Strictly personal – half a century with Captain Beefheart

Don Glen Vliet liked to call himself Don Van Vliet, but he is mostly known as Captain Beefheart.

Sounds complicated? Well, that’s because it is.

And yes, Don was a complicated person, but no less than a musical genius. His musical work is mainly notable for his collaboration with his rotating band, called “The Magic Band”. But he also worked with many other musicians and bands – Gary Lucas, Jack Nitzsche, Zoot Horn Rollo, Mallard, Jeff Cotton, Rockette Morton, Winged Eel Fingerling, The Mascara Snake, John “Drumbo” French, Ry Cooder, Eric Drew Feldman, Moris Tepper. Lest we forget (as if we could), his most important collaboration was with his friend and greatest rival at the same time, Frank Zappa.

It would be an understatement to say that the two of them had a complicated relationship. “Mothers of Invention” drummer Jimmy Carl Black described the situation as “two geniuses” on “ego trips”. Captain Beefheart was famous for his powerful singing and extremely wide vocal range.

So, this month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Magic Band” first release, “Safe as Milk”. The people who recorded this album, besides Don, were Alex St. Clair Snouffer, Jerry Handley, John French and, from today’s perspective the most famous one, Ry Cooder. From the opening song, “Sure ‘Nuff N Yes I Do” all up to the closing one “Autumn’s Child”, we have one great debut album, despite its mild reception on release.

“I’m a great poet, better than those cats like Ginsberg because I let it flow, I can’t stop it… I’ve got books and books of stuff. I’m a great horn player, man – I’ve already exhausted the instrument. I’ve done everything that can be done with it. Really I need a whole new art form,” said he in an interview for Zigzag magazine.

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Well, at least he was modest.

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