Houston Music

Psych Legends Fever Tree's Final Show Mysteriously Materializes

"The past is not dead," William Faulkner once said. "It's not even past."

Rob Landes, organist for '60s Houston psych-rockers Fever Tree, found this out a couple of years ago when he discovered some old boxes labeled "Fever Tree Live Session." Inside were some reel-to-reel tapes, but Landes couldn't remember the group ever doing a live recording. The handwriting belonged to Fever Tree's late former manager Scott Holtzman, "so I couldn't call him and ask what they were," he says.

Instead Landes, now a jazz musician, took the tapes to SugarHill Studios, where he was doing some session work. He gave them to the studio's co-owner and chief engineer Andy Bradley, who processed them and told Landes, "I think you've got something really good here."

The tapes turned out to be the original lineup of Fever Tree's final show, recorded at their alma mater Mt. Carmel High School. The group had already broken up - "we were barely speaking to each other," Landes says - but did the show to finish out their contract with their record label, UNI, which decided not to release it anyway.

"When UNI heard the recording, they were not pleased and put an album together from outtakes from our other three albums," Landes says. "They sweetened them in the studio, and the result was an album called For Sale."

Landes calls the results underwhelming.

"It sucked big time," says. "We hated the album. I listened to it once and threw it away. It was not Fever Tree, but was the result of a lot of studio musicians trying to make something out of our outtakes."

Fever Tree, considered one of the most underrated psychedelic rock bands of the '60s - some critics rank their 1968 album San Francisco Girls up there with Love's Forever Changes - went their separate ways, for good this time. Landes performs with his trio at Houston-area churches about once a month. Drummer John Tuttle and bassist E.E. Wolfe III gave up music for good. Guitarist Mike Knust kept a version of Fever Tree going into the '70s but, Landes says, "nothing ever really took off for him, and he died about four years ago."

A few years ago, vocalist Dennis Keller formed a new group, Fever Tree Rising, and plays a couple of times a year at the Continental Club. "They play rings around what we did back in the 60s," Landes says. "And he sings as good or better than he used to. And he looks great."

Meanwhile, upstate New York label Sundazed Records released those long-forgotten tapes this month as Fever Tree Live 1969. The five-track set includes the band's best-known song, "San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native," which got major regional radio play and fooled many a young Texan into thinking Fever Tree was the latest groovy group from the Haight Ashbury.

In reality, the boys from Spring Branch never set foot in San Francisco.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray