Captain Beefheart Dead at 69

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, has passed away at age 69 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band emerged out of the mid-60s scene in California. Early records aligned themselves with both blues-rock and the burgeoning psychedelic movement. Soon, though, Van Vliet would unveil his masterpiece: ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ Produced by Van Vliet’s childhood friend and rival, Frank Zappa, this sprawling double album was like nothing that had ever been heard before: wild, discordant, experimental. Incorporating elements of blues, free jazz, rock and avant-garde, woven through with Van Vliet’s surreal poetic lyricism, it became the standard by which experimental rock records would henceforth be judged.

While not commercially successful, ‘Trout Mask Replica’ was extremely influential. Artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, John Lydon (of the Sex Pistols), Joan Osborne, Beck, Black Francis (of the Pixies), Genesis P-Orridge (of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV) and PJ Harvey have all cited Captain Beefheart as being among their influences.

In the 1980s, Van Vliet retired from music and pursued painting full-time. He was wheelchair-bound by the early 1990s due to MS.

Van Vliet is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Jan Van Vliet.