Avant-garde rocker 'Captain Beefheart' dead at 69
(AFP) – 4 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Don Van Vliet, an avant-garde rocker who performed under the name "Captain Beefheart" and whose artistic influence dwarfed his popular appeal, has died at the age of 69.
Van Vliet died early Friday in northern California following a long battle with multiple sclerosis, according to the Michael Werner Art Gallery, which exhibited his abstract paintings after he left music in the early 1980s.
As the gravel-voiced Captain Beefheart, Van Vliet adopted the wail of blues legend Howlin' Wolf and melded jazz, blues and rock into a surreal mix that was never widely popular but inspired scores of later artists.
The most famous and influential of his 12 studio albums was 1969's "Trout Mask Replica," which was produced by Frank Zappa, who Van Vliet befriended in high school.
Rolling Stone magazine rated it number 58 in its "500 Greatest Albums of All Time," and Van Vliet has been cited as an influence on Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Franz Ferdinand, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Talking Heads.
"He was like the scout on a wagon train," Waits told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
"He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way.... He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He's an underground stream and a big yellow blimp."
Van Vliet was a notoriously demanding bandleader, and several musicians circulated through Captain Beefheart's Magic Band from the mid 1960s until the early 1980s.
For "Trout Mask Replica" he was said to have confined band members to a house for months on end and given them names like Zoot Horn Rollo and the Mascara Snake, in an atmosphere some of them later described as "cult-like."
"If it had been produced by any professional, famous producer... there could have been a number of suicides involved," Zappa said later, according to the BBC.
By the early 1980s Van Vliet had grown frustrated with the collaborative aspect of the music industry and left it to focus full-time on a successful career in abstract painting in which his works fetched high prices.
"Part of why I stopped doing music was because it was too hard to control the other people I needed to play the stuff, and I'd had enough animal training," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
"When it comes to art, I have a real streak of fascism. I want it to be exactly the way I conceive it, and if one line is changed it's like, 'Hey, the hell with it, I don't need it.'"