Don Van Vliet, professional known as Captain Beefheart, was an experimental rock, psychedelic rock and blues rock artist, working with, and in charge of The Magic Band. His contemporary and friend during his music making years was Frank Zappa. Van Vliet was active as a musician between the years 1965 and 1982, and in 1982, he left the music making scene, and took up graphic arts, painting and sculpture, and has become a fairly well known painter, exhibiting in galleries across the United States, for a number of years. He has been moderately successful as a graphic artist and his paintings sell for substantial sums. Although he has not produced any new music since 1982, he is still quite well known in his genre of music. In recent years his health has faltered and he has essentially retired.
Van Vliet was born in Glendale, California on January 15, 1941. His father’s surname was Vliet, a name with clear and actual Dutch ancestry. His mother’s surname was Warfield, an English name. Don added the “Van” to his surname to emphasize his Dutch heritage. It is highly likely that the original family name was Van Vliet, and not just Vliet. As a young man, Van Vliet demonstrated an interest in graphic art and sculpture, and his skills were recognized by some of the local artists in the community he grew up in. His parents, coming from a working class background, discouraged his interest in art, and he was forced to turn away several scholarship offers that were made to him. After he became famous as a musician, he used several of his early paintings on the covers of his albums.
During his high school years, Van Vliet met Frank Zappa, and he and Zappa began to cooperate on pop song parodies and on a movie script called, “Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People”. It was during this time that the name “Beefheart” appeared. After high school, Van Vliet enrolled at Antelope Valley Junior College as an art major, but he apparently did not like the discipline of studying and left college after one year. He eventually was able to connect again with Frank Zappa, and it was Zappa who inspired Van Vliet’s entry into music performing.
In 1965, after working with several local groups for some time, Van Vliet and some of his cohorts developed what would eventually become The Magic Band with Van Vliet as the vocalist. In the following year, in 1966, Van Vliet, with The Magic Band, released his first single record. During the next 17 years, Van Vliet and The Magic Band would release 9 singles and 13 studio albums.
The nine singles Van Vliet and The Magic Band recorded are, “Diddy Wah Diddy” in 1966, “Moonchild”, also in 1966, “Yellow Brick Road”, in 1967, “Pachuco Cadaver”, in 1970, “Click Clack”, in 1972, “Too Much Time”, in 1973, “Upon the My-O-My”, in 1974, “Sure ‘Nuff’n Yes I Do”, in 1978, and “Ice Cream for Crow”, in 1982.
The 13 studio albums Van Vliet and The Magic Band recorded are, “Safe as Milk”, in 1967, “It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper”, [unreleased] in 1968, “Strictly Personal”, also in 1968, “Trout Mask Replica”, in 1969, “Lick my Decals Off, Baby”, in 1970, “Mirror Man”, in 1971, “The Spotlight Kid”, in 1972, “Clear Spot”, in 1972, “Unconditionally Guaranteed”, in 1974, “Blue Jeans and Moonbeams”, in 1974, “Bongo Fury”, in 1975 [with Frank Zappa], “Shiny Beast”, in 1978, “Doc at the Radar Station”, in 1980, and “Ice Cream for Crow”, in 1982.
The studio album, “Trout Mask Replica”, is considered to be the masterpiece of the entire Beefheart collection. In addition to the above singles and studio albums, Van Vliet and The Magic Band recorded a number of their live performances, and also published quite a number of compilations. In 1982, Van Vliet ended his musical career, although he was then only 41 years old. H e apparently wanted to return to his creation of graphic art, an area that had enchanted him in his younger years.
Van Vliet as a graphic artist became quite successful, so successful that he claimed he was financially doing as well with his graphic art as he was with his music. Claiming that his graphic art was more profitable than his musical output one must doubt, but he apparently loved working on his graphic art more than he did producing his musical art. His art has received quite positive recognition. It is described as “neo-primitive abstract-expressionist expressive”.
As of 2007, Van Vliet lived in northern Humboldt County, California. He had retired from his art, and unfortunately was suffering from multiple sclerosis. Van Vliet passed away in 2010. Apparently his multiple Sclerosis and other ailments caused his early death. He was only 69 years old at the time of his death.
Captain Beefheart, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Beefheart
Captain Beefheart Website, http://www.beefheart.com
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