Don Van Vliet, RIP


They’re dropping like flies this week: Bob Feller, Blake Edwards and nowDon Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart who died earlier today at the age of 69.Captain Beefheart was the touchstone of cool when I was a tadpole His music was a cacophonous cross between Howlin’ Wolf and Pharoah Sanders. As a singer he sounded like Tom Waits’ demented Uncle Don. Waits was one of Beefheart’s biggest fans and said of him: “Once you’ve heard Beefheart, it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.”

I spent far too much time as a kid perfecting a Beefheart imitation. I recall seeing him play to a rather hostile audience who didn’t get what he was up to. He shook his head in disgust and said in his gravelly voice: “Playing to you people is like trying to turn pickles back into cucumbers.”

Every once and awhile I trot out that line but to little effect: most people have never heard of Captain Beefheart and the The Magic Band. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the pseudonyms of his sidemen: Winged Eel Fingerling and Zoot Horn Rollo are my personal favorites.

Van Vliet retired Captain Beefheart quite some time ago and pursued his painting. Don was a talented artist but if I’d ever run into him I would have asked him to “gimme dat harp, boy.”

Don Van Vliet is dead. Long live Captain Beefheart.

2 thoughts on “Don Van Vliet, RIP

  1. Used to play Gimme Dat Harp really LOUD on my 8-track player, back in the day, drove my friends crazy. There was an interesting article on the members of the Magic Band in Rolling Stone many years ago, wonder if that’s on the Intertubes…

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