Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa were two of the most revolutionary musicians to emerge in the 1960s, impressing (and confusing) listeners with their experimental and avant-garde impulses.
The pair met when they were teenagers, with Zappa assisting Beefheart, real name Don Glen Vliet, in coming up with his stage name. Zappa had written a script called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People, with Vliet adopting the name for his musical endeavours. Vliet and Zappa’s relationship wasn’t always friendly. Their intense dedication to their crafts, with both taking different approaches to achieve their desired sounds, caused rifts between the two.
However, during their friendship, they collaborated numerous times, dating back to their teen years when they recorded a series of demos together, although their efforts to receive greater recognition initially went unnoticed.
In the 1970s, Zappa invited Van Vliet to join him and his band, The Mothers of Invention, as they toured America, culminating in the album Bongo Fury, which contains a mixture of live and studio tracks. Zappa and Van Vliet were both masters of music, incredibly gifted and endlessly creative. Thus, when they joined forces, they were capable of making something extraordinary.
In 1969, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were joined by Zappa for a performance at the Actuel Rock Festival in Belgium. Although Zappa wasn’t meant to play, he ended up joining Beefheart and his bandmates after he was unable to MC the festival due to his lack of French skills.
Vliet recalls the performance fondly. “We had a good time. I don’t know what they were doing; they were throwing what looked like birds nests at us, and then one fellow out of the audience – between one of the compositions – said my name was Captain Bullshit, and I said: ‘well, that’s all right baby, you’re sitting in it.’”
He added: “But it was awfully cold… the people in the audience, I don’t know how they did it. I think it was probably pretty nice for them to leave their bodies… but the amplifiers were blown out by the time we got to them, and we need clarity for that, and there wasn’t any. I don’t know. I hope they enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.”
Bill Harkleroad told Hal’s Progressive Rock Blog: “Having Frank play with us made me a little more nervous than normal. I think we played five tunes – the five tunes Jeff knew, and that was it. Pretty weird flying us all the way over there and playing one gig!”
Sadly, there is no footage of the moment Zappa joined in. However, a clip of Beefheart and his band playing at the festival can be found below.