Who was Captain Beefheart?
Captain Beefheart was an American experimental musician, poet, and artist whose work has been extremely influential for many modern and prominent artists. His real name was Don Van Vliet and he died in 2010. He was as much a myth as he was a man.
"There are forty people in the world and five of them are hamburgers."- Captain Beefheart
What makes Beefheart weird?
With a name like Captain Beefheart, do you really need to ask?
He and Frank Zappa were friends as teenagers and they collaborated on occasion, though Beefheart’s music was never as accessible to mainstream audiences and he did not see the kind of notoriety or financial success Frank’s saw. You can hear Beefheart on the Zappa song Willie the Pimp and on the album Bongo Fury.
What should you listen to?
I never found much appeal in Beefheart’s music or his lyrics, butI think that’s largely a problem I need to resolve in myself. My dad used to speak frequently of Van Vliet’s deep, poetic lyrics and the intentionally haphazard musical performances by his band, but I never developed an appreciation for much of it. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the occasional listen to these albums:
A man of quality and taste!
Much of Beefheart’s music is exquisitely recorded and performed. Really clean mixes with pristine, glassy-sounding EQ. Quite ahead of its time. Listening to Trout Mask Replica as I write this, it truly is an incredible feat that the instrumental performances were so intensely practiced considering how random and improvised it sounds/feels.
Other trivia about Beefheart: Ry Cooder got his start in Beefheart’s Magic Band, Tom Waits and Beefheart were good friends, he lived in the Mojave Desert, and Trout Mask Replica (produced by Zappa) is considered one of the greatest albums of all time. He concocted wild stories about himself to the media and elsewhere, claiming to not have slept for a year and a half and that he composed all 28 tracks from Trout Mask Replica following a 24-hour nap.
Members of the Magic Band also had unusual nicknames:
- Zoot Horn Rollo
- Drumbo (who collaborated with Andy West in Crazy Backwards Alphabet)
- Rockette Morton
- Antennae Jimmy Semens
As strange as his music is, most of it is rooted in the blues, following rather conventional song structure and chord changes, vocal stylings, and guitar-driven riffs. Imagine a musician who learned everything he could about delta blues, smashed all that with a sledgehammer, and reassembled all that into a rusty sock.