Old Fart At Play by Jack Keck

Here Jack Keck tells just why this song means so much to him….

Hi, I’m a civil servant in the greater Detroit area. I am married and have a son who is 13 years old. My first exposure to Captain Beefheart was when I heard “The Clouds are full of Wine…” on the radio (It was on WABX for anybody who may be familiar with Detroit radio on the late sixties-early seventies). I did not think much of it at the time.

Maybe a year or so later, (about summer, 1973) I was at the house of some friends listening to records. One of the guys played “Abba Zaba”. I enjoyed it and asked another one of the guys who were living in the house to play it again for me. Instead, he played “The Old Fart at Play”. At that time, I had enjoyed Zappa and thought that I had evolved a taste for cutting edge music, but I had no idea of what to make of this. I was in total shock.

A week later, I was in a local record store buying a copy of Safe as Milk.

Obviously, it didn’t stop there. I wound up with all of the Captain’s albums, including two bootlegs, and a video. I even got to see him in concert three times. “The Old Fart…” has become one of my favourite songs. It’s what my grandmother called my grandfather, so there’s a sentimental attachment. What can I say?

The high point of any of the concerts was when the Captain performed “The Old Fart…” during a concert in Detroit after Shiny Beast came out. Naturally, I can’t remember the name of the hall. Many people in the audience were shouting out requests, and I was no exception. It had reached a point where the people who were with me were threatening me with great bodily harm if I didn’t stop with my loud requests when the Captain picked up a large blue book, and he and the band performed my song.

Two years later, when Doc at the Radar Station was released, The Captain was performing at Harpo’s, also in Detroit. Both Moris Tepper and Midnight Hatsize Snyder had broken strings on both of their guitars. When Snyder’s second guitar became disabled, his entire expression changed. Up to that point, he had been very animated. He very deliberately took the broken string, wound in into a circle about ten inches or so in diameter, and flung it Frisbee-style into the audience. I had stopped my incessant pounding on the table and had my hands folded in front of me. I never felt a thing as the string landed across my folded hands. I saw it moments later when I happened to look in that direction during the break in the action while the guitars were being restrung. I still have that string somewhere. The band played Dr. Dark and Tepper played “One Red Rose That I Mean” once one of the guitars was ready.

I’ve done all that I can to turn the rest of my friends and acquaintances on to the Captain, with little to show for my efforts. My mother, who would listen to ANYTHING said that it was a shame that the Captain couldn’t accept the art scholarship because you can’t put a statue on the turntable. This was a woman who bought her own Muddy Waters records after I introduced her to him, and was caught playing my sister’s Jethro Tull albums. I have made lots of tapes for people, but usually get little reaction. But I’m not giving up.

Presently, I have just discovered the Internet, having been hooked up a little less than two months ago. I have been more than amazed by what is available here about the Captain. I have often visited this site as well as Home Page Replica and Electricity. I have also subscribed to the alt.fan.captainbeefheart newsgroup. It has been almost as much fun as listening to the music.

-Jack Keck


  1. Update: I retired from my civil service job and took up bass guitar. I have performed “The Old Fart at Play” at open mics in the suburban NW Detroit area.

  2. hi Jack,

    Nice stories you have there about Captain.
    i, after listening to jazz, rock, blues and carnatic classical music turned to the Captain last month for “nirvana”. I had read about his albums on the internet(all day in office) and was eager to get home and download them. I was stuck in office till around 10pm so i asked my bro to do it. We had a bus to catch to our home town that night at 11. i rushed home, copied the songs of trout mask replica(only 80% was completed) and ran to the bus. heard it on the bus before sleeping. it was the best thing in music i had ever heard! acutely random wreck. .somthing i had imagined since being a child!

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