Three grain harmony
Captain beefheart and his magic band – Trout mask replica
Don van vliet was an odd duck right from the beginning. From growing up in the Mojave desert with close school friend and part time nemesis, frank zappa, don was immersed in his vivid imagination. Wildly intelligent and creative, don would later tell people well into his adulthood that he could still recall his own birth.
Don van vliet, aka captain beefheart started out his musical career with a most promising single, which was a bo diddly cover of diddly wah daddy, which had some commercial success in 1965. being recognized as a talented vocalist with a handsome look, he was immediately embraced as a musical prodigy and sex symbol, but don had other ideas rather than being the ‘next mick jagger’. don headed into a different direction of appearance and music that was a little less savory. Don had started shifting from catchy rock and blues into blues flecked psychedelia, free jazz, experimental composition, avante garde and eventually obscurity. For now though, let’s focus on the avante garde.
Don van vliet had started out with some popular blues oriented rock music and collected himself a talented band after some impromptu firings and unexpected resignations. Don had formed himself and his group of musicians into a band named ‘captain beefheart and his magic band’, with don taking the helm as captain beefheart.
captain beefheart started to show us short glimpses of his dream recording in his bluesy influenced rock and roll and gained confidence. with a handful of recordings under his belt and a finely tuned band at his disposal, don van vliet felt he could make his ultimate statement; trout mask replica.
Trout mask replica would prove to be a great undertaking. With funding from frank zappa, captain beefheart was set to make his own album, start to finish with absolutely no interference. Frank was essentially donating his own studio time for his dear friend, don van vliet.
Captain beefheart and his magic band settled in a small house in the desert, miles from town and dug in to start writing and rehearsing trout mask replica; the world’s most ambitious album.
captain beefheart sat in front of a piano; an instrument that he had no experience on and could not play, on any level of comprehension or proficiency. The piano would serve as the perfect medium to write trout mask replica. He would clack away at the piano keys until he found a sort of rhythm or short composition that he really liked and he would have his guitarist write down the keys and translate that into either guitar parts, drums or bass lines. Because the keys were so easy for him to reach, don could create a cluster of notes that flowed quite easily up and down fret boards, which would show when translated into string and percussion.
For about 8 months the band stayed in the house and rehearsed what don had written, almost endlessly. To make things a little odd, don had mostly secluded himself from the occupants of the house, which was the rest of the band. To make things really odd, the occupants of the house were not allowed to leave. Once a week, a couple band mates were allowed to leave the house for two hours to go to town and purchase necessities, like food and toiletries. While recording, the band was quite broke and they were forced to steal food to survive. They always had a plan; the band mates would enter a grocery store and put cheap items like bread or crackers into the shopping cart while slipping the expensive items like meat and cheese into their clothes, so they could purchase some food and distract the cashier from noticing the band mates were pilfering the food in plain sight. Money was almost nonexistent at the house, so food was notoriously scarce, and the band mates would survive days on end by eating a bowl of roasted soy beans, that they would have to make last morning to night. Stealing the food was not always a great idea, however. the band, as you may have guessed, were not typical of any society: black painted fingernails, long hair, top hats, fluorescent trench coats with bright knee high boots and shaved eyebrows, the boys from the band gained a lot of attention from appearance alone, which is why they were often harassed and sometimes arrested for theft. Don would place a phone call to frank zappa however and he would come to post bail.
Don had imposed himself as an overwhelming authority figure. Don would verbally berate the band and would occasionally beat them physically. It was noted by an ex-band mate that don would scream at the band while holding a napkin with scribbles on it. ‘play it like this! This!!’ the captain would scream while the illustration on the napkin would be a box casting a shadow on an oil spill. There was an incident where ol captain threw a band mate down a flight of stairs, yet the rehearsing was still constant, day after day. The band would congregate in the main room and play while don would sit in a small booth with a window, where he was still separated from the band. don could see but not hear the rest of the band. When the band would play, don would feel the vibrations of the music playing and rehearse his vocals at the same time. With all these odd scenarios in play; a secluded dictator, an entire album written on an instrument the writer could not play, starvation, abuse and imprisonment, what could the actual music be like?
The music on this album is unique. Challenging, unnerving, experimental, confusing and overwhelming, the music was unlike anything ever recorded. It pushed the boundaries of music altogether. This album has some substantial influence of old field recordings where beefheart rambles off his abstract poetic spoken word in ‘orange claw hammer’ and ‘the dust blows forward’, there are songs that show what a powerhouse beefheart is as a blues musician, such as ‘china pig’ and ‘moonlight on vermont’ or the frantic lyrical confusion of ‘pena’. All in all, the majority of the album is pieced together little compositions all played at the same time. Imagine having 4 or 5 vinyl jazz records and you drop them, shattering them into a thousand pieces, then piece a record from those record fragments back together in any order you find them. It would seem quite chaotic, wouldn’t it? that is trout mask replica, defined.
The compositions on trout mask are short fragments of songs all jumbled up and played, pieced together in what seems like absolute randomness. Sometimes the bassist is playing in 3:4 time, while the drummer is in 4:4 and the bassist in 5:4. Each instrumentalist is playing their own song, apart from the other members and they all change rhythm and time, constantly. the band will sometimes find harmony as the instruments all come together to create one sound, and then a second later all instruments will break away from each other and play their own compositions apart from what the other instruments are doing. Occasionally the bassist will fall in time with the guitarist, or the drummer will start to layer over his own drum beats, while captain beefhearts vocals seem to tie all the elements together to create harmony, before the band’s sound shatters again. don had eight fingers to create short clustered blasts of notes, which forced the band to play multiple strings at a time, which is what an orchestra would do, but this was not an orchestra, only a handful of deprived, malnourished people.
When it came time to record the album, the band went into the studio and recorded the same way they rehearsed; the band together in a room and captain beefheart alone in a booth, watching the band and recording his vocals, rendering his singing off time. As where it takes weeks or months to record an album, the magic band managed to record trout mask replica in only four and a half hours. They recorded a live album.
Trout mask replica is not for everyone to enjoy, but it should be digested by the serious music lover. There are stretches of chaos and misunderstanding, speckled with moments of harmony, where everything seems to fall into place and creates beauty. In fact, it has much in common with forty creek three grain harmony, where as harmony is not for everybody. Three grain harmony is a challenging whisky and is not meant for a first timer. The taste of three grain harmony is composed of little fragments in itself. There are moments where ingredients stand alone, layering on top of each other and moments where each component finds each other to create perfect harmony.
This is typical of forty creeks high end releases; a flat and clear bottle, reminiscent of their flagship bottle. Dressed with a black wax badge and topped with a synthetic cork. The label is a small boxy yellowish tag sporting the word HARMONY in bold letters.
Red wine, dark red berries and wheat cereal first. Big corn oil, red licorice and dry husk. Some bright floral notes. After generous airing it opens dark chocolate and roasted nuts with some malt. Bright medicinal oranges. Seems to follow house style.
Thick creamy mouthfeel, very nice texture. First impressions are dark with coffee, chocolate, nuts and malt, but also couples with sour rye, brown spice, bright heat and young whisky. finishes with spicy anised molasses and corn oil.
Takes time to wrap your palate around this one. Although this is very good tasting and of the highest standard of quality, it takes time to appreciate this bottle.
This is the end of an era. John hall kisses us goodbye with his last annual release, three grain harmony. This whisky is a blend of well aged rye and barley whisky, said to be from the original forty creek stocks, dating back 20 years. As per his house style, john has blended in some young corn whisky to keep the overall flavor from leaning too far to one side, which has also prohibited him from adding an impressive age statement on the bottle.
This whisky was a 9,000 bottle release in 2015. John hall has sold forty creek to the drinks conglomerate campari and their first annual forty creek release will be a blend of whisky ranging from 5 – 9 years old.