Related Artists

Captain Beefheart Biography

Home > Music > C > Captain Beefheart > Biography

Birth Name: Don Glen Vliet
Born: 1941/01/15
Birth Place: Glendale, California, U.S.
Years Active: 1964–1982
Genres: Experimental Rock, Blues-rock, Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock, Protopunk, Outsider

Don Van Vliet (born Don Glen Vliet, January 15, 1941) is an American artist and former musician best known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. His musical work was conducted with a rotating ensemble of musicians called The Magic Band, active between 1965 and 1982, with whom he recorded 12 studio albums. Noted for his powerful singing voice with its wide range, Van Vliet also occasionally played the harmonica, saxophone, bass clarinet, piccolo oboe, shehnai and keyboards. His music blended rock, blues and psychedelia with free jazz, avant-garde and contemporary experimental composition. An iconoclastic mix of complex instrumentation, atonal melodies, and often humorously surreal lyrics, it was crafted through dictatorial control over his musicians and creative vision.

During his teen years in Lancaster, California, Van Vliet acquired an eclectic musical taste and formed "a mutually useful but volatile" friendship with Frank Zappa, with whom he sporadically competed and collaborated. He began performing with his Captain Beefheart persona in 1964 and joined the original Magic Band in 1965. The group drew attention and acclaim with their first album in 1967 on Buddah Records, ''Safe as Milk''. After being dropped by two consecutive record labels, they signed to Frank Zappa's newly formed Straight Records. Zappa as producer granted Beefheart the unrestrained artistic freedom to compose 1969's ''Trout Mask Replica'', ranked fifty-eighth in ''Rolling Stone'' magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Frustrated with a lack of commercial success after seven studio albums, and fed up with Van Vliet's temperamental and abusive nature, The Magic Band disbanded in 1974. A brief and critically panned flirtation with more conventional rock music resulted in two albums he later disowned. Beefheart then formed a new Magic Band with a group of younger musicians and regained contemporary prominence through three final albums: ''Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)'' (1978), ''Doc at the Radar Station'' (1980) and ''Ice Cream for Crow'' (1982).

Van Vliet has been described as "one of modern music's true innovators" with "a singular body of work virtually unrivalled in its daring and fluid creativity". Although he achieved little mainstream success and received few critical accolades from those who often perceived him to have been wilfully unlistenable, he has in recent years attained a devoted cult following as a "highly significant" and "incalculable" influence on an array of New Wave, punk, post-punk, experimental and alternative rock musicians. Known for his enigmatic personality and relationship with the public, Van Vliet has made few public appearances since his retirement from music (and from his Beefheart persona) in 1982 to pursue a career in art, an interest that originated in his childhood talent for sculpture. His paintings and drawings are critically distinguished as neo-expressionist, being variously described as abstract expressionist, modernist, figurative and primitivist. They demand high prices and have been exhibited in several countries.