Don Van Vliet — the iconic experimental musician known as Captain Beefheart — died today due to complications from multiple sclerosis at a hospital in Northern California, according to reports. He was 69. From 1967 through the early ’80s, Van Vliet released some of the most challenging rock albums ever, which showed off his quirky knack for free-form experimental rhythms, avant-garde melodies, and his gruff, smoky howl. He released music that would challenge fans’ assumptions and expectations about rock ‘n’ roll. “People like music to be in tune because they’ve heard it in tune all the time,” Van Vliet said in 1978. “I really tried to break that down.”
Vliet’s career peak came in 1969 when he released Trout Mask Replica. In 1999, SPIN published an in-depth feature on the making of Vliet’s iconic album. Despite his far-reaching appeal among musicians, Van Valiet became something of a recluse, especially with the release of 1982’s Ice Cream for Crow and MTV’s refusal to promote Beefheart’s out-there music. Instead, Vliet focused on his work as a visual artist and even had his work shown recently at galleries in New York. Vliet did make a rare appearance, however, in the 1993 documentary by photographer Anton Corbijn titled Some Yo Yo Stuff.