by Rob Jones

When Don met Frank: Beefheart vs. Zappa is a 2 DVD set that delves in to the careers of two of the most original and influential artists that have ever sprung out of the rock music movement.

DVD 1 is entitled From Straight to Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s lunatic Fringe. From this point Zappa is to the fore and his quest to release his own material plus the work of those he respected. In 1968 Zappa took control as he set up the Bizarre and Straight labels. From there his own output and the Mothers of Invention produce join releases from the likes of: Alice Cooper, The GTOs, Wild Man Fischer, Jeff Simmons, Tim Buckley and comedian Lenny Bruce. However, in 1969, the release of the seminal Captain Beefheart album Trout Mask Replica became the defining moment of intent and achievement.

This DVD interviews players at the heart of the operations including Beefheart figures-John French and Bill Harkleroad plus Miss Pamela and Miss Mercy of The GTOs, Denis Dunaway and Neal Smith of the Alice Cooper band plus Simmons. Several esteemed music writers and other peers of the period (e.g. the legendary Kim Fowley) also add their analysis. The chat is wed with archive footage and aural interludes and the two and a half hours plus of film warrants a watch that offers an America that is the alternative to a love and peace image that is assumed to be the ‘everything of the era’.

DVD 2 delivers Captain Beefheart: Under Review and the man born Don Van Vliet is giving a thorough assessment across nearly two hours with a whole host of former band associates being integral to the chat. The Captain operated on the margins of the peripheries and his style and substance rattled the mainstream and offered a different direction for rock ‘n’ roll where there were both new and no rules!

Beefheart released a rafter of records and as the experts present discuss the merchandise had varying standards of commercial and critical success. However, Van Vliet was never like any other and the meandering paths that he followed cannot be underestimated-and, the live action present backs up the theories. The Captain also enabled other uncompromising artists to re-interpret their work (and future phenomenon such as John Lydon and Mark E. Smith are amongst those who have doffed their caps to the great man).

Boundaries were broken as Beefheart and The Magic Band pushed the envelope across the late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s. Nonetheless, from this point forward Don believed he would rather concentrate his efforts in art as opposed to sound. Along the way Beefheart had collected a group of die hard fans because he didn’t attract the casuals. Love or loathe him Don Van Vliet is one of the great aural alchemists-and this film does justice to his diligence.

Unfortunately, both Zappa and Beefheart are no longer with us but this double movie package is an imperative introduction to their weird and wonderful worlds.