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In Passing: Captain Beefheart (1/15/41 – 12/17/10)

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Don Van Vliet has been a successful artist and sculptor for the past quarter of a century. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band produced 12 albums of creative, weird, avant- garde, and surreal rock 1967-1982. Van Vliet was Beefheart and he passed away December 17, 2010 at the age of 69 of complications from multiple sclerosis.

He formed his Magic Band in 1964 with Ry Cooder as the original guitarist. Cooder left after a disastrous performance or non performance at The Monterey Pop Festival as Van Vliet froze on stage and never performed. By 1969, he had signed with Frank Zappa’s Straight label for which he would record his most notorious work. Trout Mask Replica (1969), Lick My Decals Off Baby (1970), Clear Spot (1972), and Bluejeans and Moonbeams (1974) cemented his reputation as one of rock’s eclectic madmen. While they would receive some critical acclaim, they would find little commercial success.

Despite his goofy persona, he was a virtual tyrant in the studio. He maintained strict control of the recording process and was often abusive to his band members. That process, whether good or bad, enabled him to assemble his complex musical compositions that contained a little humor along the way. He enhanced his music with a voice that could cover five octaves. He could purr and howl as the occasion called for.

His legacy is one more of attitude more than music. His defiance to the musical norms of the day and his resolve to travel his own path no matter what the consequences, helped to influence the new wave and punk music styles that would develop.

When he left the music industry, it was for good. While he carved out a successful career as an expressionist artist, it was as his alter ego, Captain Beefheart, that will be his lasting legacy to music fans.

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