Saturday, December 18, 2010

Deceased--Don Van Vliet [Captain Beefheart]

Don Van Vliet
January 15th, 1941 to December 17th, 2010

A music innovator that didn't sell many albums but was immensely influential in the realm of music...much like Frank Zappa.

"Don Van Vliet dies at 69; avant-garde rock musician known as Captain Beefheart"

He and his band never sold many records, but their work was critically acclaimed, especially the album 'Trout Mask Replica.' He was also an abstract painter.


Richard Cromelin

December 18th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Don Van Vliet, a maverick musician who emerged from the Southern California desert with the name Captain Beefheart and a singular and influential form of avant-garde rock in the 1960s, died Friday. He was 69.

Van Vliet, who retreated to a reclusive life as an abstract painter in the early 1980s, died from complications of multiple sclerosis at a hospital near his home in Trinidad in Northern California, said a spokeswoman for the Michael Werner Gallery, his New York-based art dealer.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band never sold many records, but their work was critically acclaimed, especially the epic, surreal 1969 album "Trout Mask Replica," which was ranked No. 58 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Van Vliet's creative vision exerted an influence on a wide range of musicians, including the White Stripes, Tom Waits, Devo, PJ Harvey, the Talking Heads and John Lydon. Avowed admirers include members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Clash and "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening.

"Back in my formative years, my buddies and I were looking for the furthest limits in pop music," Groening, who helped reassemble the Magic Band to play the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in Long Beach in 2003, said Friday.

"We loved avant-garde jazz, and we loved the blues, and Captain Beefheart melded them in a way that no one else has ever done, with the vocal techniques of Howlin' Wolf on top of these crazy, angular songs.

"When I first heard 'Trout Mask Replica,' I thought it was a disorganized mess, I could not hear the structure … and it's grown to be the album I most admire.... It really hasn't been surpassed as an uncompromising artistic statement. In fact, after listening to Beefheart, everything else seems pretty tame."

Waits, who was elected this week to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, learned from Van Vliet's gravelly vocal approach and boundary-breaking spirit, and was one of the people with whom the singer spent hours on the phone during his post-music years.

"He was like the scout on a wagon train," Waits wrote in an e-mail Friday. "He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way. He was a demanding bandleader, a transcendental composer (with emphasis on the dental), up there with Ornette [Coleman], Sun Ra and Miles [Davis]. He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He's an underground stream and a big yellow blimp.

"I will miss talking to him on the phone. We would describe what we saw out of our windows. He was a rememberer. He was the only one who thought to bring matches. He's the alpha and the omega. The high water mark. He's gone and he won't be back."

Van Vliet was born Don Vliet (he added the "Van" as a young man) in Glendale on Jan. 15, 1941, and showed such a talent for sculpture that he was offered a scholarship to study in Europe. But his parents didn't encourage his artistic leanings.

The family moved to Lancaster, where he found a high school classmate with a similar subversive sensibility and love of the blues and jazz: Frank Zappa.

Their collaborations eventually led to the 1964 formation of the first edition of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, which played local dances and developed a sound that showcased their leader's gruff, powerful voice.

Their recording of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy" for A&M Records was a hit on the new medium of underground FM radio, but the album they recorded proved too quirky for the label, which declined to release it.

Beefheart and company, joined by young slide guitar prodigy Ry Cooder, re-recorded the songs, and "Safe as Milk" came out on Buddah Records in 1967. Its experimental spin on traditional blues attracted a cult audience, but Van Vliet proved too prickly to cultivate a conventional career.

There were conflicts over the recordings that formed 1968's "Strictly Personal," and Van Vliet, who sang and played the saxophone, then hooked up with his old friend Zappa's new company, Straight Records.

Zappa produced "Trout Mask Replica," whose sound was forged during intensive, communal rehearsals in a Woodland Hills house, with Van Vliet exerting domineering control over his musicians in an atmosphere they described as "cult-like." He gave them names such as Zoot Horn Rollo and the Mascara Snake, and they turned out a unique masterpiece.

If the record secured his artistic legacy, his free-spirited ways contributed to an erratic career path. Three early-'70s albums maintained his artistry, but commercial compromises marred his work in mid-decade. "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)" was a 1978 return to form, but "Ice Cream for Crow" marked the end of his musical career in 1982.

Frustrated by his experience in the music business, Van Vliet, who had always painted, moved out of Los Angeles and launched his art career in 1985, boosted by a prominent fan, artist Julian Schnabel. His work quickly gained recognition, and his income as a painter would soon far outstrip his recording proceeds.

"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 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.'

"As far as my career in music, I think I'm in pretty good stead and that I did what I wanted to do - which is not to say I'm finished with music. The only thing that stops a composer from thinking about music is rigor mortis, and I still compose all the time. I work on my paintings, and while the paint is drying I'll write a song. But I have no interest in making records anymore - I'm finished with that for good."

"There are no other painters in America anything like Don," his art dealer Michael Werner told The Times in 1990. "The way he handles space, the content of the work - the whole approach is unique, and he truly stands alone.

"He's not connected with any school or movement, and he never looks at paintings, so in a sense he's an outsider artist.... Mostly his work exists in a different universe. For me, that's what makes him so important."

"He was a very complex person," journalist Kristine McKenna, a close fried of Van Vliet's for 20 years, said Friday.

"He took great pleasure in a lot of things. Obviously, he was just built differently than the rest of us completely, just the way he experienced everything. He was very intuitive and very tuned in to the natural world. He loved animals, but he was kind of a misanthrope at the same time. He thought human beings were the worst species that was ever dreamed up, and he expressed that often in many different ways."

Van Vliet is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Jan.

"Captain Beefheart, who has died aged 69, was provocative and unpredictable"

The influence of Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, stretched from the Grateful Dead to the Sex Pistols and beyond


Ewen MacAskill

December 18th, 2010

The Guardian

Don Van Vliet, better-known as Captain Beefheart, one of the most influential American musicians of the 1960s and 1970s and avant garde frontman of the Magic Band, has died in California, aged 69. A representative of the Michael Werner Gallery, in New York, which hosted several of his art exhibitions, confirmed his death from complications from multiple sclerosis in a statement yesterday.

With a mixture of Chicago blues, jazz, rock and his own experimental music his reach and influence stretched from the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in America to Jethro Tull, Hawkwind and Roxy Music in the UK. His biggest legacy may have been his influence on the punk movement, cited by several key figures as an influence, including Johnny Rotten.

Beefheart was a close friend of the late Frank Zappa, who played in the same group with him as teenagers and although they had a love-hate relationship they would play together later in life. Zappa often supported him - sometimes financially - at various key points in his life, and gave him a recording contract when other labels would not touch him.

As children they would listen to old rhythm and blues records, dreaming of projects that mostly came to nothing. One was to make a film called Captain Beefheart meets the Grunt People, which never happened but introduced the name by which he would later become known.

Born Don Glen Vliet, he later changed his name to Don Van Vliet, before changing it on the suggestion of Zappa to the stage name Captain Beefheart.

Singing and writing songs and playing harmonica and saxophone, he was backed by the Magic Band, a succession of musicians with as unlikely names as his own - Winged Eel Fingerling, Zoot Horn Rollo, the Mascara Snake and Rockette Morton - with whom he played between 1965 and 1982. They completed a dozen albums, of which the best-remembered is 1969's Trout Mask Replica, placed at number 58 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Although his style was rhythm and blues based he introduced a completely unorthodox approach to structure, rhythm and key. The band wore a mixture of cloaks and second hand outfits, and the Captain wore a hat, usually a topper, which became his trademark.

He was a provocative and unpredictable figure, given to primal screams into the microphone or even grunts and was outspoken and candid about the music industry and the people in it.

He disbanded his group - or they abandoned him - in the 1980s, with some complaining he ran a regime that was little short of tyrannical. He concentrated instead on painting and became reclusive.

Tom Waits, another musician who was influenced by Beefheart, said of him: "Once you've heard Beefheart, it's hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood."

He stubbornly refused to conform and that was perhaps one of the main reasons that commercial success eluded him as a musician, although he was fond of the lifestyle that success brought.

He loved fast cars and owned variously a Hudson, a Corvette and a Jaguar. However it was his art that brought him more commercial success: despite having no formal training he drew and painted throughout his recording career.

His first exhibition was in Liverpool at the Bluecoat Gallery in April 1972, while he was touring in England. In 1982, on the advice of New York art dealer Michael Werner that he would never be taken seriously as a painter unless he gave up music, Beefheart turned seriously to art.

In the past few years he gained a reasonable reputation as an artist, mainly doing large abstracts in oils, and was able to demand high prices for his work.

The Michael Werner Gallery, in a statement carried by Rolling Stone magazine, said: "Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts." It described him as one of the most original recording artists. "

"After two decades in the spotlight as an avant-garde composer and performer, Van Vliet retired from performing to devote himself wholeheartedly to painting and drawing. Like his music, Van Vliet's lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision."

He leaves behind his wife of more than 40 years, Jan.

"Don Van Vliet, ‘Captain Beefheart,’ Dies at 69"


Ben Ratliff

December 17th, 2010

The New York Times

Don Van Vliet, an artist of protean creativity who was known as Captain Beefheart during his days as an influential rock musician and who later led a reclusive life as a painter, died Friday. He was 69 and lived in Trinidad, Calif.

The cause was complications of multiple sclerosis, said Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner at the Michael Werner gallery in New York, where Mr. Van Vliet had shown his art, many of them abstract, colorful oils, since 1985. The gallery said he died in a hospital in Northern California. Captain Beefheart’s music career stretched from 1966 to 1982, and from straight rhythm and blues by way of the early Rolling Stones to music that sounded like a strange uncle of post-punk. He is probably best known for “Trout Mask Replica,” a double album from 1969 with his Magic Band.

A bolt-from-the-blue collection of precise, careening, surrealist songs with clashing meters, brightly imagistic poetry and raw blues shouting, “Trout Mask Replica” had particular resonance with the punk and new wave generation to come a decade later, influencing bands like Devo, the Residents, Pere Ubu and the Fall.

Mr. Van Vliet’s life story is caked with half-believable tales, some of which he himself spread in Dadaist, elliptical interviews. He claimed he had never read a book and had never been to school, and answered questions with riddles. “We see the moon, don’t we?” he asked in a 1969 interview. “So it’s our eye. Animals see us, don’t they? So we’re their animals.”

The facts, or those most often stated, are that he was born on Jan. 15, 1941, in Glendale, Calif., as Don Vliet. (He added the “Van” in 1965.) His father, Glen, drove a bakery truck.

Don demonstrated artistic talent before the age of 10, especially in sculpture, and at 13 was offered a scholarship to study sculpture in Europe, but his parents forbade him. Concurrently, they moved to the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster, where one of Don’s high school friends was Frank Zappa.

His adopted vocal style came partly from Howlin’ Wolf: a deep, rough-riding moan turned up into swooped falsettos at the end of lines, pinched and bellowing and sounding as if it caused pain.

“When it comes to capturing the feeling of archaic, Delta-style blues,” Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote in 1982, “he is the only white performer who really gets it right.”

He enrolled at Antelope Valley Junior College to study art in 1959 but dropped out after one semester. By the early 1960s he had started spending time in Cucamonga, Calif., in Zappa’s studio. The two men worked on what was perhaps the first rock opera (still unperformed and unpublished), “I Was a Teenage Maltshop,” and built sets and wrote some of the script for a film to be titled “Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People.”

The origins of Mr. Van Vliet’s stage name are unclear, but he told interviewers later in life that he used it because he had “a beef in my heart against this society.”

By 1965 a quintet called Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band (the “his” was later changed to “the”) was born. By the end of the year the band was playing at teenage fairs and car-club dances around Lancaster and signed by A&M Records to record two singles.

The guitarist Ry Cooder, then a young blues fanatic whose skill was much admired by Mr. Van Vliet, served as pro forma musical director for the next record, “Safe as Milk” (1967), which showed the band working on something different: a rhythmically jerky style, with stuttering melodies. The next album, “Strictly Personal” (1968), went even further in the direction of rhythmic originality.

But it was “Trout Mask Replica” that earned Mr. Van Vliet his biggest mark. And it was the making of that album that provided some of the most durable myths about Mr. Van Vliet as an imperious, uncompromising artist.

The musicians lived together in a house in Woodland Hills, in the San Fernando Valley; what money there was for food and rent was supplied by Mr. Van Vliet’s mother, Sue, and the parents of Bill Harkleroad, the band’s guitarist (whom Mr. Van Vliet renamed Zoot Horn Rollo). One persistent myth has it that Mr. Van Vliet, who had no formal ability at any instrument, sat at the piano, turned on tapes and spontaneously composed most of the record in a single marathon eight-and-a-half-hour session.

What really happened, according to later accounts, was that his drummer, John French (whose stage name was Drumbo), transcribed and arranged music as Mr. Van Vliet whistled, sang or played it on the piano, and the band learned the wobbly, intricately arranged songs through Mr. French’s transcriptions.

“Trout Mask” offers solo vocal turns that sound like sea shanties; intricately ordered pieces with two guitars playing dissonant lines; and conversations with Zappa, the record’s producer. But its most recognizable feature is its staccato, perpetually disorienting melodic lines.

Band members’ accounts have described Mr. Van Vliet as tyrannical. (Both Mr. French and Mr. Harkleroad have written memoirs with dark details about this period.)

Mr. Van Vliet’s eccentricity and his skepticism about the music industry had much to do with why his music remained mostly a cult obsession. His band was offered a slot at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, but Mr. Cooder had quit a week before, and Mr. Van Vliet was too spooked to perform. In the following years, when the band was at its creative peak, it played relatively few concerts.

The Magic Band’s first records after “Trout Mask Replica,” starting with “Lick My Decals Off, Baby,” had a more mature sound, but by “Clear Spot,” in 1973, the band had turned toward blues-rock. It later made a few ill-conceived concessions to commercialism, and in 1974 the band quit en masse after the critically panned “Unconditionally Guaranteed.”

After a long falling-out, Mr. Van Vliet reunited with his old friend Zappa to tour and make the album “Bongo Fury” in 1975, then assembled a new band to record “Bat Chain Puller,” which was never released because of contractual tie-ups. Parts of it were rerecorded in 1978 for an album released by Warner Brothers, “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller).”

When his business affairs cleared in the early 1980s, Mr. Van Vliet made two albums for Virgin, “Doc at the Radar Station” and “Ice Cream for Crow,” with a crew of musicians who had idolized him while growing up. The albums were enthusiastically received.

But “Ice Cream for Crow” was his last record; in 1982 he quit music to focus on his painting and moved to Trinidad, near the Oregon border, with his wife, Jan, who is his only survivor.

In the exhibition catalog to a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the museum director, John Lane, wrote of Mr. Van Vliet’s work, “His paintings - most frequently indeterminate landscapes populated by forms of abstracted animals - are intended to effect psychological, spiritual and magical force.”

Some of the images were a continuation of his songwriting concerns, especially those involving animals. A lot of his work dwells on the beauty of animals, on animals acting like humans and even on humans turning into animals. In “Wild Life,” he sang, “I’m gonna go up on the mountain and look for bears,” and in “Grow Fins,” an extraordinary blues from the album “The Spotlight Kid” (1972), he threatened a girlfriend that if she didn’t love him better he would turn into a sea creature.

Mr. Van Vliet had rarely been seen since the early 1990s and seldom at his gallery openings.

“I don’t like getting out when I could be painting,” he told The Associated Press in 1991. “And when I’m painting, I don’t want anybody else around.”

Don Van Vliet [Captain Beefheart] [Wikipedia]

Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do

Captain Beefheart documentary...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love his music 40 years, it´s great.
Lick My Decals Off, Baby it was
somethig fantastic (Magic!) for me(I was 16) and is until now.
I never forget.
Radovan Jirousek (CZ)