Sunday, August 26, 2007

Snakefinger's History Of The Blues - Live In Europe

Our first offering is a slightly belated memorial to the late Philip Charles "Snakefinger" Lithman (Jun 17, 1949 - Jul 1, 1987). The fact that you even stumbled on this blog in the first place means that I probably need not to bother with rehashing the perfectly adequate bios available here, and here, or any of the info linked via least two different MySpace tribute pages.

I was fortunate enough to see Snakefinger play on three occasions -- once with his most notorious collaborators, The Residents, on their 13th Anniversary Tour, and twice with his own band, The Vestal Virgins. One show in particular cut a deep, jagged and permanent groove into my nascent musical consciousness, a Ralph records package tour in 1986 that also included the largely forgotten band Rhythm & Noise and guitarrorist Eugene Chadbourne. Excited by the prospect of seeing Snakefinger's own band for the first time, I dragged my girlfriend at the time down to Chicago's Vic theatre at least a couple hours early, convinced that our unreserved seats would surely put us at the far back end of the room once the place reached sellout capacity. In fact, we arrived so early that soundcheck was commencing, so we sat ourselves down right in front of the stage where, to our surprise, no one even looked at us askance. The run-through was dazzling so we guarded our seats with our lives, sure that a standing-room-only crowd would soon form around us.

As the witching hour approached, the most adventurous musical ears in Chicago has gathered in that room. It was a spectacle that left us dumbfounded: by showtime there were at least.... fifteen people in the audience -- maybe even seventeen! Actually, to this day it leaves me dumbfounded. Less than two fistfuls of audience were present, but that did nothing to deter the Virgins, who treated the faithful to a blistering yet intimate, full-length and full-energy set. And oh, how it fried my little brain. I'm sure the poor promoters took a bath, and I can't help but wonder how the band members felt that night, or remember it now; but after a lifetime of literally thousands of concerts and performances of all stripes, it remains one of my all-time favorites. Maybe you had to be there, but I've always wanted to thank everyone involved for that night, and whenever I've met anyone responsible for it, I've done so. By some small miracle the show was videotaped, so you can see a couple samples for yourself:

The Model (yes, it's a Kraftwerk cover):

Trashing All The Loves Of History:

But I digress.

In the years after his death, all of Snakefinger's recordings have been made available again in one form or another (if only intermittently) -- the aforementioned show was released on CD and VHS, and even a Chilli Willi rarities set materialized a while back. But one recording has remained elusive. In 1984, Rough Trade Germany released a limited-edition document of Snakefinger's History Of The Blues tour, which played a handfull of dates in Europe and the US the previous year. How scarce is this little gem? Well, when it was released, I held a copy in my hands at Rave On records in Glen Ellyn, IL, but for some unfathomable reason, did not buy it. And that, dear friends, was the last copy I ever laid eyes on. Anywhere. No one I know -- and I know some world-class vinyl fetishists, let me tell you -- possesses this album. For over twenty years I've searched for a copy, to no avail. But! Lo and behold! Thanks the Interwebs, I recently lucked into a full set of mp3s, ripped from a good-condition vinyl copy, which I humbly present to you here, including artwork scans, no less. I've even included a bonus track not found on the original LP, a cover of Elmore James' It Hurts Me Too that only surfaced on the Vestal Virgins' original Night Of Desirable Objects CD in 1986, and a UWEB ("Uncle Willie's Eyeball Buddies", an early-90s Residents fan club) Snakefinger tribute CD, both long out of print.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lithman. You are sorely missed.


Anonymous said...

they did a misaerable job of promoting that show. i didn't hear about it untill after it happened. i was really bummed.

me and someone who isn't here to defend herself saw Snakefinger at a small club, and again at the 13th anniversary show, which was magical. he sat next to someone who was blattering on about Snakefinger being a huge rock star in england...

Anonymous said...

sorry, that should have read "we sat next..."

Festus Von Gunsmoke said...

I do wonder what kind of following Snakefinger had in Europe back then, especially as it seems like Chilli Willi made at least a small dent there. I'm sure the promoters were to blame to a large degree for the meager Chicago turnout; his next gig there was packed to capacity.

Eric said...

Here in Belgium, we didn't know about Mr. Lithman until the reissue of the Resident's Satisfaction in 1978, at the same time as his own single 'The Spot' ... no one here knew Chilli Willi back then

schlep said...

I didn't know this existed! What a treat - can't wait to give it a 'spin', many thanks!!

Erik said...

Oh man, thanks for posting this! What a gem. I saw Snakefinger play at a dance club here in Vancouver in June '85, but know his mostly by his stuff with the Residents.

Anonymous said...

oh gosh, i could kiss you for this snakefinger! this is indeed a very rare gem, i searched for this for many years now - in 2nd hand shops, mailorder, and on the webnet - no way!

oooh, am i excited.
thanks a lot,

Dieter said...

Usually I am not fanatic regarding finding music.

However this history of the blues record I tried to find since their first concert in Linz (I unfortunately only saw the the last minutes of the "main part" of the concert but they played almost 10 bonus tracks). As far as I remember the Austrian radio recorded the performance in the "Stattwerkstatt" and braodcasted parts - but I was not able to get this record.

Thank you very very much

Regards from Linz/ Austria

IMI said...

Many, many thanks to you. You've preserved a real gem.

TBo said...

Thanks very much for posting the LP link. I've been looking for a copy of this LP for a long time...been a Snakefinger fan since the early days of Ralph Records and went to all his Chicago shows.
Thanks again!

J.R. said...

Wow....Many thanks for The Holy Grail of MP3s - I did buy the album when I came across at my local Montreal store - and also saw Snakefinger Live at Club Soda with a handful of fans just a few months before he passed.
Cheers from Montreal

Anonymous said...

You have no idea how much this means to me... have been searching for this album for a long time, only to watch a handful slip past me on eBay... Snakefinger reissues, anyone?

Anonymous said...

oh my... i have this on vinyl but no way to rip my treasured vinyl to CD... and no more record player...

The classic line in the cover notes is something like "the only concession to technology in this recording is that it is in stereo"

Wonderful recording and one of my favorite blues albums of all time.

Snakey is still missed, and if this ever issued on CD I will by glad to buy it. Amazing musician.

Anonymous said...

I have the History record, and I have Snakey Wake on cd

Anonymous said...

Here it is's

Anonymous said...

Cheers for sharing... x

Uncle Ash > MIA said...

One of my few regrets is missing a show at Green Street Sta./JP (BOS/MA).

... thanks for the rip!


ash >

Anonymous said...

Just found you whilst trawling, when supposed to be trying to do some work.
Always been a fan of the Chillies since 70s.

Got various things on vinyl.

Have got a copy of most cherished History of the Blues, found it in Brussels in the record store that I think is close to the Bourse. Saw it, had to have have it haggled and walked out with it.
Paid a lot and didnt tell my wife.

Caps doffed to Snakefinger