cal Schenkel collaborating once again on the internal artwork of the album to continue the Captain Beefheart canon into the 2020s.
Looking back, there’s a Rolling Stone quote from the 70’s which to me says it all: “The guitars of the Magic Band mercilessly bend and stretch notes in a way that suggests that the world of music has wobbled clear off its axis”. Not bad, eh? For the majority of us, this is a pleasant interlude, whilst for Beefheart fans, the Magic definitely continues with The Fantasy of Reality, available on CD via Madfish.