Philip Charles Lithman (17 June 1949 – 1 July 1987), who performed under the stage name Snakefinger, was an English musician, singer and songwriter. A multi-instrumentalist, he was best known for his guitar and violin work and his collaborations with The Residents.
Lithman was born in Tooting, South London, and came from the British Blues scene. He moved to San Francisco in 1971 and became associated with the avant-garde group The Residents. It is said he was given the name ‘Snakefinger’ by The Residents themselves based on a photograph of Lithman performing, in which his finger looks like a snake about to attack his violin.
In 1972 Lithman returned to England and formed the pub rock band Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers with Martin Stone, ex-member of Mighty Baby and a fellow ex-member of Junior’s Blues Band. As a duo, they released the album Kings of Robot Rhythm. In 1974, as a full band and popular live act in Britain, they released Bongos Over Balham.
Chilli Willi lasted until 1975, their last record not selling well, and by 1976 Lithman was back in the United States, this time in Los Angeles, California, seeking a recording contract, shopping his rock-style demos.
After a few years, Lithman moved back to San Francisco, reconnected with The Residents, and performed and recorded with them. Lithman’s solo records, recorded under the name Snakefinger, were released by their record label Ralph Records.
His first album on Ralph was Chewing Hides the Sound in 1979, featuring original material co-written with The Residents as well as esoteric covers like Kraftwerk’s “The Model”. The songs showcased Lithman’s distinctive slide guitar playing and often surreal imagery. This album was followed by Greener Postures in 1980, which included his first solo compositions as Snakefinger.
While on tour in Australia in 1980, Lithman had a heart attack that left him hospitalized for six months.
In 1982 Lithman formed his backing band The Vestal Virgins with former Captain Beefheart sideman Eric Drew Feldman. Snakefinger and The Vestal Virgins released Manual of Errors on Ralph in 1982. This was followed by the blues cover album Snakefinger’s History of the Blues: Live in Europe in 1984 and a new collection of largely original material in 1986 called Night of Desirable Objects.
Lithman performed with The Residents on their 13th Anniversary Tour in 1986. On 1 July 1987, Snakefinger and his band, The Vestal Virgins, arrived in Linz, Austria, on the European Night tour. On the next morning – before his scheduled performance in the Posthof Club, he was found dead in a guestroom of the Posthof: Lithman had suffered a fatal heart attack. On the day of his death, 1 July 1987, his single, “There’s No Justice in Life”, was released.