Trippin’ Out in TX: A journey through Texas’ psychedelic music scene
Published: April 30, 2014
At the time, San Antonio also had capable music venues to support local and touring bands. Spots like Fredericksburg Road’s adolescent-only Teen Canteen, already in operation pre-Brit Invasion, housed amateur groups looking to hone their talents in a dance-friendly setting. As musicians tightened up and committed to “really being bands all the time,” says Moser, “San Antonio tried to gussy itself up, too.” Shortly after the reveal of HemisFair Park for the 1968 World’s Fair, the Pusikat Club opened nearby at 120 Villita to showcase to the HemisFair crowd, according to Moser, “just how hip San Antonio was.”
As LSD hit Texas in the mid-60s, that surf sound got weirder and heavier. The spaced-out wave journeys got a little more ethereal, the guitar effects got a little more distorted and pretty soon SA artists like Lord August and the Visions of Lite, Swiss Movement and Bubble Puppy were playing what Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators were calling “psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll.”
The most commercially successful of any South Texas psych outfit, Bubble Puppy formed in San Antonio in 1966 when singer and guitarist Rod Prince moved from the coastal ’burbs to collaborate with his writing partner Roy Cox. “I was in Mathis then, having just returned from LA,” Prince says. “I had nothing else going, so I went to SA and Roy and I put the players together to form the first incarnation of what would become the Puppy.” At the time, Prince says the San Antonio music scene was “very tight-knit. Everyone knew everyone, like a family, without much in the way of showbiz competition.”
In 1969, Bubble Puppy landed a Top 20 hit with “Hot Smoke and Sassafras,” a tight, six-string death punch over which Prince sings cryptically of “the place above where it began.” When Prince tells the Current that Bubble Puppy was “consumed with virtuosity,” it’s no joke. Through tempo changes and a wandering guitar interlude, “Sassafras” makes writing an intricate hit seem effortless.
With the opening of Austin Highway’s Mind’s Eye and Mystic Moor, venues as psychedelic as their names suggest, San Antonio developed a solid infrastructure to support local and touring genre players. “San Antonio was really poised in the late ’60s to be in the center of attention,” says Moser.
If Alamo City psych grew out in the open, up the road in Austin the music was nurtured underground, like pot plants growing in the back of a bedroom closet. The University of Texas was already cultivating a small, experimental folk community that attracted other young Texan beatkniks (like Janis Joplin, for a hot minute).
When acid emerged in Austin in 1965 and guitarist Stacy Sutherland, drummer John Ike Walton and songwriter and electric jug player Tommy Hall teamed up with the young, scabrous voice of Roky Erickson to form the 13th Floor Elevators, psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll was born. With their debut release in 1966, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, the quartet, widely lauded as the architects of psych rock, were indeed the first band to use the word “psychedelic” to describe their sound.
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