Snouffer frequently visited and jammed with various musicians in between odd jobs collecting money from slot machines in Lake Tahoe and playing in cover bands.
Determined to create more challenging and original music, Snouffer came back to Lancaster in 1964 and recruited the guitarist Doug Moon, the bassist Jerry Handley and the drummer Paul Blakely.
Alex St. Clair [...] calls me and says, "I'm putting a group together and we're gonna play tonight. You're gonna sing, Van Vliet." He's a real Prussian, you know? I said, "Give me a minute, will you? I never sang anything. I don't know anything about music." And he says, "Tonight you're going to sing." I must have sounded like a burro or something. And he says, "That's horrible, man." I say, "I told you." But he says we're gonna do it anyway, and it'll get better. So that's how I went onstage in Lancaster, California. Out of paranoia, I took some of my art things with me. I took a Hoover Superchief Vacuum Cleaner-one of those really heavy ones with a Mars light-and plugged it into the amplifier during the intermission. I had these Mexican ducks, you'd call them jumping beans, and I got a single spotlight on them and even unveiled them with a little curtain I brought. I was doing an artistic show, and the people dug it. That's what got me on the wrong track, because I went on into that.
When I first got back from the Lake (Tahoe) up there, Don [Vliet] was one of the first people I went to see. 'Cause he and I had been pal-ing around together before I left, so I didn't really go over there for any musical thing. Jerry [Handley] had mentioned to me that he played harp. I thought, "OK," (doubtfully)—you know. (Laughs) I'd heard him play sax a few years before, and I thought, "This oughta be good," you know.
[...] Sure enough, he was (good) . . . I would say, far as I am concerned, he's the best white harp man that I've heard, and probably takes out half the blacks with him. Know what I mean? Know what I'm saying? I mean, that dude was flat good, man!
The beginning of this whole Captain Beefheart thing was getting together with Frank. So Frank and Don and I were getting together. Then Alex came back into town and we got connected up with Alex and Jerry [Handley] and we started talking about doing some things musically and we got together and partied and jammed. The next thing you know we were talking about putting a band together.
[...] We were all partying and having a good time, and Jerry (had) kept The Omens going . . . he was the guitar player in The Omens, in their last days.
We were putting a new band together, (me and) Doug, who had been playing for a while. I had been hanging out with (him) for a while. He was interested in the blues. We'd get together and just jam a little bit. Doug and I . . . and Alex and then there was this fellow I went to school with since I was in sixth or seventh grade, P.G. Blakely. [...] He'd been playing drums a long time, all through school. He was one of the best drummers in the Valley.
[...] So we had two guitars, bass, drums and then we didn't have a singer. That's when Don came up to Lancaster having played with or recorded (with Zappa), I guess, I don't know what. They were experimenting with movies and music down in Frank Zappa's studio in Cucamonga.
[...] It wasn't long after [The Solid Senders] that Don came back to Lancaster and Alex, Don and I got together with Doug Moon and P.G. Blakely.
We were trying to figure out what songs we could put together so we could play a dance in Lancaster. I remember one song by Ernie K Doe called "O Poo Pa Doo". Another one we liked was "Heart of Stone" by the Stones. We also played "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MG's. Don liked to sing "Boom Boom" by Hooker.
I actually tried singing "Big Boss Man" by Jimmy Reed. You would have got a chuckle out of that noise. We rehearsed at P.G.'s house a few times but primarily most of the rehearsals were at my house. My parents loved the band and they let us rehearse in their living room . . . which was great. It got us out of the garage.
I hadn't heard Don sing before . . . mostly because he hadn't done much singing . . . maybe a little with Zappa down in Cucamonga. It was a little rough at first but the more we got into the blues material we could see that was the right direction for us. Vic [Mortensen] was brought in because P.G. had problems with timing on the type of songs we were doing. I think it was all new to him and he just wasn't into it like we were.
The first live show was at a hall called The Exposition Hall in Lancaster. As I recall we were well received except they looked at us a bit strange because we were growing our hair out and playing music that wasn't in the top 40's.
Frank and I would sit around in the studio [...]. We got to playing on the character of Captain Beefheart, and I had already met Don, and I knew who he was, although he didn't call himself that, he was only going to be cast into that character if the screenplay ever got done. Anyway, Captain Beefheart was supposed to be a magical character. His thing is what he could do if a (container) of Pepsi were opened, he would drink the Pepsi Cola and he could make magic things . . . he could appear or disappear. I told Frank, I said, hey wouldn't if be cool if Captain Beefheart had a Magic Band, and wherever he went, if he wanted the band to appear, he would drink a glug of Pepsi, and "BINGO" there's the band right behind him, 'jukin.' We had a laugh about it and he thought it was pretty clever and blah blah.
Now, Don wasn't there at the time, but about three days later, a few days later I was down in Montclair—I was living in Montclair at the time—I got a call from Don. He said, "I'm starting a band. Would you like to play in it?" and I said, "I think that's cool"—because we had all played together and we knew we could work together. And I said, "What are you gonna call the band?" And he said, "Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band" and I said, "Far out!" I didn't even discuss it . . . I am sure he had heard it—the only place he could have heard it—was from Frank.
At the time we were starting this blues band, Don came up from Cucamonga. I was on the phone with Alex or Don, one of the two, and they said, "Well, we've got a name for the band, Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band" . . . I just cracked up laughing, man.
So when I went up to Lancaster, I got my drums in the VW bus and off I go [...]. Anyway, I got up to Lancaster and that is when we started rehearsing at Jerry's house.
"He was in a band with Frank Zappa called Captain Beefheart," Karen [Luly] said. "He wasn't that good on bass guitar."
You know, at one time Elwood Jr. Madeo tried up for Captain Beefheart's band. But it didn't work.
[Junior Madeo] auditioned to become a member of the Trout Mask band just after Snouffer left and prior to Bill Harkleroad joining.
[...] Frank [Zappa] suggested a guy to Don that went way back to their days in the desert. He was known as Junior Madeo and he lived in the Bay Area. Frank flew him down for a few days. Junior stayed with us. It was a totally different atmosphere in the house having him there. Don was, of course, on his best behavior. There were no tantrums and none of the tension that usually existed in the house. Junior was a balding jazz player who sounded a lot like Joe Pass. He had a similar kind of guitar as I recall—a red Gibson 335—actually very much like the guitar Jerry [Handley] sold to Ry Cooder.
My impression was that he did not at all fit in to the style of music in looks, personality or style. He was technically really a good player, but it was all rapid-fire scales and flat pick strumming and soloing. He taught Jeff [Cotton] and Jerry a number of exercises and ways to improve their playing and I had the feeling that he probably made part of his living by giving private lessons. He was a very likeable guy, and the time he spent with us was inspiring in some ways and in others, it was just going through the motions of him being there for a few days. I knew he wasn't the guy. He left unceremoniously with a promise of "we'll be in touch."
[...] Jeff and I got together and talked after Madeo flew home, which was in June of 1968. Don was willing to give him a try, but Jeff and I felt that Junior was completely wrong for the band, although we all liked him. It was at this time, in the true tradition that "misery loves company," that Jeff and I cast our votes for Bill Harkleroad as Alex Snouffer's replacement.
At the same time he was rehearsing with Beefheart, he recorded a few tracks with FZ, along with members of both The Mothers and the Magic Band.
El plays lead guitar, formed and was the leader of the Ramblers. [...] Those were memorable days, we were all so young in many ways. Frank had a lot of respect for Junior as a guitarist. Years later Frank flew him from San Francisco to Los Angeles several times for album recording session.
The sessions we did at Whitney for Trout Mask Replica were great! We had a wonderful time. Later, when the Zappa thing folded up and I was getting ready to leave L.A., Don says, "When I do my next album I want you to record it!" I said, "Great, I'd love to!" He says, "OK, I'll send for you." I kind of forgot that, and time went by—six months to a year. All of a sudden I get this call from Don, "Come on out—I'm making a new album and I still want you to do it." So I got on a plane and flew out there.
A side note here—Herbie Cohen told me, "OK, when you're doing these sessions we need you to be 'our man' in there. Beefheart has a way of wasting studio. So without upsetting him, we want you to kinda keep things moving so it doesn't get needlessly expensive." Great. So now I had two roles.
We got into the recording studio at the Record Plant. We were working on stuff, getting some tracks down, and things were going along fine. It was day three or four. We were working on a track and Don was asking me for some kind of really special "locomotive" sound on his voice. We were experimenting with multiple microphones and strange placements and stuff. It got to a point where I had to make a mild but obvious executive decision like, "Let's move on, we're spending too much time on this" or "Let's keep it rolling." It wasn't a big deal. Well, Beefheart exploded! Went ballistic on me! Suddenly it was, "I'm the boss here and you have nothing to say about this! Who do you think you are? You're done, you're fired, get out of here, beat it!" Wow, this is a guy I'd been real close friends with up until that instant. I never did understand that—that was that! I went to see Herbie, got paid in full, and went home! And Don and I haven't spoken since. To this day I have no idea what that was all about.
In 1975, Frank Zappa was on tour. One of the people on the tour was Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet, who I've known since I met him in 1964 with Frank. They passed through El Paso on tour and I went and sat in with them. I got talking to Don and he mentioned that he was going to Europe later that Summer and asked if I would play drums for him. So officially, I joined the Magic Band in the Summer of 1975. We played the Knebworth festival in England and several other gigs, the last of which was at The Roxy in Los Angeles—and that's when I left. I couldn't really handle it. I loved playing with him, I learned how to play the drums backwards and he was a fun guy to play with but, he didn't have that much work and I wasn't about to move back to California.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos