[Review] Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart/The Mothers: Bongo Fury (1975)

Okay, so it’s not a replica of Trout Mask Replica, but the pair still create sparks on this suitably demented outing.

Kronomyth 20.0: I’ll have the Roger Daltrey capon.

A cleverly staged car wreck between Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart that, despite the creative velocity of the pair at the time, wasn’t the big bang some had hoped for. The disappointment of Bongo Fury might be that both artists weren’t looking to do something new together, but simply do what they do together. There are songs that represent an even union of sorts, where Beefheart takes the lead and Zappa’s band lays down the groundwork: the twisted “Debra Kadabra,” the sort-of-a-cowboy-song “Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead” and “200 Years Old” (the last two forming a kind of a bicentennial medley). These may be a little grittier and bluesier than Zappa’s usual work, but fans should eventually warm up to them.

Beefheart also presents his greasy, look-what-I-found-under-the-refrigerator poetry on a pair of tracks: “Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top” (which introduces the “bongo fury” theme) and “Man with the Woman Head.” Frank even answers in kind with his own story, “Muffin Man,” that starts like a carbon copy of “Evelyn, A Modified Dog” before launching into a brilliant guitar solo.

Zappa fans will take solace in the tracks that sound most like his usual work from this period: “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy” (cut from the same cloth as “Camarillo Brillo”) and “Advance Romance.” Those fans, however, would do better to pick up Over-Nite Sensation, Roxy & Elsewhere, The Grand Wazoo, One Size Fits All… well, you get the point. For the best blending of Beefheart and Zappa, seek ye Hot Rats. Two heads are better than one in the world of bongos, but in the live/studio world of Bongo Fury maybe not so much.

Original LP Version

A1. Debra Kadabra (3:54)
A2. Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy (6:02)
A3. Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top (Don Van Vliet) (2:50)
A4. Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead (3:06)
A5. 200 Years Old (4:34)
B1. Cucamonga (2:24)
B2. Advance Romance (11:20)
B3. Man with the Woman Head (Don Van Vliet) (1:29)
B4. Muffin Man (5:37)

All songs written by Frank Zappa unless noted.

The Players

Frank Zappa (lead guitar, vocals), Captain Beefheart (harp, vocals, shopping bags), Terry Bozzio (drums, moisture), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, vocals), George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone, fantastic dancing), Tom Fowler (bass, also dancing), Denny Walley (slide guitar, vocals) with Chester Thompson (drums on A5/B1). Produced by Frank Zappa; engineered by Kerry McNab, Mike Braunstein, Kelly Kotera, Mike Stone, Davey Moire and Frank Hubach.

The Pictures

Photography by John Williams. Design by Cal Schenkel.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on October 2, 1975 in the US and Canada (Discreet, DS 2234), Argentina (Warner Bros., MH 14198), Germany (Discreet, DIS 59 209) and Japan (Discreet, P-10093D). Reached #66 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD 10097).
  2. Re-issued on cassette in 1989 in the US (Barking Pumpkin, D4 74220).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in Japan (Rykodisc, RCD 10097).
  4. Re-issued on remastered compact disc and cassette in 1995 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD/RAC 10522).
  5. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2001 in Japan (Rykodisc, VACK-1221).

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