Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Memory of Captain Beefheart

Don Van Vliet, known as Captain Beefheart, has passed away. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band played music that ran the gamut from brilliantly innovative to almost unlistenable, usually on the same side of the same album. In a day when jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrance were breaking free of old conventions like keys, chord changes and time signatures, Captain Beefheart was succeeding in such efforts but with a rock band.

Beefheart's group was, as I recall, the first band to be produced by Frank Zappa on his Pumpkin Records label. Zappa was pushing the envelope of music and liberating himself and other musicians with "no commercial potential" from the tyranny of the music companies. Back in the days before digital recording and the internet this was a lot easier said than done.

I am privileged to have seen Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band play at the Warehouse in Ithaca, New York, in the winter of 1971. To borrow from a later day, they rocked and we were not worthy. The opening act was a guy named Ry Cooder, playing electric slide blues and swing jazz, awesome musicians in awesome times.

Don Van Vliet, may his memory be for a blessing and may his art live on forever.

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