Captain Beefheart was the stage name of American avant-garde musician and painter Don Van Vliet (1941-2010, born Don Glen Vliet); a friend, collaborator, and sometime-rival, of contemporary Frank Zappa, who he'd known since high school. As the leader of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, a band with a constantly shifting membership, he released a dozen albums to highly varied critical review; with Trout Mask Replica often considered his magnum opus. His highly mutable style incorporated elements of Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Jazz, Rock and Roll, and experimental compositions.Though never achieving the (marginal) commercial success enjoyed by Zappa, despite their musical similarities, Van Vliet is considered to be highly influential across many genres, with numerous musicians citing him as a major influence — some examples being punk rock pioneers Sex Pistols and The Clash, Tom Waits (whose career can be easily separated into pre- and post-introduction to Beefheart), Sonic Youth, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, PJ Harvey, The White Stripes and Joan Osborne. He's also well-known for the mythology he created around his band and persona; with most of his comments to the media deliberately bearing little connection to the truth, or often reality in general.As usual, you can find the basics at That Other Wiki.
From The Other Wiki: "While playing "Electricity" for a warm-up performance at the Mt. Tamalpais Festival in 1967, Beefheart stopped the song, straightened his tie, and walked off the stage, landing face flat into the grass. He later claimed that he saw that a girl in the audience turned into a goldfish."
Executive Meddling: Beefheart said his second album "Strictly Personal" was victim of this, though he only said this after it failed to become a commercial success.
Genre-Busting: Trout Mask Replica pretty much redefined the limitations of rock music.
Harsh Vocals: He cultivated this as his primary vocal style. Nowhere near his normal voice.
Early in his career his voice was based on Howling Wolf, but by the time of Doc At The Radar Station and Ice Cream For Crow, he had fully switched to screeching his vocals rather than singing them. This was a result of both heavy smoking and his developing illness (Multiple Sclerosis, which would eventually kill him). His last recordings, poetry readings from the 90s and early 2000s, are painful listening; his voice just got worse thanks to the MS.
I Am the Band: Van Vliet was pretty much the only permanent member of the band. The duration of membership for the rest of the band depended on how much tolerance they had for his abuse. John "Drumbo" French was one of the relative constants, playing with the Magic Band during their Trout Mask Replica period and returning to service during the Captain's brief early 80s comeback.
Incredibly Long Note: After the line "Mr. Zoot Horn Rollo hit that long lunar note and let it float" in "Big Eyed Beans From Venus".
Jerk Ass: Guitarist Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) and drummer John French (aka Drumbo) have described the Captain as this, especially during the Trout Mask era. While Vliet did partake in composing the songs, it was usually left to the band to give whatever he wrote some sort of shape, after which they would spend days on end rehearsing while Vliet went off gallivanting. When the album was released, Vliet would take credit for arranging the music without acknowledging the output of the other members.
At least one argument between him and John French ended with the latter getting thrown down a flight of stairs, and while recording The Spotlight Kid he once threw guitarist Bill Harkleroad into a dumpster.
Upon first becoming friends, Zappa found Beefheart's habit of staying in his room listening to R&B records, eating leftover food and screaming at his mother to bring him a Pepsi funny, leading him to later write a song mocking Beefheart named "Why Doesn't Someone Get Him a Pepsi?". It appeared on Bongo Fury and was substantially reworked later to become "The Torture Never Stops".
Long Title: Van Vliet was fond of these; and has at least one or two on nearly every album. Some of the most notable are "I Wanna Find a Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have to Go", "Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish", "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains", "A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond", and "Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee".
Money, Dear Boy: After Lick My Decals Off, Baby, the Magic Band's musical output for the next 3 years became more and more conventional in order to make more money, as they were barely making a living off of their previous endeavors. This is especially obvious on the Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans & Moonbeams albums, which Beefheart later disowned.
Protest Song: Dachau Blues, which is as screwed up as a protest song as you'd expect it from the Captain.
Reclusive Artist: He became practically the epitome of this trope after he quit music to focus on painting. His failing health did not help.
Short-Lived Big Impact: Beefheart was musically active from 1966 to 1982 and only released a handful of albums before he quit the music industry for the rest of his life. Yet his influence on alternative music is enormous!
Stage Names: Not only for himself, but he also created bizarre stage names for many of his band members, including Zoot Horn Rollo, Winged Eel Fingerling, Rockette Morton, Drumbo, Midnite Hatsize Snyder, and Antennae Jimmy Semens.
His album Clear Spot was charactised by three - "Too Much Time" (a radio oriented motown tribute), "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" and "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles" (both love ballads).
The albums Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans & Moonbeams took the mood of the three Clear Spot songs and wrote whole albums in their style, something which wasn't very successful.
Harry Irene on Shiny Beast. Surprisingly the song had been around since the late 60s.
Take That: "Beatle Bones N' Smokin' Stones" was said to have been written in reaction to The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day In The Life".
The reason for this is he didn't like the line "I'd love to turn you on" as he thought it was vulgar of them to say it in a song.
The kicker? The Beatles liked his music! They even planned to sign him to their Zapple label before Allen Klein shut it down.
Lennon had two Safe As Milk Bumper Stickers on a cupboard in his house and was photographed next to them.
"Ashtray Heart" bashed Punk Rock, as the line "Open up another case of the punks" demonstrated. The reason was that Beefheart felt the punks that were influenced by him were flat out copying his style.