Captain Beefheart – the biography by Mike Barnes

Captain Beefheart by Mike Barnes, second edition

UK second edition

  • Publisher: Omnibus / Music Sales Limited
  • Date of publication: November 2004
  • ISBN: 1844494128
  • Dimensions: 210 x 135mm soft back
  • Extent: 400 pages
  • Price: £16.95
  • Order:

Mike Barnes has made considerable updates to this new edition but confusingly the book has been published with the same cover as the first edition (apart from the addition of a John Peel quote) and no obvious indication that changes have been made.

This second edition was reprinted in 2009 with a different quote, this time from ‘Mojo’ magzine, on the front cover.

A competition was run to win copies of the UK second edition – see the fiendish questions and the detailed answers for a full Beefheart trivia fix.

UK first edition

  • Publisher: Quartet Books
  • Date of publication: 10th July 2000
  • ISBN: 0 7043 8073 0
  • Dimensions: 210 x 135mm softback
  • Extent: 400 pages
  • Price: £14

US first edition

  • Publisher: Cooper Square Press
  • Date of publication: March 2002
  • ISBN: 0815411901
  • Dimensions: 1.11 x 8.48 x 6.10 inches
  • Extant: 416 pages
  • Price: $27
  • Order:

The US edition is a hardback version which contains corrected text and a few extra pages (including the infamous Gary Marker yam story, for example).

The Different editions

There are differences between each of the three UK editions. Here is what Mike has to say about them:

The first edition came out in 2000 on Quartet. The second edition came out in 2004 on Omnibus- this contained about 5,000 extra words including a new introduction, new interviews with Ace Farren Ford, Mark Boston, Denny Walley, Greg Davidson and Nick Kent. corrections and other bits and pieces.

The third edition came out in 2011 after Don died, also on Omnibus,with a revised ending including about an extra 2,000 words of text.


Widely available in all good UK and US book shops. Order online at:

Synopsis from the back of the book

Don Van Vliet is one of the most enduring and important artists to have emerged from the American counter culture of the 1960s. As Captain Beefheart he recorded a series of albums from the late 1960s to the 1980s which marked out new boundaries for the avant garde of rock music. He then abandoned recording in favour of painting and quickly achieved an almost equal reputation with his figurative and expressionistic oil paintings.

As a musician Beefheart has been associated with psychedelia, free jazz and rock’n’roll but it is with the blues that he has the greatest affinity. His highly individual vocal style, his surreal poetry and his efforts to take popular music into new territory (most memorably with Trout Mask Replica) have a character that has marked him out from his contemporaries. His enigmatic sayings and his increasing reclusiveness have both contributed to the fascination of the Beefheart persona.

Mike Barnes’s critical biography gives an assured survey of all of Don Van Vliet’s work and an insight into the extraordinary personality behind it.

Press release for US Edition

The unclassifiable music created by Don Van Vliet, alias Captain Beefheart, during a sixteen-year surge of creativity continues to amaze and mystify his fans and followers even almost twenty years after the Captain quit music for good. Critics have heaped praise on his oeuvre, and his groundbreaking album Trout Mask Replica frequently appears on polls of the best records of all time. In the last few years, record labels have released multi-disc collections of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (among the most recent are Grow Fins, The Dust Blows Forward, and I’m Going to Do What I Wanna Do), and dozens of bootlegs have circulated among the Beefheart faithful.

Since his retreat to the Mojave Desert years ago and his rebirth as an internationally exhibited painter, the Captain has revealed almost nothing about himself and made few public appearances. Mike Barnes puts the rumors to rest with Captain Beefheart: The Biography, an examination of this strange genius’ unusual life and one-of-a-kind music. Barnes covers Beefheart’s early collaborations with kindred spirit Frank Zappa, his imposition of his unique musical sensibility on the members of the Magic Band, the legal battles that kept his album Bat Chain Puller from ever being released, and his surprising departure from music to achieve fame in a new medium.

The tale of a remarkable creative personality, Captain Beefheart: The Biography is sure to get the attention of blues and avant-garde pop music fans in America just as it has in the U.K.

And here are some quotes from reviewers of the U. K. edition:

“Captain Beefheart is one of the most charismatic figures in rock and roll, possibly a genius….Barnes’ thoughtful and discriminating overview supplies the most complete picture to date of the relationship between Captain Beefheart’s music, his art and his day-to-day life.”—Daily Telegraph

“The greatest insight yet into one twentieth century performer who might legitimately be a genius. . . . Buy it.” —Record Collector

“Perceptive, informed, and passionate. . . . This book goes beyond questions of authorship to provide a rich and amusing insight into the band.” —Mojo

“A thorough and authoritative critical biography . . . rich and musicologically erudite.” —Uncut

“Exhaustively researched and finely attuned to the structures of the Beefheart sound.” —Independent (U.K.)

“Barnes gets the story, and with the full participation of those brave musicians who attempted to interpret Beefheart’s sometimes otherworldly methodology.” —Times (London)

“Strong on fact and critique . . . an eloquent, thorough work.” —List (Glasgow & Edinburgh)

“Written with care and dedication. . . . Ultimately, Barnes fulfills the obligation which makes the best biographers.” —Julien Crowley, The Wire


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Comment from the author:

As you are probably aware this book has been a loooong time coming, and no-one is quite so aware of this as the author:

[wp_quote]Oh, how time makes one wiser. After Graham had kindly offered, last year, to give me a space on the site for updates on the book’s progress, I was loth to do so as: a) Publishing can be a slow business and not too interesting except for those concerned. b) There had been so many announcements of the date of publication over the previous year or two that it was becoming embarrassing. This was mainly due to me deciding in August 98 to rewrite the book almost in its entirety. That was not the only hold up.

My earlier posting on this page erred towards the rash. Suffice it to say that on finally receiving the edited proofs back in December last year, I had to spend about two months (in between working) going through the virtually untouched text before it was in a fit state to be looked over by the copy editor (thanks, Lesley). And no John Peel foreword, either. Anyway, the UK date of publication is now set at June 29 [now changed to 10th July 2000] – the US date is still to be confirmed. And it will happen this time. The book, Captain Beefheart, features an excellent cover photo by Cal Schenkel and looks pretty good, I think. And apologies to anyone who ordered it from Amazon or other on-line book stores at the start of the year. As it was still on my desk being pored over, their 48 hour delivery promise was severely challenged.[/wp_quote]

Fortunately Mike can relax now as the book is complete, published and has been very warmly received by Beefheart devotees.

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