Avant-garde musician Captain Beefheart Dies

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Avant-garde musician Captain Beefheart died this morning in California from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 69.

An all-time favorite of rock critics — and known to readers of lists of the best rock albums of all time as the guy with the hat and the fish face — Beefheart earned a reputation for making challenging music. But his work was, at its root, well-executed blues-based rock.

His given name was Don Vliet — he added a Van in between his first and last names later. He was one of those musicians who sold fewer records than his best-known fans: Tom Waits, members of R.E.M. and New Order are just a few of dozens. The late British DJ John Peel called Beefheart a true genius, possibly the only one rock ever produced.

Read Ben Ratliff’s entire New York Times obituary here.

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, with the guitarist Jeff Morris Tepper in 1980.