Last week we mentioned Frank Zappa and his high school friend, Donald “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet.
Born in Glendale, and deemed an artistic prodigy, Van Vliet moved to Lancaster with his family when he was thirteen. As an intermittent student at Antelope Valley High School, Don joined the Blackouts.
Van Vliet often helped his father, who worked as a truck driver for Helm’s Bakery, on delivery routes. During his time in Lancaster, he also liked hanging out at Gilbert’s 5-1-25 Cent Store, where he would buy records for ten cents, and meet up with his friend, Frank Zappa, and the Denny’s on Sierra Highway (now the Village Grille). The two tried to form a group called the Soots in 1964, however, they eventually ended up going their separate ways. Zappa went on to form the band Mothers of Invention, while Van Vliet returned to Lancaster to form the Magic Band and adopt the Beefheart stage name.
In 1969, Van Vliet released a widely acclaimed album “Trout Mask Replica” featuring the Magic Band, which was made up of other talented local musicians. The album, produced by Zappa, was ranked No. 58 on the Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Van Vliet retired from music in 1982, however, he could still be seen hanging out at the Valley’s Smokey Eye Lounge on jazz nights.
"Gurba, Norma H. Legendary Locals of the Antelope Valley. Arcadia, 2013.
Photo courtesy of MOAH Collections"