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Welcome to Never Ever Land

What a weird, weird week — a week that's convinced me Houston has to be the coolest big city that bestrides this North American continent. Hurricane Ike knocked us on our ass, no doubt. Thick shards of blown-out glass still litter some downtown sidewalks and parking lots, most of the area still doesn't have power (as of this writing, that is) and the city's arboreal population has been devastated.

Still, from what I can gather from the Houston Press's excellent online coverage (and elsewhere), Houston has picked itself up off the canvas and taken both Ike and aftermath in its considerable stride. (Galveston, sadly, hasn't been quite as ­fortunate.)

It's day five of no power here at Noise HQ above the Continental Club, and as much as things are out of whack, I've been having a blast. I've got candles, ice, batteries, beer, food and water, and last night I had something called "ham spread" for dinner. It was delicious.

Best of all, though, I've been spending the past few candlelit nights delving deep into the hot smoke and sassafras of Never Ever Land: 83 Texan Nuggets from International Artists Records 1965-1970, which has pretty much made the time warp ­complete.

Released on Dutch label Charly in April (limited copies are available at Cactus Music), the three-disc set totals about three-and-a-half hours of vintage psych, garage, proto-punk, folk, pop, blues, country and a whole lotta Beatlemania, all of it originating between the Red and Rio Grande and released on the Houston-based label. It's glorious.

Founded in 1965, International Artists had a fair amount of regional success during its run, enough to keep afloat (sometimes barely) through the mid and late '60s, but it didn't achieve its present revered status until after it filed for bankruptcy in early 1971. Patti Smith Group guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye lit the fuse when he included the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" on the original Nuggets compilation in 1972.

In retrospect, IA did as much (if not more) to put psychedelic music on the map as Love's Arthur Lee or the Byrds' Roger McGuinn, if not quite as much as San Franciscans the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane. Certainly not as much as Brits Lennon-McCartney, Ray Davies and Pete Townshend, but man, what an incredible talent pool IA owner (for most of the label's run, anyway) Lelan Rogers — known outside psych circles as Kenny's older brother, who passed away in 2002 — had to drain.

Even if the only Thirteenth Floor Elevator you can pick out of a police lineup is Roky Erickson, you may be somewhat aware that Texas is kind of a big deal in ­psychedelic circles, thanks to other IA bands like Bubble Puppy, the Red Crayola (later Krayola) and the Golden Dawn. Those groups' lasting influence is readily apparent in the current psych revival led by the likes of Black Mountain, Austin's Black Angels, the Warlocks and Dark Meat, not to mention a whole host of artists at this weekend's Austin City Limits Music Festival — everyone from headliners Beck and the Raconteurs to Okkervil River, Fleet Foxes, Spiritualized and Erickson himself.

It certainly shouldn't come as a shock that Texas has done so well on the freak scene. It's kind of what we're known for. Throw the weather, the cowboy attitude, Texans' healthy appetite for mood-­altering substances and the often, um, extreme reaction by Johnny Law to anything remotely countercultural — police took apart the Elevators' equipment to the last tube in more than one nightclub parking lot — and you're gonna get some good music. But so much? Eighty songs' worth, with hardly a dud in the bunch?

Writing a drug-seasoned, lovesick rock and roll song full of jangly guitars — and, just as often, horns and/or bizarre sound effects — must not be all that difficult, because Never Ever Land makes it seem like that's all young Texan males were doing in the late '60s, provided they weren't playing football or getting drafted.

"[The] San Francisco sound did not start there," Lelan Rogers tells UK punk journalist Jon Savage (England's Dreaming) in an exclusive interview in Never Ever Land's liner notes. "It started in Texas — in Houston, Texas."

Come take a little trip with me...

Disc One: Garage — The Texan Earthquake

Garage rock as we know it today more or less began with Erickson's primal scream on the Elevators' 1966 classic "You're Gonna Miss Me," but the other members deserve their share of credit too: Tommy Hall, with his fluttering electric jug — "I think they got different tones out of it from different levels of grass," Rogers says — human-dynamo drummer John, um, Ike Walton and guitarist Stacy Sutherland, whose wicked R&B licks ignite the screaming "Fire Engine" and harp-happy "Tried to Hide." No Elevators, no Stooges — it's that simple.

Elsewhere, the British Invasion is in full effect. Of course IA housed its share of Beatlemaniacs — the Chaynes on "See It Thru," the Patterns on "In My Own Time" — but just as much, its roster was stocked with obvious Kinks fans. Foremost was Houston quartet Thursday's Children (formerly the Druids), whose brilliant "Air Conditioned Man," urgent "Help, Murder, Police" and lush "You Can Forget About That" are all dedicated followers of Ray Davies's fashion.

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