R.I.P. - Captain Beefheart
First reported on the Rolling Stone twitter feed this afternoon, the death of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) was confirmed late this afternoon. He was 69 years old. Collaborating in the early 1960's with fellow avant garde musician and childhood friend Frank Zappa, Van Vliet formed the Magic Band in 1964 and set about his musical journey. Zappa and Van Vliet met as teenagers and played and listened to the blues and R & B music for which they shared an appreciation.
Signed to A & M on the merits of their first single, a cover of Willie Dixon's "Diddy Wah Diddy" the band began recording their full length album only to have it rejected by the record company forcing the band to re-record several tracks and leave others in the vaults. Finally in 1967, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, after adding guitar whiz Ry Cooder, released their psychedelic blues based debut album Safe As Milk on Buddah Records as the first step in a wildly eclectic and adventurous career. Organizers of the Monterrey Pop Festival extended an invitation to play the festival in June, but Van Vliet's exceedingly erratic behavior doomed the upcoming performance and sales of the album tanked.
His old friend and competitor Zappa signed Beefheart to his own label, Straight Records, and in 1969 Zappa produced the now legendary double LP Trout Mask Replica. The surreal masterpiece became a seminal point in his career influencing every fringe of the Rock and experimental music circles. The legendary status the album enjoys stems not only from the influence the concept and music had on other artists, but the conception and recording of the album itself. Beefheart took a tightfisted, singular approach to his musicians in the Magic Band. He composed complex arrangements for the band to play and forced them to rehearse up to 14 hours a day in the house they shared in Los Angeles. He lorded over each band member confining them to the house and using sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and emotional and physical pain until they submitted to his will. This situation eventually led to the album's 28 tracks being recorded in one session lasting less than 5 hours with vocals overdubbed later.
Beefheart continued to record and tour throughout the 1970's, retired in his early 40's after the release of Ice Cream For Crow in 1982. After twelve albums of influential music, Van Vliet retreated to California to focus on his art; a deep seeded fascination that almost led to a career as an artist dated back to his formative years. He gave few interviews during his retirement from music basically creating a second life for himself outside the spotlight.
Van Vliet suffered from multiple sclerosis and eventually died from complications of the disease.