Zig Zag Wanderer

The musician and artist Don Van Vliet has just died in California. He is best known as the leader of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band and was an occasional musical accomplice of Frank Zappa’s. He released a number of critically-acclaimed albums throughout his musical career, but abandoned music for painting in the 1980s. He always had a cult following as a musician and an artist, but made more money from the art world. His music is quite uncompromising and his most infamous album is Trout Mask Replica (1969), an album I’m not alone in admitting that I’ve yet to get into. I’m a big fan of his first release, Safe As Milk (1967), which contains some of his most accessible songs and features Ry Cooder on guitar. The blues in general and Howling Wolf in particular were big influences on his music and voice and it’s easy to see him as the missing link between Wolf and Tom Waits. Below, I’ve chosen my favourite Beefheart number, the wonderfully-named My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains from the album Clear Spot (1972). I’m Glad from the first album is another favourite and I’ve chosen a recent version by The Black Keys that isn’t a million miles away from the original. Finally, Ashtray Heart appears on Doc At The Radar Station (1980) and was one of three Beefheart covers that The White Stripes released as part of a limited edition single in 2000. Van Vliet had been confined to a wheelchair since 1993 and suffered from multiple sclerosis. He died four weeks short of his 70th birthday

My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains – Captn Beefheart & the Magic Band

I’m Glad (Captn Beefheart cover) – The Black Keys

Ashtray Heart (Captn Beefheart cover) – The White Stripes

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