Apparently, in August of last year, Frank Zappa’s widow, Gail Zappa, filed an application to trademark the name “Captain Beefheart.” That application was recently approved and the trademark has apparently issued. Captain Beefheart was the nom de plume of Don Van Vliet, a frequent collaborator of Frank’s and an amazing boundary-pushing artist whose albums, particularly 1969’s Trout Mask Replica, played like blues from another planet. Frank bestowed that name to Vliet, who embodied it and used it until his death in December of 2010.
I’m guessing that the Beefheart estate is administered by the Zappa estate, or that the Zappa estate owns the entire Beefheart catalog. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for Frank’s widow to claim trademark rights to a name she nor her husband ever used, even if her husband did bestow the name upon Vliet. Moreover, it is doubtful that the trademark “Captain Beefheart” would have been deemed abandoned in so short a time.
Fans of Captain Beefheart are slightly worried due to Gail’s litigious nature (or the litigious nature of the estate’s lawyers who may have been given carte blanche by Gail). In 2008, Gail sued a small Frank Zappa-themed German festival, in an effort to force them to change the name of their Zappanale gala, to remove the Zappa-esque mustache from their promotional materials, and to knock down the statue of Frank in the city center. Ridiculous demands – and thankfully a German court ultimately agreed and the suit was defeated. Apparently Gail gets her litigiousness from her deceased husband, who according to some sources actually once sued Vliet in an effort to reclaim the name Captain Beefheart. Truly sad that someone with a successful career and a money-generating catalog (Frank) would sue his high-school buddy (Vliet) in an effort to wrest away the name under which the later had been performing for decades.
For you trademark application enthusiasts out there, the trademark application was registered in the “Computer & Software Products & Electrical & Scientific Products” category, and references such possible Beefheart products as sunglasses, journals, video games, and mobile phone graphics. Sounds neat. I just hope that Vliet’s widow and/or his estate is on board with this move, as otherwise it is an obvious powergrab.