Born: January 15, 1941 | Died: December 17, 2010 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Avant-garde rock legend and visual artist Don Van Vliet, who performed under the name Captain Beefheart, began experimenting with eccentric rock’n'roll sounds in the mid-1960s. His first two releases with the Magic Band drew positive notice from some connoisseurs but failed to connect with the wider public.
Van Vliet next forged a close creative partnership with Frank Zappa, a former high school classmate, who signed Beefheart to his Straight Records and produced 1969′s Trout Mask Replica. While the bizarre double album was not a major commercial success, it quickly became a cultural landmark.
Van Vliet effectively redefined the frontiers of popular music, singing snatches of surreal imagery in disturbing tones over music that drew on blues, jazz, psychedelia, and a thousand other subgenres. Trout Mask Replica is still cited today as an essential art-rock document.
His Trout Mask Replica was Number 58 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In a 1969 review, Lester Bangs called Trout a total success, a brilliant, stunning enlargement and clarification of his art.
Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts. He is perhaps best known as the incomparable Captain Beefheart who, together with his Magic Band, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a totally unique style of blues-inspired, experimental rock & roll. This would ultimately secure Van Vliet's place in music history as one of the most original recording artists of his time.
Van Vliet continued recording as Captain Beefheart with a rotating group of Magic Band members through 1982. In later years, he shifted his primary focus to creating visual art, a world in which he won some acclaim. The Michael Werner Gallery displayed his work for decades, with their most recent Van Vliet show occurring in 2007. Earlier one of Van Vliet’s paintings was reportedly being offered at an asking price of $40,000. Like his music, Van Vliet's lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision.
Van Vliet's creative vision exerted an influence on a wide range of musicians, including the White Stripes, Tom Waits, Devo, PJ Harvey, the Talking Heads and John Lydon. Avowed admirers include members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Clash and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening.
Back in my formative years, my buddies and I were looking for the furthest limits in pop music, Groening, who helped reassemble the Magic Band to play the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in Long Beach in 2003 commented.
We loved avant-garde jazz, and we loved the blues, and Captain Beefheart melded them in a way that no one else has ever done, with the vocal techniques of Howlin' Wolf on top of these crazy, angular songs.
When I first heard 'Trout Mask Replica,' I thought it was a disorganized mess, I could not hear the structure … and it's grown to be the album I most admire.... It really hasn't been surpassed as an uncompromising artistic statement. In fact, after listening to Beefheart, everything else seems pretty tame.
Waits, who was elected this week to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, learned from Van Vliet's gravelly vocal approach and boundary-breaking spirit, and was one of the people with whom the singer spent hours on the phone during his post-music years.
He was like the scout on a wagon train. He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way. He was a demanding bandleader, a transcendental composer (with emphasis on the dental), up there with Ornette [Coleman], Sun Ra and Miles [Davis]. He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He's an underground stream and a big yellow blimp.
Strictly Personal (1968)
Trout Mask Replica (1969)
Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970)
Mirror Man (1971)
The Spotlight Kid (1972)
Clear Spot (1972)
Unconditionally Guaranteed (1974)
Bluejeans & Moonbeams (1974)
Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978)
Doc at the Radar Station (1980)
Ice Cream for Crow (1982)
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