Captain Beefheart, the noted experimental musician and painter born Don Van Vliet, died this morning in California following complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 69.
Van Vliet is best known for his 1969 album with the Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica, a work Rolling Stone recently ranked the No. 58 greatest album of all time. The record, and Beefheart's subsequent musical career, fueled the idea that rock music could be experimental and untethered to the limits of rhythm, tempo and key — despite the fact that the skilled Van Vliet was known for a legendary five-octave vocal range. Born in California, Van Vliet found an educator and muse in Frank Zappa, who encouraged his evolution from visual artist to R&B harmonica/sax player to blues rocker to avant-garde luminary throughout the course of the Magic Band's career.