News of Captain Beefheart‘s death – from complications arising from multiple sclerosis – will no doubt trigger a torrent of tributes from fellow artists.
Though never a mainstream star, Beefheart – real name Don Van Vliet – was a musician’s musician, lauded by any artist with designs on the avant garde, the far-out, or the questingly psychedelic.
In an age when heritage artists stage endless comebacks, Beefheart was enigmatic – a Salinger-style recluse who was rarely seen in public after quitting the music business in the ’80s. Beefheart appeals particularly to serious-minded music fans, who revel in the fact that his music is difficult, and often impenetrable on first listen. But it rewards perseverance.
1969’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’ in particular – which veers wildly between genres, taking in sea shanties, folk and free jazz – probably has more in common with experimental classical composers such as Steve Reich than it does with Beefheart’s hippie-era contemporaries. It’s emblematic of a time when pop music and the avant-garde sat together more comfortably than they do today.
Famous fans include Tom Waits, Muse’s Matt Bellamy (who credits his band’s creative development after their debut album with being introduced to Beefheart by producer Rich Costey) and Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who called ‘Trout Mask Replica’ “the greatest album I ever heard.”