Blending irregular rhythms, Delta blues, rock 'n' roll and free jazz, Captain
Beefheart and the Magic Band's avant-garde sound never garnered a large following, but it
broke so many of rock's conventions that it influenced a variety of
bands, including Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, Public Image Limited and Talking Heads. Beefheart's best known album is the critically acclaimed, sprawling two-record set, Trout Mask Replica.
Born Don Van Vliet on this day in 1941 in California, Van Vliet first took to sculpting, catching the attention of Portuguese sculptor Augustinio Rodriguez as a mere 4-year-old. Rodriguez
featured Van Vliet and his clay animals on his weekly television show for
the next eight years. Van Vliet's parents dismissed their son's desire to study art
in Europe and moved the family to Lancaster, Calif. It was in the
Mojave Desert that Van Vliet met the young Frank Zappa. Van Vliet taught himself to
play the harmonica and saxophone, accompanying local R&B bands the Omens
and the Blackouts. After one semester of college, Van Vliet dropped out and, in
1959, he moved to Cucamonga, Calif., with Zappa. The two intended to form a band called the Soots and make a film entitled "Captain Beefheart Meets the Grunt People." But both projects fell through, and Van Vliet returned to Lancaster, where he adopted the
stage name "Beefheart" and formed the first incarnation of the Magic Band in 1964.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's debut album, Safe As Milk, which featured the slide guitar work of a then unknown Ry Cooder, immediately established Beefheart as a serious freak, with such brilliant tracks as "Electricity" and "Abba Zaba."
Zappa later signed Beefheart to his Straight label, allowing Beefheart
complete artistic freedom. In a marathon eight and 1/2 hour session, Beefheart
composed 28 songs and recorded his groundbreaking Trout Mask Replica.
That album and 1970's Lick My Decals Off, Baby (which featured cover art by Beefheart), brought him
critical acclaim and prompted a national tour. Beefheart recorded two more epic works in the early '70s: The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot. The rest of the '70s saw
Beefheart release two more conventional, pop-blues albums. For a short time, he appeared
as a vocalist with Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention, with whom he
toured both the U.S. and Europe in 1980.
After the 1982 release of Ice Cream
for Crow, Beefheart retired from the music business, settled in Northern California with his wife Jan and began focusing entirely on his painting. His abstract canvases have been exhibited in museums and galleries including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art .
Other birthdays: Edward Bivins (Manhattans), 56; Martha Davis (Motels), 47; Boris Blank (Yello), 45; John Avila (Oingo Boingo), 41, and William Tutton (Geraldine Fibbers), 35.