The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators & 10 Early Texas Psych Bands You Should Know
Forty-six years ago today, rock and roll got a hell of a lot weirder in the state of Texas. On Nov. 30, 1966, Austin garage band The 13th Floor Elevators released their The Psychedelic Sounds Of album on Houston's International Artists label. Powered by the raw, fluttering classic "You're Gonna Miss Me," the record helped fuel an acid explosion in rock from Buffalo Bayou to San Francisco Bay.
This is a record that still sounds edgy and unbound today. In 1966, it must have sounded shocking.
The Elevators were on the bleeding edge of a new psychedelic movement, and the influence of LSD shown through clearly in the album's name, sound and artwork. Though the deepest reaches of inner space remained largely unexplored by rock and roll at the time, intrepid LSD explorer Tommy Hall helped infuse the group with his lysergic philosophy and pioneered usage of the electric jug, the hooting instrument that gave the record its appealingly strange sound.
More than a few micrograms of magic ink have been spilled in the Houston Press and other outlets in recent years about the Elevators and their dynamic frontman, Roky Erickson. As one of the touchstone bands of the early days of psychedelic rock, it's no stretch to say that they tower over Texas' lively psych scene, as much now as then. Even those of us raised on rap and metal know the Elevators.
But what about the other Texas trippers who followed in their wake?
Unless you're a counterculture survivor or a serious record collector, it stands to reason that you might not be familiar with the likes of Red Krayola, Shiva's Headband, Fever Tree and the other sonic adventurers who orbited the Elevators at clubs such as Houston's Love Street Light Circus and Austin's Vulcan Gas Company -- at least, I wasn't. The anniversary of the state's first real taste of psychedelia seemed a good occasion to dig in and learn more.
Turn on, keep hydrated and alert your trip sitter, because what follows is a novice's primer on Texas' earliest (and best) psychedelic sounds.
10. The Red Krayola In the wake of Psychedelic Sounds' success, International Artists reached out to the other leaders of the burgeoning Texas psych scene. Among the weirdest was Houston's Red Krayola. In 1967, the band released its first of two albums for the label: The Parable of Arable Land. It was one of, if not the most challenging rock records of the era.
Particularly notable are the album's free-form freakouts - cacophonous collages performed by a group of anonymous followers known as the Familiar Ugly. These convention-shattering pieces have led some to tab Red Krayola as Houston's first noise act.
9. Bubble Puppy After stumbling on to a phenomenon with "You're Gonna Miss Me," International Artists chased psychedelic chart hits for the remainder of the '60s. Their only other commercially successful single came in the form of "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" by San Antonio's Bubble Puppy.
The Hendrix-tinged hardness of the tune, combined with a sublimely fuzzy guitar tone, helped make it an acid-rock essential. The album built around it, A Gathering of Promises, is more of the same. It doesn't touch the weirdness of the Elevators or Krayola, but it rocks a damn sight harder.
8. Fever Tree A lot of psych-rock fans just assumed that Fever Tree was from the Bay Area, thanks to the band's modest hit "San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)" from 1968's self-titled album. Reasonable though that belief may have been, the Tree hailed from far muddier waters. The Spring Branch band was actually another staple of Houston's Love Street scene.
Incredibly, the band's organist, Rob Landes, recently unearthed an old reel-to-reel recording of the band's final gig at Mt. Carmel High School in 1969. The lost time-capsule tapes were released just last year as Fever Tree Live 1969. Talk about a flashback.
7. Moving Sidewalks Houston's Moving Sidewalks had a regional hit with their quasi-tribute to the Elevators, "99th Floor," but these days the group is best remembered as that band Billy Gibbons was in before ZZ Top. They were a bit better than that:
Moving Sidewalks was asked to open tours for psychedelic superstars like the Doors and Jimi Hendrix, who would later name Gibbons as one of his favorite guitarists. The music on the Sidewalks' 1968 album Flash is bluesy and appropriately odd, but be warned: It doesn't remotely resemble the chicken-fried boogie that Gibbons would perfect with ZZ. It's very "of the period," let's say.
Those of us who missed that period entirely are in luck. Moving Sidewalks' The Complete Collection box set was just released last month by Rockbeat Records.
6. Golden Dawn Austin's Golden Dawn wasn't just inspired by the 13th Floor Elevators, it was empowered by them, too. Dawn singer/guitarist George Kinney grew up with Roky Erickson in South Austin, and the lysergic wailer was instrumental in netting the band its International Artists deal after the Elevators broke through.
The influence of the Elevators is clearly evident on the group's sole IA album, 1968's Power Plant. For many psych fans, that's a good thing. The label failed to effectively promote the album on its release, however, and the band split not long after.
5. Shiva's Headband Not a lot of bands can claim to have had as large a hand in growing the Austin music scene as Shiva's Headband. The group was a regular act at the Vulcan Gas Company, the city's premiere psychedelic club that produced vivid posters and handbills highly sought by collectors today. Then when Vulcan closed down, Shiva's leader/violinist/guitarist/vocalist Spencer Perskin came up with the funds to help open the Armadillo World Headquarters.
As if that weren't enough, the band's Capitol Records debut, Take Me to the Mountain, made Shiva's Headband the first Austin band to release an album on a major label. Not bad, right? Rather than the spacier sounds of their contemporaries, the Headband stuck to a homegrown style of acid-tinged country rock, echoes of which can still be heard in the easy licks of many young Austin pickers to this day.
4. Conqueroo Like Shiva's Headband, Conqueroo wasn't strictly a psychedelic band. Their sound was a fusion of acid rock, blues, jazz and folk. The group's style and sensibility was weird enough to make them a favorite at the Vulcan Gas Company, however, where they shared bills with pretty much everybody on this list at one time or another.
If YouTube isn't enough for you, you can seek out Conqueroo's album, From the Vulcan Gas Company, which was partially recorded in the club.
3. Josefus Often tagged as Houston's first metal band, Josefus played a harder, darker brand of music closer to the acid-rock shenanigans of Iron Butterfly than the wild freakouts of the Elevators. The group came together over the course of a couple of gigs at Love Street, but legend has it that they were blackballed from the club after volatile drummer Doug Tull said some ungracious things onstage about the way International Artists treated its acts.
The best period recording of the band is 1970's independent release Dead Man. The record stood out enough to land the group a slot on a huge Grateful Dead bill at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1969. If you'd like to delve a little deeper, pick up 2002's Dead Man aLive, which includes an hour of previously unreleased live and studio recordings.
2. Lost and Found Houston's Lost and Found was another band in the Texas psych scene that was able to parlay a friendship with Roky Erickson into a deal with International Artists. After honing their sound during a a six-month residency at Houston's Living Eye Club, the band recorded its only album, Everybody's Here, in 1967. Wisely, it included a cover of the Elevators' "Don't Fall Down."
Like the Elevators, Lost And Found fancied themselves psychedelic explorers. According to some, one of the reasons the band signed with International Artists was because the label offered to have its lawyers help clear three of the band members of LSD-related charges.
Love Street Light Circus
1. The Starvation Army Band Now, here's one that remains a bit of a mystery to me. When the Love Street Light Circus opened at Allen's Landing on June 3, 1967, the Starvation Army Band was on the bill alongside Red Krayola and Fever Tree. An article on the club at TexasPsychedelicRock.com indicates that they may have been the house band there.
Sadly, there's nothing I could find on YouTube to clue me in on how these guys sounded. I'm not even sure they ever released a record. Can anyone offer any information on them?
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