Former Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas to bring Captain Beefheart Symposium to Echoplex

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Don Van Vliet, best known in rock circles as Captain Beefheart but also an accomplished visual artist, turns 70 years old on Jan. 15, and to celebrate the legendary iconoclastic artist’s art and influence, former Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas will hold a symposium at the Echoplex on Jan. 13. Van Vliet cut a wide swath through Los Angeles starting in the 1960s, when he and friend Frank Zappa began making offbeat, post-Beatles maximum R&B tracks, but retired from the music game in the early 1980s to create visual art.

Over the years, the early, bluesy brand of rock that Van Vliet and company made -- Ry Cooder was an early band member -- evolved into a wildly deconstructed style of music that drew on the inspirations of Howlin’ Wolf and Albert Ayler, and went on to influence artists such as Johnny Rotten, Jack White and Bob Dylan --even if you can’t hear that influence. The critical consensus is that Captain Beefheart’s 1968 opus ‘Trout Mask Replica’ shows the artist and band at its peak, though ‘Mirror Man’ and ‘Safe as Milk’ are just as powerful. (And speaking of Ayler, you should track down Lucas’ amazing solo guitar version of the legendary free jazz saxophonist’s ‘Ghosts.’ )


Lucas, who, after leaving the Magic Bandwent on to co-write and co-produce Jeff Buckley’s classic album ‘Grace,’ will play unreleased Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band tracks, show slides of Van Vliet’s art, screen unseen footage of the band at work, and demonstrate some of the odd techniques that the notoriously demanding band leader developed to convey ideas to his musicians. Van Vliet retired in the mid-1980s, but has popped up to sing from time to time. The artist is said to have multiple sclerosis, although that remains unconfirmed by the media-shy Van Vliet.

Lucas said via e-mail that a number of guests are expected to fill out the lineup, though he didn’t want to go on the record with a list until they were confirmed. Pop & Hiss will keep you posted once the names are announced.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Don Van Vliet, left,with Gary Lucas. Credit: