DON'T ARGUE WITH THE CAPTAIN
interview band members
MY LIFE AS A MIDNIGHT HAT
richard 'midnight hatsize' snyder
STEAL SOFTLY THRU SNOW #6 010496 england
by justin sherrill
is early 1996 written interview RICHARD SNYDER
note: originally appeared without title
THIS is PART 1 - part 2
[(edited) note from the writer - and editor of the defunct 'home page replica' website: this is an email interview with rick snyder, being done on an 'as-he-has-time-for-it' basis. rick played with captain beefheart and the magic band primarily as 'sudden' guitarist for the 1980 'doc at the radar station' tour and as bassist on the 'ice cream for crow' album from 1982. if you've seen the episode of the usa tv show saturday night live: he's the fellow in the red suit that jumps all over the place. last i talked with him, he was playing in california with 'the mystery band', and a ceedee was on the way.]
when did you first hear of beefheart?
i first became aware of captain beefheart through the predictably good musical tastes of my older brother. he managed to pick up a copy of 'safe as milk' at the time of it's original release (inner sleeve and bumper sticker), but my nine-year old mind did not readily receive the music - yet.
my next exposure to don's music was through the unbridled enthusiasm of my dear friend steve rietta (aka ace farren ford) with whom my association, once initiated in 1966, has continued to this present day. his fandom of don and his music was total - unusual, to say the least, of a lad of eleven short years of life. he regularly played 'trout mask replica', 'strictly personal' and 'safe as milk', but the first things to make an impression on my mind were the spoken parts (e.g. 'a squid eating dough...', '...laser beans' and the like) and the a cappella segments (e.g. 'the dust blows..' and 'orange claw hammer'. i enjoyed hearing this strange music, but in this particular ocean of sound, i had neither the inner compass nor sextant required for such turbulent sonic seas - and at such a tender age.
steve - who by 1971 would come to refer to himself everafter as 'ace' - occasionally would make tapes of various musical segments, comedy bits and spoken word, not unlike the 'free form' underground radio shows proliferate in that day and age, and send them off to me for my pleasure and, may i say, education. one of these tapes contained 'woe-is-uh-me-bop' and 'i'm glad'. both caught my ear, but 'woe...' caught my fullest attention. this song would become the key that unlocked the first door of mystery behind which would lie the ability to hear and appreciate all of the rest of don's music. i was permanently, incurably, hooked - much to my father's wonderment.
being a twelve-year old kid without income, i scraped any and all finances musterable through allowances and chores and headed directly to any record store with any beefheart to sell. i even got into the habit of buying several copies of the same record, just in case one of my 'play' copies managed to acquire a pop, tick or scratch through repeated listens. 'lick my decals off, baby' became, to myself and a small circle of friends, the be-all and end-all of the possibilities of rock music - the ultimate stencil that would be applied to some of our own musical endeavours as we plied our budding talents to instruments we had, at that time, yet to gain any degree of mastery over.
each christmas, ace and i would exchange gifts. reliably, we would give each other the latest beefheart releases - a ritualistic exchange that tightened the bonds of our friendship for years to come. little did i know what role he would eventually come to play....
how did you come to join the magic band, and when?
a short story - but i'll manage somehow to elongate it. pardon my verbosity...
ace and myself continued to explore music, both as fans and as musicians, albeit in a rather criss-cross manner. ace's tastes tended to the most extreme avant-garde and obscure musical forms of musical expression available - free jazz, delta blues and outre rock - while mine swung a little further into relatively more traditional territories: progressive rock, obscure singer-songwriters and psychedelia. somewhere between those two tendencies we managed to find meeting points around which we would manage to unite our budding talents in various musical outlets, most notably a band that called itself ace & duce.
the duce half of 'ace &' was robert pfaucht (pronounced 'fowt'), who also used the alias 'zoot horn rebert da pevert'. it would be next to useless for me to declare that he too was a beefheart enthusiast..., .but i would be negligent in my duty if i did not declare him another important influence in my musical gestation. along with roark honeycutt (a classically trained guitarist who could read and play anything), dennis duck (on drums, naturally) and myself on bass and occasional marimba, ace & duce themselves would man all manner of horns, particularly soprano, alto and tenor saxes and musettes (the beefheart influence again!).
ace & duce, as a force to be reckoned with, was short-lived and indisciplined. however, in the shows that we díd manage to play, we worked in versions of 'sugar 'n' spikes', 'click clack' and 'alice in blunderland' into our set of free jazz workouts and beefheart-inspired originals.
with their demise, i continued to work out the guitar and bass parts of don's mysterious and magical compositions by ear - not to mention by repetition and grim determination. i only hoped to be able to take his musical puzzles apart and piece them back together -- very little more ambition was there to this exercise. in the meantime, i played bass in a late '70s power-pop outfit called 'the shake shakes', hitting clubs from pasadena to santa monica and managing to gain a very small but reassuring degree of notoriety in the process, but no money to speak of. i managed to keep the bills paid by working as a psychiatric nursing assistant, still keeping an eye on a potential career in psychology, having acquired a bachelor of arts degree therein.
one day, ace, who had by now managed the occasional phone call from don over the years, told me that don was auditioning guitar players for his 'doc at the radar station' tour, as john french (aka drumbo) was declining to participate in touring. waves of fear overcame me as ace told me that he had suggested to don that he considered me as a suitable replacement. ace gave me the necessary reassurances and infected me with the requisite enthusiasm to get me to agree to speak with jeff moris tepper about a 'first audition'.
while 'at work' at the hospital, the nurse in charge of our unit allowed me to practice my guitar on hospital time in order to hone my parts into perfection. she and my co-workers covered all my work for me while i had several hours a day of 'salaried' practice time. she was an angel to be so generous with the hospital's time and money. a most incredible set of 'circumstances', indeed....
i met jeff at his house, and after a brief bit of polite conversation, i played my 'assignment' for him. if i remember correctly, the audition pieces were 'my human gets me blues', 'nowadays a woman's gotta hit a man' and 'dirty blue gene', playing the assigned 'part' by myself. i expected very little from this meeting, but was called back for the 'second audition', this time wíth the band and with don in attendance to oversee the final selection process.
the other 'finalists' were eric williams (a friend of robert williams - no relation - who would later appear on robert's solo recordings as well as ply his trade as a session guitarist regularly) and peter bilt (former guitarist with pearl harbor and the explosions). in my mind, the other two guitarists had it over myself in terms of sheer technique - after all, i wás primarily a bassist by choice and self-definition! i soldiered through and gave the audition my best shot, hoping that i might at least be able to fall into reveries everafter recalling my sure-to-be-brief moment as a part of the magic band.
after the audition was over, i somehow felt that, if all else was to fail, i must play the humblest card that i had at my disposal: to offer my services as a roadie for the impending tour. don chortled, in a friendly way, at this offer - and thanked me for playing for him that day, assuring me that i had done much better than i felt that i had.
a few weeks passed by. 'well - that's it', i thought. no tour - either as a member of the band or as a roadie. shortly thereafter i received a phone call from don himself and we had a few minutes of casual conversation (at least, as casual as i cóuld have with don). at some point during the phone call, i worked up the nerve to ask him who had gotten the position with the band. in words that would swirl my brain into gelatin, he said: 'don't you know? yóu did!
i quit 'the shake shakes, i quit my job. this was where i wanted to spend the rest of my musical life. it was 1980 - i was 22 years old and happier than (fill the blank)....
which albums and tours did you perform on?
well, the real question - unfortunately - is whát album and tour, without the plural 's'.
chronologically, the tour came first. as i mentioned previously, john french had played guitar on 'doc at the radar station' and as he was not too keen on touring, i entered the fold as his replacement. after the tour, we took a break, hired cliff martinez as the new drummer, added our manager gary lucas as guitarist and put me back on bass - where i really wanted to be anyway (thank you, eric [feldman], for being too busy with snakefinger at the time), and began rehearsals for 'ice cream for crow', the last beefheart album.
the following is a list of some common bootlegs that you may have performed on - could you share any interesting tales about each show, if there are any?
i don't remember any specific details about that show, outside of enjoying that show quite a lot (especially the venue) - and enjoying the seattle area in general. before the show that night, robert williams and myself took a sojourn to one of the strip joints near the showbox that night - a rather strange place where one would deposit a token into a coin slot, whereby a window shade of sorts would raise up for a specific period of time before closing again, revealing a brief window-view to a room wherein several extremely disinterested nude girl dancers moved about most unprovocatively to decidedly bad dance music, as if to dare you to be stimulated by them.
showbox; seattle, washington, 150181 - don's birthday party
this unusual 'skinner box', where the patrons' conditioned behavior of depositing coins into a slot for an intrinsically motivating reward of a brief glimpse of nudity - however poorly parlayed by the dancers - was a remarkable glimpse into man's unfathomable and inexplicable value system. it was fun, on an intellectual ánd glandular level. ah, the folly of youth....
this was as close as we got to a home field advantage on the tour, as both eric and jeff were denizens of the immediate area. lots of families and friends - much distraction, but a feeling of 'we just can't go wrong here!' prevailed. best moment: when denny walley came onstage to perform 'china pig' with don, i ventured out into the audience to sit at a table and just enjoy that old feeling of being just a fan. some took note of my presence, but nobody even bothered to talk to me while i sat enrapt with the proceedings, as if they knew that this was a moment that i was savoring. or - they could have given a proverbial rat's backside. out of ego preservation, i choose to opt for the former angle.
the country club; reseda, california, 290181 - best batch yet
being the last shows, we were about as tight as we were ever gonna be. don even introduced songs in the last night's last set that hadn't been performed ánywhere else on the éntire tour - recordings of which i've yet to see surface, but for which i yearn to be reacquainted. my wife-to-be - and who still is, thank you - was my constant companion for these shows, making them even more fun to look back upon.
golden bear; huntington beach, california, 180281 - easy teeth
sorry, justin, but this is wrong. that performance took place on 310181, and wasn't bootlegged. 'easy teeth' origins from three years earlier: 180278 - t.t.
side note: 'easy teeth' was don's nickname for our ready-and-able road manager, paul young - a man with a perpetual smile and a great organizational sense.
i remember that this show was being taped for a radio broadcast, so i imagine that the recordings for this show were of a better quality than the attendant performance! seriously, i had a wonderful time at this show - and i recall being concerned about the precarious architecture of the place (e.g. the stage felt unusually fléxible, and it seemed as though some of the railings that circumvented the seating area were in grave danger of being broken away at any time).
paradiso; amsterdam, holland, 011180 - several bootlegs
holland was beautiful at that time, and i remember that we were all quite enamored with the area, especially the nearby art museum that the entire band took a 'field trip' (for a lack of a better term) to. (hey, rick, how could you forget that it was the ván gógh museum, don's favorite painter! - teejo.) in the same vicinity, there was a wonderful restaurant that eric and i visited that kept an aquarium of live fish in the wall - from which you were able to select and be served what was probably the very best, freshest fish that i have ever tasted - before or since. anybody have the name of that place? i've gotta get back there one day....
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