"DECALS" outtakes lineup: Line-Up:
Captain Beefheart/Don Van Vliet: vocals, tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, harmonica
Rockette Morton/Mark Boston: bass guitar, guitar, vocals on Well Well Well
Drumbo/John French: drums, percussion, broom
Zoot Horn Rollo/Bill Harkleroad: guitar, slide 'glass finger' guitar
Ed Marimba/Art Tripp: marimba, drums, percussion, broom
John French: The Decals session was at Record Plant. Despite the added pressure of having a gang of 'suits' standing around looking at their watches, we were done with the basics in less than a week, and then Don went into overdubs. Dick Kunc had been called in to engineer and stayed with Artie and me in Laurel Canyon. He was getting pressure from the business folks to hurry us along. He engineered all the instrumental tracks. However, a thoughtful suggestion on his part one evening put him immediately at enmity with Don, and he was fired. The assistant, Phil Schier, completed the engineer's role for the overdub and mixdown sessions.
(Grow Fins booklet)
Bill Harkleroad: As I remember it, the record was recorded over a 2-week period at the Record Plant in LA with Phil Schier as the engineer - who I think had worked previously with the Velvet Underground. I don't remember there being a lot of sessions, but definitely more than there had been for Trout Mask - there could hardly have been less!
(Bill Harkleroad: Lunar Notes)
Dave Lynch: The complete set of backing tracks remixed by Henry Kaiser to remove Beefheart's voice, harp, and sax.
Dave Lynch: In various stages of mixing, with bass and drums more prominent on some takes, and without the relentless sax skronking all over Flash Gordon's Ape, which makes this version far superior to the Decals version.
Michael H.: I think the point of it was to do a mix so that musicians could hear the parts better, and maybe try to learn them. I am very glad I have a copy of it now, because it is interesting to me, in the same way it is interesting to me to know that they played mostly Fender guitars. It was a behind-the-scenes thing that Kaiser allegedly did behind Don's back, without his permission.
Kaiser's opinions about Van Vliet seem, in my opinion, to go beyond a simple case of wanting to set the record straight. It strikes me as more of an obsession, and I think that he is a cult of one if he actually believes that the bands after Lick My Decals Off, Baby were not Magic. Anybody who believes such a thing must be deaf and simplistic, but in all fairness, I do not know if Kaiser actually did go so far as to say that. I found it strange that he would sneak in and re-mix Lick My Decals Off, Baby minus Van Vliet. I could see wanting to show how the instrumentals sounded as instrumentals, because a lot of brilliant playing is somewhat masked in the released mix by the vocals, but to also completely mute Don's harp and sax parts in those clandestine mixes suggests a personal vendetta of some kind, but it is difficult to know what it is. Given that Kaiser's guitar style is based on (mainly John French's) transcriptions of Van Vliet's ideas as adapted and played primarily by Bill Harkeroad, it can be safely said that Kaiser is riding Van Vliet's coat-tails, guitar-wise, because without Van Vliet, Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby would never have existed, and Kaiser would not have had the opportunity to build a career on mimicking that style. Why he is so bitter at Don is anyone's guess.
Robert Williams: I have been listening to a tape Zoogz sent me containing the backing tracks from Clear Spot and Lick My Decals Off, Baby. It's amazing! Don's vocals are so strong and take up so much sonic space on the records that it's difficult to hear all the incredible parts that the Magic Band were playing back then. Shit, those guys should be rich and famous for the parts they played. Instead they're just trying to get by. It's really sad when all those lame bands out there get to swim in money and the true American artists such as they are have to live a life bordering on poverty. Just imagine the amount of time it took for them to prepare that highly imaginative music.
Mike Barnes: I still can't find that original fax from Henry Kaiser but he had said that "Well Well Well" was the only thing from that Decals session which was mixed down for inclusion (onto 2 track from 8 I think) but was rejected. I don't know if this was a rough mix or finished mix but I'm wondering if it was the former. The reason being that there was often a big discrepancy between rough mixes and the finished ones which Don OK'd.
Just think of all the Spotlight Kid outtakes (none of which were properly mixed down) and how they differ from the sound of the finished album. They all sound sharper and less muddy and gloomy than the album. Don was notorious for going for a dry, flat sound with little or no reverb and, in my opinion, wasn't too good behind the mixing desk. And all the Decals instrumental dubs sound a lot different to the album, as we said.
The only two tracks mixed down for possible inclusion on SK were "Funeral Hill" (short) and an early version of "Harry Irene". Again this comes from Kaiser who I can't think would be anything less than ultra-diligent.
Who knows - could Kaiser be wrong? Heaven forbid!
Mike Barnes: There were reputedly the tracks Dual and Abdul and Open Pins but they are part of the SK sessions, which you seem to have although there is so much stuff that I had overloked these tracks till recently. Also "Ballerino", the prototype for "A Carrot...". They made use of their alloted studio time to just bash down masses of ideas, some half-formed. I'm just going by what Henry Kaiser said about "well Well Well" - he actually went into the Warners vaults and noted down all the information on the tapes/studio logs etc. Can't find Kaiser's fax but I can't remember any other outtakes off hand
I'll have to go back and listen to it again. Could "Well Well Well" it be a rough mix? Don's finished mix of Decals was a great disappointment to the group, Harkleroad especially.
There is an album's worth of vocal-less dubs and some weird mixes of the vocals and also the John Oswald Plunderphonics mix. I'm pretty sure this must have been something to do with Kaiser running off copies so he and others could hear the instrumentals some time in the late 70s/80s (?). Who from Warners would be interested in doing such a thing? Who else had access. He also covered some Decals stuff in his own music. The instrumental dub of the album sounds fantastic and sounds different production-wise, with everything generally boosted up. Flash Gordon's Ape sounds like a totally different track with all the saxes and voice removed.