Trippin’ Out in TX: A journey through Texas’ psychedelic music scene
Published: April 30, 2014
Bubble Puppy’s Prince put a Texas twang on the situation, calling it “the longhairs versus the goat-ropers.”
The Austin Police Department looked to chop the head from the psychedelic snake by targeting the Elevators. “This was when the police in town were convinced if they could pick off the ringleaders, they cold nip it in the bud,” says St. John.
Already suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia, in 1969, Elevators singer Roky Erickson was convicted for possession of a lone joint and sentenced to the Austin State Hospital until 1972. As Erickson underwent electroshock therapy in a radically different psych scene, the Texas genre he inspired dissipated in the late ’60s. Police kept on busting, musicians moved out to California and in the summer of 1970, the Vulcan Gas Company closed its doors.
Though it was in operation for less than three years, the Vulcan Gas Company’s influence can still be felt in Austin. “Around 1970, Austin stole all the music thunder,” says Moser. “Partly it’s the booking policy of the Vulcan and Armadillo and their incredibly broad view of what kind of music you could play in front of people: ballet, Stanley Clarke, Chuck Mangione, Devo and the Clash. When you had that menu of music laid out to you week after week, night after night, there wasn’t any reason not to go. That spilled over into other clubs too.” While Austin diversified and its music clubs took off, San Antonio dug its heels into burgeoning punk and metal scenes.
Sometime in the mid 2000s, psych returned to Texas in a kaleidoscopic blaze. Since 2004, Austin’s the Black Angels have led the charge with five albums of revivalist psych as pure as a hit of Stanley Owsley acid. The Angels’ Christian Bland has his own theory on psych’s re-entry.
“It’s hearing real rock ‘n’ roll again on the radio,” says Bland. “I got into it hearing the White Stripes on the radio in the early 2000s and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Warlocks, Clinic and the Brian Jonestown Massacre got me interested in trying to play the ’60s style, which I grew up listening to.
When I heard these newer bands bringing this sound into the modern day, that piqued my interest and I wanted to do the same.”
Moser, who saw it all as the Austin Chronicle’s music editor from its inception up until this year, understands the new attention a little differently. “Roky never went away,” she says with a smile. “Roky, like Willie Nelson, is one of those musicians who’s revered by everybody. Because the Elevators’ music really was born out of Austin, the city always kept it very close. So when it was time for a genuine revival in psychedelia like the mid-2000s and a band like the Black Angels comes along, they carry the Elevators’ gravitas.”
Marc Anthony Smith, a veteran of psychedelic San Anto, poses an alternative, lysergic account of psych’s return. In November of 2000, the DEA bagged William Leonard Picker, the Walter White of LSD. According to the US government, with Picker’s operation shredded, worldwide LSD availability dropped a staggering 90 percent. “When that happened, LSD was off the scene, too. If anyone said they had it, that was a lie ‘cause it was not anywhere in the South,” says Smith. “Sometime in 2005, it started coming back. And I do think it has something to do with it. If you’re a [air quotes] psych band, if that’s your ethos and there’s not anybody who gets it, that’s hard to play.”
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