The Michael Werner Gallery in New York confirmed Van Vliet’s death in California due to complications stemming from multiple sclerosis. The gallery exhibits his paintings.
Van Vliet was probably best known for the album “Trout Mask Replica,” which was released in 1969 by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.
The album’s angular, dissonant take on blues rock and Van Vliet’s growling, surreal lyrics put him outside the mainstream, but staked his place in rock history.
Rolling Stone magazine recently ranked “Trout Mask Replica” number 58 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was produced by fellow experimental rock pioneer Frank Zappa, a high school friend from the desert town of Lancaster, Calif.
“Record producers have always been certain that Don Vliet was just a hype away from the big money,” according to a 1970 profile in Rolling Stone. “But Beefheart stubbornly continues what he’s doing and waits patiently for everyone else to come around.”
By shunning commercial success and a more accessible sound, Van Vliet became a role model for subsequent generations of musicians. His music is cited as an influence on the rise of punk, post-punk and new wave. Beefheart is also claimed as a kindred spirit by free jazz musicians and avant-garde classical composers.
In the 1980s, Van Vliet turned full-time to art. He painted in a raw, expressionistic style and showed his acclaimed work widely even as he withdrew from the public eye.
He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years.