His biggest legacy may have been his influence on the punk movement

Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet, died Friday. He was 69. His influence stretched from the Grateful Dead to the Sex Pistols and beyond.

Don Van Vliet, better-known as Captain Beefheart, one of the most influential American musicians of the 1960s and 1970s and avant garde frontman of the Magic Band, has died in California, aged 69. A representative of the Michael Werner Gallery, in New York, which hosted several of his art exhibitions, confirmed his death from complications from multiple sclerosis in a statement yesterday.

With a mixture of Chicago blues, jazz, rock and his own experimental music his reach and influence stretched from the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in America to Jethro Tull, Hawkwind and Roxy Music in the UK. His biggest legacy may have been his influence on the punk movement, cited by several key figures as an influence, including Johnny Rotten.

Beefheart was a close friend of the late Frank Zappa, who played in the same group with him as teenagers and although they had a love-hate relationship they would play together later in life. Zappa often supported him – sometimes financially – at various key points in his life, and gave him a recording contract when other labels would not touch him.

As children they would listen to old rhythm and blues records, dreaming of projects that mostly came to nothing. One was to make a film called Captain Beefheart meets the Grunt People, which never happened but introduced the name by which he would later become known.

Born Don Glen Vliet, he later changed his name to Don Van Vliet, before changing it on the suggestion of Zappa to the stage name Captain Beefheart.

Singing and writing songs and playing harmonica and saxophone, he was backed by the Magic Band, a succession of musicians with as unlikely names as his own – Winged Eel Fingerling, Zoot Horn Rollo, the Mascara Snake and Rockette Morton – with whom he played between 1965 and 1982. They completed a dozen albums, of which the best-remembered is 1969’s Trout Mask Replica, placed at number 58 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.