Trippin’ Out in TX: A journey through Texas’ psychedelic music scene
Published: April 30, 2014
From here, the folkers operating in Austin’s bohemian outskirts went electric, buying the necessary gear to turn on and drop out. “I would defy you to find an open psychedelic band operating as early as the Elevators were,” says Elevators contributor Powell St. John in Scott Conn’s rock-doc Dirt Road to Psychedelia. The Elevators were the centrifugal force for a scene that included bands like The Conqueroo, Shiva’s Headband and the Golden Dawn. To keep it in Texas, Houston’s International Artists records housed the Lone Star psych bands.
The Children of Tomorrow Come Together
When Austin’s Vulcan Gas Company opened its doors in the fall of 1967, the San Anto and Austin psych scenes sang in harmony, filling the dive with mind-manifesting rock. “When the Vulcan opened up,” recalls Moser, “I would say that fully half the bands that played there were SA bands. Austin was essentially a political capital and a college town. When a cool club came along like the Vulcan, it couldn’t really pull the stature of bands that were touring to San Antonio.” For instance, when Jimi Hendrix came through Texas in 1968 and 1970, he played San Antonio, oozing psychedelia and shattering minds at the Municipal Auditorium and HemisFair.
One imagines the blues-influenced Hendrix could have dug the South Texas psych sound as it grew up among the regional giants of blues history, from Blind Lemon Jefferson’s tinny 1920s classics to the swingin’ power of Big Mama Thornton.
“One writes what one knows,” says Rod Prince, “so environment plays a part for sure, and flavors any style of music. So I’d say that made the Texas psych offerings different from the city-oriented bands.” Perhaps that explains the squirrely squeal of Tommy Hall’s electric Elevator jug and Roky Erickson’s feral yells, cured from the best of the black blues musicians.
Young music freaks could often see the influencers on the same stage as the influenced. Accidentally ahead of its time, the Vulcan, out of necessity, booked blues greats like Big Mama, Freddy King, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed alongside rock acts. “They were part of that scene and part of that identity,” says Spencer Perskin of Shiva’s Headband.
In 1969, Shiva’s Headband released the definitive tune of this psych-blues nexus, the awesomely titled “Homesick Armadillo Blues.” Perskin trash-talks the Frisco rain and longs for the Texas sun, resolving on the twelfth-bar of the tune, “I don’t hate California, it just ain’t my style.”
The Head Trip Ends
The I-35 psych oasis wasn’t to last into Nixon’s second term. Just as the Manson murders and the Altamont meltdown deadened the good vibrations in California, police crackdowns in Texas put a damper on the music.
“I was living here [in San Antonio] in the early 1970s and there really was a sense of Feds and ‘heads all over again,” says Moser. “We got our one joint and we’re being chased down by a pile of cops … The paranoia was very real.”
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