Renowned American artist Don Van Vliet was 69-years-old when he passed away from complications of multiple sclerosis on this date in 2010. The enigmatic musician better known as Captain Beefheart was a true one-of-a-kind artistic mind whose groundbreaking output cultivated a devoted following.
An early cohort of Frank Zappa’s (that’s Van Vliet’s vocals on “Willie The Pimp” on 1969’s Hot Rats), Van Vliet broke out as the cantankerous leader of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band. Zappa produced Beefheart’s 1969 sprawling LP Trout Mask Replica, regarded by many as an avant-garde, experimental masterpiece.
Beefheart’s raw and unconventional approach to making music incorporated elements of free jazz, Delta blues and other disparate genres, delivered through his singular vocal styling that ranged from grizzled howls to screeching falsetto. The final Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band album, Ice Cream for Crow, was issued in 1982.
Beyond his career as Captain Beefheart, Van Vliet was also an accomplished painter, sculptor and poet. His well-known fans include The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, singer-songwriters Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Minutemen, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Sonic Youth, Black Francis of Pixies, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and among many, many others.
Below is footage of Van Vliet performing during a Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band appearance on the German television program Beat Club. There’s also a clip of Beefheart from the Dutch series Van Oekel’s Discohoek (partially covering The Beatles), French show Chorus and former BBC staple The Old Grey Whistle Test. The group can be seen on local Detroit television performing on Detroit Tubeworks as well.
There’s also footage from an interview with Paul Moyer for ABC Los Angeles Channel 7 Eyewitness News in 1980 and Van Vliet’s 1982 and 1983 interviews on Late Night With David Letterman.