Don Van Vliet (, born Don Glen Vliet; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010), best known by the stage name Captain Beefheart, was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist. Sometimes collaborating with his teenage friend Frank Zappa, Van Vliet's musical work was conducted with a rotating ensemble of musicians called the Magic Band, with whom he recorded 13 studio albums between 1964 and 1982. His music blended elements of blues, free jazz, rock, and avant-garde composition with idiosyncratic rhythms, surrealist wordplay, and his wide vocal range, commonly reported as five octaves. Known for his enigmatic persona, Beefheart frequently constructed myths about his life and was known to exercise an almost dictatorial control over his supporting musicians.
Van Vliet developed an eclectic musical taste during his teen years in Lancaster, California, and formed "a mutually useful but volatile" friendship with Zappa. He began performing with his Captain Beefheart persona in 1964 and joined the original Magic Band line-up, initiated by Alexis Snouffer, the same year. The group released their debut album Safe as Milk in 1967 on Buddah Records. After being dropped by two consecutive record labels they signed to Zappa's Straight Records, where they released 1969's Trout Mask Replica; an album variously described as "unlistenable", "a joke", and a "masterpiece", that would later rank 58th in Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 1974, frustrated by lack of commercial success, he pursued a more conventional rock sound, but the ensuing albums were critically panned; this move, combined with not having been paid for a European tour, and years of enduring Beefheart's abusive behavior, led the entire band to quit. Beefheart eventually formed a new Magic Band with a group of younger musicians and regained critical approval through three final albums: Shiny Beast (1978), Doc at the Radar Station (1980) and Ice