The Omens

c. 1958-1962—The Omens

FZ, interviewed by Jerry Hopkins, Rolling Stone, July 20, 1968

The [Blackouts] stayed together until everybody got to hate each other's guts. After that I left the group and it turned into the Omens, some of whom are now in the Mothers and some are with Captain Beefheart. Don Vliet (Captain Beefheart) was in the band. [...]

Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood I've known 12 years. We were in high school in Lancaster together. He used to play baritone sax in the Omens. He has the ability to perform a dance known as the bug, which resembles an epileptic fit.

Jim Motorhead Sherwood, interviewed by Billy James, T'Mershi Duween, June, 1993

Frank and [his brother] Bobby moved down to Ontario, and I started playing with the band [the former Blackouts]. We called it The Omens, and I was with them for quite a while. [...]

I did some recording with the Omens. We did a couple of vocalist back-ups that were unknown singers. [...]

The only really interesting things that I had with recording was in the very early days with the Omens. We'd go into the studio, and everyone would set up and play in one room, with the singer off in a booth with a window where he could look out. While we're playing, I'd have to give the singer signals to tell him when to start singing, and when to stop. They only had a couple of mikes that they set up and we all jammed at the same time.

Alex Snouffer, Grow Fins booklet, 1999

Then, I teamed up with (Terry) Wimberly (keyboardist). We formed the Omens ('58 or '59 through '62), essentially. I was LEAD guitar, right? (Laughs.) Then of course, the Salazar Brothers, Fred played horn and Wally, his brother played guitar, so me and Wally were an act. We had Stan Mitchell, and Fred Salazar and Pete Lovio, on tenor. Had Gary Burkey on alto, Jim Sherwood on baritone, David Griego [Grieco] on trumpet, Frank Lynch on trombone. And Pat Prue on drums . . . (We played) early Rhythm and Blues.

[...] After about four years with the Omens, it just fell apart. I worked in Lake Tahoe for a couple of years ('62-'64) and then came back into Lancaster, that's when I started Beefheart.

Alex Snouffer, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 44-45

I teamed up with (Terry) Wimberly (keyboardist). [...] We formed The Omens, essentially. [...] I was on guitar, I was LEAD (tongue in cheek) guitar, right? Then of course, the Salazar Brothers, Fred played horn and Wally, his brother, played guitar, so me and Wally were an act. Then, pretty soon, we got Pete Lovio and Stan Mitchell and David [Grieco].

[...] We had Stan Mitchell, and Fred Salazar and Pete Lovio, on tenor, Gary Burkey on alto, Jim Sherwood on baritone, David [Grieco] on trumpet, and Frank Lynch on trombone. So, we had a pretty good power section there.


Down on Cedar Street, they had this place—I don't know what it is now, but it's still there, but at that time it used to be the community hall. It was right around the fire station and the cop shop and all that, you know. It held like fifty people or something. Well, the Topos—remember that old gang?—they decided to throw a gig and since (The Omens) were the only band in town and we only knew maybe a dozen songs (laughing), we played those all night. That was the very beginnings of The Omens, a scratch band. They gave us twenty-five dollars and a case of beer—for the whole band. We thought that was some pretty sharp shit.

Pete Lovio, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 77

The one guy, though that just didn't get enough credit for all that was Alex. Alex was another Frank Zappa. He was the one that kept us together. Man, if you made a mistake, he'd get pissed off. He would make sure that you had your rhythm licks on and you were doing it right. Alex knew what he was doing. He was good. He had a great ear. He was the one that kept us together more than Terry (Wimberly). I thought Alex was more the leader than Terry.

Charles Ulrich, August 23, 2014

I talked with John Franklin on the phone. [...] Stan "Corky" Mitchell played tenor saxophone in The Omens.

Jim Sherwood, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 44

Terry Wimberly asked me later on if I wanted to play horn in a band and I said, "Sure, but I can't play anything! I can't play shit." He says, "Well, get a saxophone and we'll teach you how to play it." I went out and got a tenor sax.

Jerry Handley, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 46

I first saw Alex [Snouffer], before I met him was when he was playing with a band called The Omens. They were a takeoff from The Blackouts that Frank Zappa had. I think that Zappa's band was in the late fifties. [...] They had horns, and R&B thing like an Art Laboe type of thing. [...] I was in High School, like in my freshmen year, 13, 14. I went to their dances. The Omens put on dances in Lancaster, shortly after The Blackouts did.

[...] The Omens had two tenors, a trombone; they had Terry Wimberly playing piano who I later played in a group with, and Alex on guitar. [...] (Also they had) a drummer, named Pat Prue, a white-haired albino kinda guy who was phenomenal. Pat (later) died of cancer. They had a phenomenal band, it was fantastic. They had this thing called "The Bug" that they did. They jumped all over the stage pretending they had this bug in their hand. [...]

That's where I'd seen Alex, in fact he was called "Butch" at that time—"Butch" Snouffer.

Jim Sherwood, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 358

Butch Snouffer—he changed it later on to Alex St. Clair. It's not Alex, it never has been Alex, it was always Butch. [...] He was already a guitarist with the Omens. Him and Wally Salazar were the guitar players, Terry (Wimberly) was keyboards . . .

Doug Moon, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 47

After The Blackouts dissolved, The Omens were born, out of what was left of that—and that was the big band. I started to hang out with those guys. Pat Prue was the drummer in The Omens. Johnny Franklin was in that band too.

John French, Grow Fins booklet, 1999

Jerry Handley, according to Doug [Moon] played lead guitar for the Omens for a spell, replacing Alex. Doug [Moon] met up with Handley during this period. It was about this time that Frank came into temporary possesion of a five-track recording studio in Cucamonga. He named it Studio Z.

Jerry Handley, interviewed by Steve Froy, Captain Beefheart Radar Station, July 5, 2014

I first saw Alex [Snouffer] playing in a band called the Omens in 1962 I believe. They were a big RnB band with organ, sax and trombone. They sounded great. I met some of the younger brothers of the guys in the band and we started a younger version of the Omens. Frank Zappa also had his band called the Blackouts back then. They also sounded great. So we had some excellent bands to hear live at the various halls around town. I was 4 years younger then Alex and Don so I didn't actually meet them till later.

[Studio Z] was actually the first place I recorded anything. It was before I had got together with Don. I believe it was an incarnation of the Omens' band. Frank would come up to the desert for jam sessions at my parents' house and invited us down to Cucamonga to record in his new studio.

I remember the song we recorded was "The Death March Rock." Wouldn't that be great to hear now?

John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 59-60

Jerry Handley: [...] We did a recording in (Frank's) studio of the Death March, rock'n'roll style. I'd recorded down there; I don't remember who all was in the band as a matter of fact. It was with horns, I think it was with Alex. One of our bands with all of the horns in it did the "Death March" down in Frank's studio. [...] A rock version of the "Death March," everyone should have one. It was my first experience recording.

[Wally Salazar:] Yes, we did, he's right (laughter).

Bettie Rencoret, Daily News, February 20, 2004

"[FZ] didn't forget his friends," said Pete Lovio, a retired Los Angeles County worker who still gives music lessons. "He wrote a lot of his own music and some for the movies. After he wrote the soundtrack for a movie called 'Run Home Slow,' he took some of the money and bought a small recording studio. Then he got all us Omens together and made our first recording."

[...] [Johnny] Franklin played first with The Blackouts, then The Omens, then—in order—Cisco's Bits of Rhythm, Jimmy Reingold Largoes, the Village Inn House Band and finally, as back-up guitarist, for the Johnny Morrisette Band. His instruments included the saxophone, guitar and electric bass.

[...] Part of the The Omens' stage act was a routine called "the bug dance"—tossing an imaginary insect around to each other as they played.

"What it was: We'd want to jazz up the action, you know, keep the performance from getting too cut and dried. You had to have a gimmick," said Fred Salazar, who now works for the Southern California Edison Co. "We could almost see that bug, and we'd sometimes get so carried away we'd fall over the edge of the bandstand."

The Omens wanted to stand out, so they dressed uniformly in long-sleeve white shirts with black vests, black pants and black jackets.

"We really loved those jackets. I still had mine until recently," said Pete Lovio.

The Omens all were in a band class at Antelope Valley High School.

"Most of us couldn't afford to buy our own instruments, so we joined the band, because we could borrow whatever instrument we wanted to play, and it was ours for the whole time we stayed in the class," Fred Lovio said.

They always had at least eight instruments on stage and in addition to Zappa, Franklin, the Lovios and the Salazars, the group included Jim Sherwood, Pat Prue, Terry Wimberly and Don Van Vliet—with maybe a few other people on standby.

Van Vliet did vocals as part of Zappa's bands at least through 1964, then went on to make a name for himself in rock music as Captain Beefheart.

Pete Lovio, now a Santa Clarita Valley resident, played tenor sax with The Omens and has never ceased to play, though not lately with an organized band.

Ralph Denyer, "2000 Mots," Sound International, April/May, 1979

[FZ] recorded a band called the Omens at his studio (whose members went on to form both the Mothers and Captain Beefheart's band) but the track called "Death March" was never actually released.

Gary Burkey, The Captain Beefheart Radar Station, April 15, 2008

I played with "Butch" [Snouffer], the Salazar brothers, Terry Wimberly, Don van Vliet, Jim Sherwood, et al as a drummer in one of "The Omens" iterations prior to joining the Navy in the fall of 1960.

Sharva Maynard, February 13, 2007

I sang with the Omens during their time together . . . Many gigs around Antelope Valley in 1960-62. Jim Sherwood used to borrow my hairspray as we'd cruise out toward Pearblossom, Littlerock or some other obscure little burg around the valley. We did R&B, and "Louie Louie" was my song . . . can't remember how many times I sang THAT one. Terry Wimberly was on keyboards with Jim (I guess they called him Motorhead later) Sherwood on sax, with Fred of the Salazar brothers on sax too and Wally Salazar on guitar. Alex (we called him "Butch") Snoufer [Snouffer] on lead guitar. Pat Prue was the drummer later on. I remember Don Vliet played too and we rehearsed in everyone's garage we could get our hands on. Loved it . . . [...] I remember the first time I sang with them they passed the hat after so I could get a little "bread" for my effort. I think they came up with ten bucks. Wow! . . . but I was all of sixteen or so then and thought the world was sweet indeed! That was at the old Exhibition Hall at the fairgrounds.

John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 63

Apparently, Vliet (as he was known then) was not considered to be much of a saxophone player and had been purportedly kicked out of The Omens after a single rehearsal—according to Snouffer. [...]

John French: So, you're saying that Don sang with The Omens for a while and he played sax a little bit?
Pete Lovio: Well, he tried and he came along with us. A couple of times he got on stage with us.
JF: With a sax?
PL: I saw him with an alto sax. He would come in there with an alto sax. Of course, he always had the harmonica.
JF: Could he play? (Referring to the sax).
Wally Salazar/Pete Lovio: (in unison) Aaah, no. (Laughter)
PL: That's why Alex Snouffer would chase him away, cause all he would do was honk while we were practicing.

Freak Out In Cucamonga (extras)

Freak Out In Cucamonga

The End Of The Omens

Alex Snouffer, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 47

One thing led to another, after about four years with The Omens . . . we all went our separate ways, and consequently, everything busted up and I just kicked around. [...] Things just sort of went as things do, guys were getting married and all that, they had other responsibilities besides partying, know what I mean? It was basically a party-gang-band.


c. 1963-1964—The Solid Senders

Jerry Handley, interviewed by Steve Froy, Captain Beefheart Radar Station, July 5, 2014

I don't really remember when I met Alex [Snouffer], but we started a band called the Solid Senders '63 or '64. We played around town for extra beer and gas money. Alex went to Lake Tahoe for a while and when he got back we got together and wanted to start another band. Doug Moon and I had been hanging out together and he was learning to play guitar. He also loved Blues.

[...] There was a guy who sang in that band named Terry Wimberly. Who if Don hadn't come along would have probably been the singer for our new incarnation of a band. We had no idea where or if the band was going anywhere. We just wanted to play.

Most the songs we did back then were instrumentals. However, Terry was a good blues singer, but Don was the real deal when he came along. All this was happening around the same time period.

John French, Grow Fins booklet, 1999

My father had worked with Doug Moon at North American Aircraft Co. I believe. Doug used to come by and try to get me to go to jam sessions with him. I don't even know who was playing, but I imagine it was guys from the old Omens band, a rhythm and blues group Alex Snouffer and Terry Wimberley had started. Jerry played guitar for them later before switching to bass.

John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 48-49

John French: Didn't you have a band with Jerry before you went to Tahoe called The Solid Senders for a while, and that's kind of where you and Jerry got to know each other?
Alex Snouffer: Oh yeah, that was sort of our "blues/surf band" (laughs) I'm not kidding you. [...] That was about early '63 or something. [...] It only lasted about six months, then I took off.

[...] Doug Moon: [...] There was an old R&B tune and it had a line in it "she was a real solid sender" I think it was a Little Richard tune. So they took that little catch phrase. I don't know what happened with the name The Omens, I think they had to retire that name.

[...] Jerry Handley: We had some horns too then. There was tenor and trombone. Some of the old guys from The Omens would come in and out. In fact, we'd go out to Sun Village. We played out there. Zappa had out there and played a few times also.

Charles Ulrich, January 6, 2015

Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'" (1956) includes the line "Oh Melinda, she's a solid sender". But the expression is considerably older. For instance, in the film Ball Of Fire (1941), Gary Cooper writes it down while he's collecting slang.


Lake Tahoe

John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 47, 49-50

Jim Sherwood moved to Lake Tahoe with a friend named Bill Hunter. Their plans had first included Las Vegas where Bill's father lived. The young Hunter apparently "flipped out one night" according to Jim, and had a disagreement with his father which motivated them to make a quick exit to Lake Tahoe.

[...] Alex [Snouffer] joined Bill Hunter and Jim Sherwood in Lake Tahoe, in a cabin they were sharing with a Native American described only as "an Indian kid."

[...] Because of [an] incident, [the police] strongly persuaded Alex, Bill and Jim to all leave town.

[...] Snouffer and Sherwood also had a disagreement over a mutual lady friend, which ended in them parting company on less than tranquil terms. [...] Jim then went to visit Frank who was now living in Ontario, near a little town named Cucamonga.

Alex Snouffer, quoted by John French, Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, 2010, p. 47

[...] I went and worked in Tahoe for a couple years and then came back into town and that's when I started Beefheart.



Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
This page updated: 2020-02-25