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Trout Mask

December 18, 2010

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart.

Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet, who has died at the age of 69, was one of the most influential American musicians of the 1960s and early 1970s. His status was always cult rather than commercial, and for most of his career he was broke.

Beefheart once described his thing to an uncomprehending radio interviewer as “music to dematerialise the catatonia”. His style wasrhythm and blues based but completely unorthodox in its approach to structure, rhythm and key.

Magic Band musicians had names like Winged Eel Fingerling, Zoot Horn Rollo, the Mascara Snake, and Rockette Morton. They wore a ragbag of cloaks and thrift-shop outfits, and the Captain wore a hat, usually a topper, which became his trademark.

Van Vliet was born in Glendale, California on 15 January 1941, an only child who showed artistic talent from an early age: he claimed he was producing respected sculpture when he was five. When he was 13, his family (his father drove a bread truck) moved to the Mojave desert, an atmosphere that was to have an enormous influence on him, and particularly his painting, and a place where he lived on and off all his life. In 1959 he was offered a place at Antelope Valley junior college as an art major, but instead he hung out at home (doted on by his mother and grandmother) with his schoolfriend Frank Zappa, listening to old r’n’b records and planning various projects, most of which came to nothing. One was dreamed up sitting stoned in a car (“not Zappa,” recalled Beefheart, “Frank never turned on”) in the desert in 1962 , to shoot a film called Captain Beefheart meets the Grunt People. The film was never made, but the name stuck.

From their early teens Beefheart and Zappa developed a love-hate relationship which became life long, mainly based on resentment of Zappa’s commercial success. Despite briefly moving to Cucamonga in California in the early 1960s to be with Zappa intending to form a band called the Soots, Beefheart remained in the desert while Frank, an astute businessman, moved to Los Angeles and founded The Mothers of Invention.

For Trout Mask Replica Beefheart locked the Magic Band in a house in Woodland Hills for eight months, continually rehearsing and reworking the songs. Virtually broke, they often had nothing but bread to eat but when they finally got into the studio they recorded the entire double album in four and a half hours.

• Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), musician and artist, born 15 January 1941; died 17 December 2010

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 19, 2010 12:46 pm

    Wow, I didn’t know he died. Goddamn, this is turning into one depressing day. R.I.P. Captain Beefheart.

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