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.
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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.
The rest of Texan Earthquake is a true grab bag. The Emperors' growling opener "I Want My Woman" recalls UK cult heroes the Pretty Things; the Coastliners' "Wonderful You" bears out their "Beach Boys of Texas" reputation; the Chaynes' "Night Time Is the Right Time" carries hints of Irish soul man Van Morrison's first band, Them; and Inner Scene tosses in a stomping version of Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown," one of the handful of tracks from IA's posthumous 1980 double-LP anthology Epitaph for a Legend.
Disc Two: Out There! — The Psychedelic Sounds of I.A.
Out There! starts with the bang of Bubble Puppy's Love-like "Hot Smoke and Sassafras," a big enough national hit in 1968 to keep IA going for three more years; the band returns for country-mod mash-up "If I Had a Reason," the even more Who-like "Days of Our Time" and Byrdsian jangle-fest "A Gathering of Promises."
Also stepping to the fore here are the Golden Dawn with the insistent pre-punk of "Starvation" and Raconteurs forerunner "My Time," and the Red Krayola with menacing fuzz bath "War Sucks" and Dylan/acid-rock hybrid "Hurricane Fighter Plane."
Meanwhile, Elevators acolytes Lost and Found — signed as "recently busted teenage drug fiends," according to Lysergia.com editor Patrick Lundborg's liner-note essay — shine on the spastic "When Will You Come Through" and stinging LSD blues "Professor Black," as do Eastward-looking folkies the Rubayyat on "Never Ever Land" and "If I Were a Carpenter."
Wouldn't you know it, though, disc two's most arresting, prescient moment belongs to those darn Elevators on the stuttering rock-steady cut "Scarlet and Gold." "I guess he'll keep standing there until he's called for," sings Erickson about some long-forgotten king, "and tomorrow's hurricanes have blown."
Disc Three: Pot Pourri — Pop and Anything Goes
The unlikely star of Pot Pourri (most definitely two words) turns out to be none other than Third Ward blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins, who apparently would record for anyone who sat him down in front of a microphone. Hopkins's hardscrabble licks were an obvious influence on the Elevators and (though in much more distorted fashion) the Red Krayola, and he shares a fascination with the supernatural with Erickson on "Black Ghost." "Mini Skirt," on the other hand, is Mr. Sam at his most lascivious.
Save, naturally, Erickson — who teams up with Elevators mate Clementine Hall for a couple of acoustic numbers before rejoining the band for prescient closer "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" — none of the other Pot Pourri names are recognizable, which hardly matters. Arnim & Hamilton contribute some classic bubblegum on opener "Pepperman," the Disciples of Shaftesbury channel the Monkees on "Times Gone By" and "My Cup Is Full," and Kathy Clarke's "Little Girl Called Sad" is a dead ringer for another Clark, Petula.
Country even makes a belated appearance on Tom Harvey's "So Ah In Ah Love," as does Motown on Sterling Damon's "My Last Letter." IA's catalog was deep, y'all, and it's all here, essential listening for anyone interested in Texas music history or pop history in general.
So don't wait until the lights go out again to dive into Never Ever Land — if reissue machine Rhino Records has half a brain cell in its West Coast head, it'll pick up the U.S. rights toot-sweet.
Damn That Ike!
Like the rest of the area, some local music venues weathered Ike better than others. Galveston's legendary Balinese Room, the oceanside nightclub and former gambling den that once hosted Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Jack Benny, was completely washed into the surf by Ike's storm surge and is gone, gone, gone. The Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in the Strand district was likewise heavily damaged, but may yet reopen.
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion was hit hard enough to force cancellation of last weekend's Santana and 3 Doors Down Shows and this weekend's Robert Plant & Alison Krauss stop, while the Big Top sustained minor flooding and Dan Electro's Guitar Bar lost part of its roof. Also, local sculptor David Adickes's super-size Beatles statues off Washington Avenue — Paul really is dead this time.
So, considering what we've all been through this past week, and how many of our friends and neighbors could use a hand, it's a crying shame no one has begun beating the drum for an all-star hurricane relief concert. You know this would never happen in New Orleans.
So let Noise be the first: Willie Nelson, George Strait, ZZ Top (with special guests Erickson and Edgar and Johnny Winter) and Beyoncé (with, of course, Jay-Z) at Toyota Center. Soon. Let's make it happen, Houston.
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