Deep Purple has had eight different “marks” (i.e. different line-ups), and everybody will have their own favourite. The very first line-up is likely the most overlooked one, but many still have a big soft spot for Deep Purple “mark 1”, and I’m definitely one of them. Even though I firmly prefer the albums with Ian Gillan and David Coverdale behind the microphone, the three albums the band made with Rod Evans (vocals) and Nick Simper (bass) have a naïve and innocent charm, as well as a wonderful mesh of 60s hard rock sensibilities with symphonic overtones, that often draw me back to them.
In late 1969, Evans and Simper were both fired from Purple to make room for Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, to support a new, harder-edged musical direction. If you wondered what Rod Evans did next, read on.
After leaving Purple, Evans recorded a solo single, but even before it was released he had joined forces with Lee Dorman (bass) and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt (guitar) whose band Iron Butterfly had just imploded. They quickly recruited Bobby Caldwell (drums) from Johnny Winter’s band. The classic version of Captain Beyond was complete.
Captain Beyond played a mix of hard, blues-based rock which at times bordered on 70s-style heavy metal, other times leaning more towards progressive rock with time signature changes and virtouso instrumentation. What set them apart was their tendency to incorporate certain moods, with several calmer, athmospheric melodic sections. Those who liked what the Evans-led version of Deep Purple did may like Captain Beyond well, because the bands were not exactly miles apart. They were based in Los Angeles, and had several high-profile fans – including Duane Allman, and it was on his recommendation that the band were signed to Capricorn Records.
The first album was simply called Captain Beyond, and was released in July 1972.
Side 1 contains a collection of independent songs, while side 2 is one long piece with songs loosely connected (not too dissimilar to the Beatles’ famous “Abbey Road suite”) and should ideally be listened to as a complete, singular piece.
The album opener, Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air) showcases the band’s typic blend of atmosphere and hard rock:
The track Raging River of Fear is a great showcase for the mighty hard rock groove that the band could whip up:
Armworth is one of the shorter songs on the album, and I must admit to having a big weakness for the wonderful harmonizing guitar leads you hear in the opening section:
The second album, Sufficiently Breathless, was released in the fall of 1973.
This turned out to be a very difficult album for the band, and even though they still kept going for a while after its release, the recording sessions were in reality the beginning of the end for the classic line-up of Captain Beyond. The record label started putting a somewhat bizarre pressure on the band to move towards a “southern rock”-type sound. The label had just had a gigantic hit with the Allman Brothers‘ “Eat A Peach” the year prior, and wanted Captain Beyond to capitalize. The band, to their credit, largely resisted, but it created unneeded pressure on the guys. The band had also switched drummers prior to the recordings, but were pressured by the producer to switch again midway through the album. The studio also turned out to be sub-standard, which gave them all kinds of technical problems. All in all this wasn’t a happy time, and the band members started taking their frustrations out on each other. Eventually it got to be enough for Rod Evans, who went back to England in the middle of the sessions. He was eventually coaxed into returning to add the remaining vocal tracks. Amazingly, given the challenges, the resulting album was still pretty good, but definitely a step down from the debut.
The song Evil Men is amongst the better ones from the second album, and one of classic rock’s great lost tunes in my opinion:
Despite the difficult recording sessions, the band stuck together throughout 1973, when they toured the US extensively. This resulted in a lot of good shows and the tour generally went well, despite limited promotion of the album and an ice cool relationship with the label at this point. At the end of the year, with all commitments fulfilled, Rod Evans left the band again – this time for good.
Several years later, a new version of the band appeared with their third and final album – 1977’s Dawn Explosion.
This album was definitely made to be played on US radio, with strong AOR/melodic rock sensibilities. Willy Daffern was the new vocalist, and the song Breath of Fire is a good example of how the band sounded with him:
In any case, the early albums are the key ones for Captain Beyond, and they were a great live act. Given that, what better way to round off this epistel than with a great clip of Captain Beyond live in Montereux (Switzerland) in September 1971 – just a few months before Rod Evans old bandmates came to town and created rock history with Smoke On the Water. But never mind that – as we’ll see, Rod Evans has the biggest cow bell of them all.