Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
The years I am citing are 1962 – 1965. Prior to that, Austin had a Beat Movement that dabbled in peyote and weed but it was hardly more than a few people. The catalyst for the beginning of the Austin Psychedelic Scene was the CIA’s MK-ULTRA Project. See... the CIA was very, very, very interested in psychedelics in the early Sixties. They thought of them as some sort of possible “truth serum” or “brainwashing” substance or even as a possible chemical warfare catalytic to stop troop movement. Like… they would fly over the enemy troops and spray them with LSD mist. You get the picture.
They had experimented on their own troops throughout the Forties and Fifties and, at the start of the Sixties; they were fascinated with experimenting with psychedelics on the general public. Some bright individual came up with the idea to pose as a drug company researching compounds and to set up shop on college campuses and pay the kids minimum wage to be dosed with psilocybin, LSD, DMT and other compounds.
I’m going to kind of stop here because a LOT can be written about this project. I want to stick with Austin. But anyway, the University of Texas at Austin was a place chosen to set up shop; another place was the Berkeley Campus in California. Another place was (I believe) Columbia University in NYC.
Anyway, around 1961, the CIA placed ads in the the University of Texas at Austin School paper for recruits to participate in a drug testing experiment. People like Tommy Hall, Gilbert Shelton, Powell St. John and others who went onto do psychedelic things afterwards signed up for minimum wage. I know that Tommy thought the whole thing was bullshit and that using these drugs would be MUCH BETTER out in the general public than in some sterile lab with some asshole in a white coat seeing how fast you can add up a column of numbers while the sheet of paper drips away into infinity. Then the guys in the white lab coats would leave and Tommy would take a napkin and dump some of the liquid out onto it to take home and turn his friends on with.
So anyway, the drugs escaped from the lab. From 1962 – 1965 a very vibrant Psychedelic Scene developed in Austin with people dropping acid, doing mushrooms and taking peyote. All this stuff was 100% DEAD LEGAL at this time. Tommy was part of this, Powell St. John was, Gilbert Shelton was, Janis Joplin was and a lot more. They even had a place where they all lived called The Ghetto. Everybody would go to Threadgill’s to play and hear music.
These early psychedelic folk developed a theory about the nature of reality from reading books by Philosopher’s like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, trying Eastern religions and processes and taking lots of psychedelic drugs. This theory about the nature of reality went like so: There are perhaps thousands of “realities” in the Universe. Man has assembled this reality due to his sensory limitations. Man can only perceive what his five senses allow him to. The reality of an ant, or a trout, is much different than man’s reality. The idea was that these drugs were a tool to unhinge the barriers from man being FREE to see the world in an entirely new light.
What really kicked this scene into high gear were the Beatles and Dylan. And when Dylan went electric Tommy Hall had a vision that “serious” Dylan lyrics, coupled with a driving Beatles-type music, was the way of the future. What he envisioned was Modern Rock Music and he was exactly correct. Only he had been taking LSD for three years and his idea of “serious” lyrics had to do with the revolution going on in his thought processes. All of this begat the world’s first psychedelic rock group – the 13th Floor Elevators.
Now, about psychedelics, what does one of the originators of this scene think? George Kinney, of the Golden Dawn, once told me his view of psychedelics. The Golden Dawn were, perhaps, the world’s second psychedelic rock group and their LP would have been IA-LP #2 after the ‘Elevators. Instead, IA fucked them and held back the album so the Red Crayola could release their album and the ‘Elevators could release their second album.
Annnnnyway, George once told me that people’s perception of reality was like a hard, rubber, ball. And, for the vast majority of us, this “perception” of reality is all that’s holding us together. Anyway, our perception of reality (or our collective rubber ball) can really take a licking. You can bounce it against a concrete wall 10,000 times and it just gets a little scuffed up. It’s lost some shine but is still round and shapely. This is people’s moving through life. We can even hit it with a sledge hammer or drop an anvil on it and it, pretty much, bounces right back with scar or scuff. This is some life-changing event like a bad accident or a wartime experience.
Taking psychedelic drugs really challenges our perception of reality. This perception of reality remains pretty much unchanged after some light doses or medium doses. But what if you take that rubber ball and squish it into a two-ton press? It might bounce back OK after a few times. But what if we squish that same ball in that two-tone press fifty times? What if we squish it in a TWENTY-TON press twice? The ball might come out looking kind of messed up and out of shape. Keep it up and it becomes a shapeless piece of rubber.
Even though psychedelics don’t cause organic brain damage this was George’s theory of what an “acid causality” was.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Taking this information, psychedelic entrepreneurs, Gary Maxwell, Houston White and Henry Carr, along with 13th Floor Elevators' Booking Manager/Soundman - Sandy Lockett, began booking shows around Austin under the name Electric Grandmother. They would get bands, rent a hall, print posters and hope to turn a profit.
Their first show was a 1/7/67 show by the 13th Floor Elevators at Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin. This auditorium held over 2,000 people. Then there was a Conqueroo show, at the Methodist Student Center at the beginning of February. Flushed with that success, the Electric Grandmother promoted another 13th Floor Elevators show at the much larger Austin City Coliseum on 2/10/67.
After three good shows, the idea of the Electric Grandmother was seen as taking off. Rather than have a set place to promote shows, the people at the Electric Grandmother thought that they could be a mobile unit and travel around Texas, and then the USA, renting halls and putting on shows. Their partners in crime for this idea were the 13th Floor Elevators and the Conqueroo. Their first show, outside of Austin, was at the Houston Music Theater on 2/18/67.
Of course, International Artists was involved in this because they were booking/managing their Star Band - the 13th Floor Elevators. IA thought: "This would be a great opportunity to record a live album". The "magic" of the 13th Floor Elevators was really in their live shows and IA wanted to capitalize on it. The label had just purchased a, state-of-the-art, 8-track recording machine and it was arranged to transport this behemoth to the venue to record the gig.
The Houston Music Theater in Sharpstown seated almost 3,000 souls and sported a revolving stage. The theater is still in use today and people say there's not a bad seat in the house. This should have been the perfect opportunity for the Electric Grandmother, IA and the 13th Floor Elevators but, alas, the stars were not aligned right that night.
The day of the show the band spent time visiting record stores in Houston and signing autographs. Before the show, according one eyewitness, Tommy had some special, Sandoz, LSD and dosed the band. Stacy, obviously, took a massive overdose as related in his account from a 1974 interview with Joseph Kahn:
"... One time I was in a motel room; we were getting ready to play a show at the Musical Hall in Houston, and it was the biggest show we'd ever done in Texas, and we took some Sandoz acid. And all of a sudden, I lost control of my body and I got down on the floor and I'd never experienced anything like this before, and I looked up and Tommy and Roky were turning into wolves, hair and teeth, I mean wolves... man! And in my mind I was hearing the echo of space, and rays of light were shooting through the roof. And I kept remembering the scripture in the Bible, 'Beware the false prophets,' and all of a sudden here was a vision in light that we were wolves and we were spreading drugs and Satanism in the world, and I'd never realized it, because of an Antichrist influence."
"And all of a sudden I was bad, and these angels walked in the room and they had light shining on them, bright, and they all gathered 'round me and they were the jury at my trial. And this one angel stepped up, and he was offering me a job, and it was really just our lawyer [Jack McClellan], and Roky and Tommy and one of Roky's friends named Jack Scarborough. And I knew who they were as people, and I knew they were in a model level... you know, conception, and I was talking to God, and they were spirits in a position of influence on me and a decision that had to be made in my life. And I couldn't make it, know what I mean?"
"And we went to the show and all of a sudden Roky put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Man, you've been here before.' I knew what he meant, but I thought he meant, 'YOU HAVE been here BEFORE.' [Laughs.] He said, 'Man, I'm sorry you've just here because of me,' meaning 'I put you in a bad place'... possibly. I thought he meant my whole existence and purpose was to be a guitar player for his voice, I felt like I was going to turn around and a bolt of lightning come through the car and explode... and the spaceship would come."
"We got to the Musical Hall, and I went inside and the devil was there, and he had his tall pointed hat on, and he was the emcee for the show, and he was 'Weird Beard,' the number one disc jockey in Houston, and he looked at me and he had a goatee and a sorcerer's costume on... and I was bad and he knew it. And nobody else in the room could see, and this narcotics agent that we hired to travel with us had to guard us, because they were always trying to put pot on us, was standing beside me and I didn't want him to know I was freaking out."
"And the devil walked up to me and started asking me how his pointed hat looked, and every time he twisted his pointed hat his nostrils would flare... I ran outside and looked up at the sky and there were clouds of blood floating in the sky... and I call John Ike and Ronnie up and said I've got to go to the hospital, 'cos I lost it. And they kept saying, 'No, man, you don't want to do that, because if you go to a hospital the psychiatrist is going to see you flipped out on acid and they're going to start hassling. You might as well work it out yourself.' So, I said, 'Okay, I'm just going to try and go with it' and we went inside and the show was starting man, and it was the biggest show we'd ever done! [Laughs.]"
"And as soon as I took off down the ramp, man, I looked down and there I saw the light show and the revolving stage and it represented Hades, and Satan with his cape was leading us down into the arena. And all these kids were around, and I thought, we're going down there to tell people to get stoned and if the world ends right now I've had it."
"And I said, 'Man, I have to get to a preacher...' I was gone, I really thought it was the end, you know. I couldn't talk to either [Tommy] or Roky that night, see, because they were the wolves... I was a wolf too. I got on this rib and I ran for the door and one of these wolves jumped in front of the door. And I thought they were going to stake me on the floor, because I was a wolf too, see?"
"I said, 'Man, we're mad.' But anyway, that angel, he told me I was going to the penitentiary and that I was going to lose this chick [Laurie Jones] I had been going with for eight years... And we are planning on getting married. And when I came down about two or three days later I just blew it off, just said, 'Man, too weird!' and I never thought about it... and a few months after that I lost that chick, and a year and some and I was in the penitentiary. That really happened, I swear."
Another interview states: Stacy took a hit of pure Sandoz acid shortly before the Elevators were set to take the stage and almost immediately began to have a major episode. Jack McClellan, the band's lawyer, had traveled with them to the show and attempted to calm him down by having a massive office duty cop give him some cannabis. McClellan described this spectacle as thus:
"This friend of mine was saying, 'What's wrong with Stacy? You gotta take the sharp end of the acid off with some grass.' Stacy was lying on the goddamn floor, groaning. This guy [an off-duty cop] was about seven feet tall and three hundred pounds, and straight-looking, and he freaked Stacy out. He just looked like a big cop, standing there in that hotel room. Finally, this dude gave him a couple of joints and cooled him right out, but we practically had to carry him on stage. The kids loved it. No wonder the narcs considered it their sacred duty to eradicate these cats..."
John Ike Walton later recalled, "Just before we went on, Stacy comes up to me and says, 'John, I'm scared. I feel like a two-year-old child. I went and turned this over to Jack McClellan, my lawyer. I said, 'Jack, Stacy feels like a two-year-old child. He's dropped a bunch of acid and he's gotta go on in 30 minutes. So Jack takes him outside and sticks a joint in his mouth. He gets him even higher than he already was! [Laughs.] Needless to say, it didn't work."
In an unpublished 2-hour interview with Stacy in Houston in the Spring 1977. Stacy also recounts the revolving stage incident. The tapes from the interview have been preserved, but the names of the two persons conducting it are unknown. This was first put out to the fans by the Roky CD Club. Apart from Stacy, his girlfriend Bunny and former Elevators drummer Danny Thomas were present. Following the interview Stacy performs a few traditional songs with acoustic guitar. Listen to an excerpt from that interview HERE:
Here is a published excerpt from that interview:
Q: "What were some of the most mystic visions you had on acid?"
STACY: "Hmm... well, it's hard to say exactly, I just remember when I started taking acid... I guess the strongest visions I ever had were kinda bad actually, but they could have been because of my background and how I was raised."
"The most mystic vision I ever had was concerning a show we did here in Houston, Theatre In The Round [a k a Houston Music Theatre]. And I had taken some acid, I hadn't had any in quite a while, and it was a super strong dose, about a 1,000 microgram or something. And we had to do a concert, and all of a sudden everyone started glowing. They had a foot of light, like a neon light around them in the room… real bright. And everyone started glowing away, and I freaked out that I was going to die or something."
"I had some bad trips before, but nothing like this. And then everybody turned into wolves, and I thought that our band was evil, because of some of the things we had advocated. We had had a controversy going on quite a while about advocating drugs and so forth, and mixing it with religion, you know. 'Cause I felt like that was pretty dangerous ground to tread. And Tommy and I were arguing about that quite a bit."
"I got on a bummer about it evidently. And I was tryin' to escape the room, I didn't know what I was gonna do, but I was gonna get out of there. I didn't want anything to do with it 'cause everybody was turning into animals. And all of a sudden there were angels, and I couldn't move my body anymore. I lost physical feeling all over and I was laying on the floor. And everybody turned into angels, and everybody in the room was the judge at my trial to decide whether I was worthy to enter heaven or hell. Because it was absolute that I was going to die anyway you know. And there was one good angel, and I felt like I'd been there before, many times, not just once. But, I'd been in this circumstance with these same people, and the whole time that I was there I was..."
Q: "You'd been playing in the band?"
STACY: "Yeah, but I'm talkin' with these cosmic spirits you know, as judges. I knew who they were as people, as models, but I knew that they didn't realize what role they played in my existence on this earth. And this one angel told me that two or three different events were going to take place in my life. And every one of them came true within two years."
Q: "Major events?"
STACY: "Yeah, they were major. One of them was the end of an eight year relationship with a girl I'd been going with. One of them was when I was going to the penitentiary, and I went to the penitentiary. And the third one hasn't come true yet, and I hope it doesn't [laughter]. It was really a mystical experience, at the time I knew without a doubt that it was true, there was no denying it. I tried to convince myself when I came down a week later, it took me about a week to get off that trip, that it was all just a bad experience on acid and I didn't pay any more attention to it. Until these events would take place and then I would remember it because it's always with me. Always will remember that experience."
"And I had three or four like that concerning the group getting together. They were on a lighter scale about the fact that the timing and everything, it seemed like it was meant to be. And then we had some musical experiences that are hard to explain with words, about timing when we were playing that was just like, there's no way I can explain it, it's just something really magic in the group when we played that I could feel, it was like a power that I've never experienced before or since. It was some kind of musical communication that was just extraordinary, as far as anything that I've ever experienced..."
Q: "Do you feel like acid helped you reach God?"
STACY: "Hmm... well I think acid helped enlighten me quite a bit. Made me more aware at the time. I don't know if you can actually say it, "see God", you know…. but yeah I think acid really started me thinking about it, for sure. In less defined terms, before that all the religion that I've had was through the church and the way I was raised. The ideas that acid gave me were much more expanded. The words took on new connotations."
Later, Stacy used his wolf-morphing experience for some of the lyrics for the 'Elevators Swan Song LP: Bull of the Woods. As far as ill-omened angel that was on stage with him that evening, an image that continued to haunt the guitarist for the rest of his life. Stacy recounted many times that the angel revealed to him that three things would happen in his life. He said that two of them have already come true and he hoped the third wouldn't. The first two were the loss of the love of his life; Nobody to Love - Laurie and going to prison. It is speculated that the angel revealed to Stacy that he would die an early death but Stacy took that information to his grave.
Former Senior Vice President of Media Relations at Warner Bros. Records, Bill Bentley, was there and recalled, "Little did we know the theatre was in-the-round and the stage actually turned while the bands were playing," he told me. "But who cared? It was the Elevators in all their glory. Not to mention Austin's Conqueroo, who were almost as far-out. As the evening progressed it was pretty obvious as least half the crowd was on LSD, so whatever happened was totally mesmerizing. By the end of the night when both bands were jamming together, it seemed like our own Be-In, and the theatre felt like a spaceship hovering somewhere out in the cosmos. Confusion never felt so fine."
Conqueroo Member, Henry Wallace III, remembers the gig thus, "Man, my memory of that gig is different. I was the tambourine, Farfisa organ, and bass player for the Conqueroo, trading off bass and organ with natural bandleader Ed Guinn."
"We weren't tripping, but the Elevators were. But they always were, what difference did That make? A typical deejay came up to Roky's microphone, in his makeup and maroon crisp-creased slacks and slicked-back pomaded pompadour and started blabbing, as the Elevators were plugging in their instruments, and Roky moved suddenly, shoved the deejay out of the way. They started playing in perfect synch."
"The stage rotated one way, then it would lurch, and move back the other way. A little disorienting every now and then. The whole world was disorienting all the time in those days, what difference does a little lurch make when the walls are pulsating and the person next to your head has ballooned out bigger? or you're sitting on the front porch of your house and an orange tabby tom cat walks up to you and sits down, his head level with your groin and shoots a psychic blast of energy into your gonads? It's just an ordinary day, light your cigarette on a parking meter and walk on down the road. I remember clearly that I never got any money for that gig."
"…My future old lady and mother of our son Asia, Linda Lorrita Miller, was also there that night. Neither one of those beautiful women thought the Elevators were stumbling. I thought they were great, as usual. Perfection was not the goal."
"Joel" also remembers the gig, "My wife and I, who never used recreational drugs, were there that night, too. We also remember it differently. It was a spectacular show."
Christopher Bassist, Doug Walden, was there and remembers,
"I saw the elevators 3 or 4 times, but they always had the same line up, except for the bull sessions. Taylor Hall, Vulcan Gas co. at some theater in the round (they seemed a little lost, with the stage rotating), and maybe??? Love Street?"
This gig represented a turning point for the band. After this performance, John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman quit the band as he recently said in the 13th Floor Elevators Facebook Group,
"Ronnie and I quit this band right after this freak out of Stacy's. Pitiful performance."
Danny Thomas and Dan Galindo were brought in as the new rhythm section and helped birth the 'Elevators' masterpiece - Easter Everywhere. However, this line-up also saw the swift downward spiral of Roky Erickson's mental health and eventual arrest and incarceration.
Additionally, the 13th Floor Elevators never played outside of Texas after this gig. They were a "local" band afterwards; the first flush of psychedelic fame, that occurred after Monterey, had passed them by. Really, the career of the band now took on the look of a running gun battle with authorities with Erickson's mental health deteriorating rapidly.
The tapes of this gig were rejected by International Artists and languished for years until IA was bought out by Charly. The tapes were then licensed to whoever had some cash to pony up. Labels like Collectibles, known as "Contemptables to the fans, licensed the recording and put it out under a number of titles including: Magic Of The Pyramids. The source of the tapes was said to be sourced from "La Maison, Winter 1967".
One of the companies that licensed the tapes was a Japanese company that put out an LP. This is, by far, the best sounding version of this show to date. The sound is in crystal clear stereo. The Roky CD Club took this LP and put it out for the fans as: Reverberation in the Round.
Recently, Charly, cashing in on the 'Elevators as much as possible, along with the charlatan, known as Paul Drummond, put this show out from the "master tapes". Really? They took expansive stereo and crushed it to mono. They then "Charlyized" it by putting their fucked up compression onto it; the infamous Charly Effect overseen by Paul Drummond. What is interesting are the tracks from an after-show jam with the Conqueroo.
This concert WAS the 13th Floor Elevators' moment. IF they had risen to it, the latest technology was in place to capture the moment and produce an amazing live album. And live is where the 13th Floor Elevators were at. Then, maybe, John Ike and Ronnie wouldn't have quit. And, maybe, this amazing live record would have helped catapult the 13th Floor Elevators to national, and international, recognition.
Alas, it was not to be but maybe, on some parallel, Gurdjieffian universe, Tommy Hall tells the band that the gig is too important and maybe they should lay off of the LSD so as to get a good recording. However, in this universe, time space reality, that didn't happen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
HANNA-BARBERA RECORDS: THE OTHER SIDE OF BEDROCK
HANNA-BARBERA RECORDS: THE OTHER SIDE OF BEDROCK by Chuck Miller
Yet between 1965 and 1967, Hanna-Barbera expanded from the cartoon-music world into the pop music world, producing a series of garage records, soul tracks, pop ballads and funky instrumentals. No, Josie and the Pussycats never recorded for Hanna-Barbera Records (they worked with Capitol), but the Five Americans of "Western Union" fame did. The Archies never recorded for Hanna-Barbera (Don Kirshner had them under contract with his label), but HBR did release garage records by the Chocolate Watchband and the 13th Floor Elevators. One of HBR's records caused a lawsuit between the band's manager and a radio station; another title was yanked off the market a week after it was pressed, due to a contract dispute. There's even a rumor that Frank Zappa himself produced a Hanna-Barbera B-side.
Before all these records came out, Hanna-Barbera was a successful Hollywood animation studio, producing such classic programs as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear and Jonny Quest. They also had several tie-in records with these shows, albums that were released through Colpix Records, the music company of Columbia Pictures.
In February 1965, Hanna-Barbera announced they were forming their own independent record company, with plans to distribute $1.98 LP's and 29-cent 45's featuring their cartoon characters. The announcement, made at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) convention, introduced the label's new chief of operations, Don Bohanan, who joked that he had hired Fred Flintstone as sales director, Yogi Bear as national promotion director, and Magilla Gorilla as production manager.
A week later, Bohanan hired Larry Goldberg as HBR's Western regional sales manager, with an eye toward augmenting HBR's music roster with pop music acts. Anihanbar, a BMI publishing company, was also created for pop music licensing, and Hanna-Barbera provided stores with the company's first non-cartoon album, the soundtrack to the beach-and-bikini Raquel Welch film A Swingin' Summer (HBR 8500 mono, HBR 9500 stereo).
Meanwhile, Larry Goldberg looked for new pop and rock talent for HBR's roster. At that same time, singer-songwriter Danny Hutton and his record-promoting friend, Kim Fowley, were looking for a label. "I auditioned for Hanna-Barbera," said Hutton. "Kim Fowley introduced me to Larry Goldberg, and they used me as an audition to find out who Larry Goldberg could bring in. They gave me some lyrics to sing, I went into another room and wrote a melody in about 15 minutes and played it for them. Originally I was signed as an A&R guy, the young Turk on the street who could go out and scout for acts."
"Danny had written this song, 'Roses and Rainbows,'" said Kim Fowley, "and I had played Roses and Rainbows for people, and one day I played it for Larry Goldberg. Larry brought it to Tom Ayers, who was the producer of 'Hot Pastrami' by the Dartells, another group who would join Hanna-Barbera later. Danny Hutton was to be an artist there - the first artist, because before then it was cartoon records and soundtracks."
Danny Hutton signed with Hanna-Barbera as a studio singer, and did vocals on two HBR studio singles, "Big Bright Eyes" by the Bats (HBR 445) and "Do The Bomp" by the Bompers (HBR 441), the latter a co-production with Coca-Cola and KFWB for the radio station's teen-oriented Bomp Club. "Another song I wrote, 'Roses and Rainbows,' was supposed to be performed by one of these studio groups," said Hutton. "I've always considered myself a writer-producer who would sing if someone needed a background harmony or doubled voice, I wasn't one of those guys who went to all the clubs with my guitar. But Tom Ayres told me they were going to make me an artist."
Tom Ayers brought his Dartells to HBR 1965, and although the Dartells had only one release with HBR, "Clap Your Hands" (HBR 457), Ayers would remain with the company, helping with artists and repertoire. It was Ayers who thought Danny Hutton's song "Roses and Rainbows" could be a hit, and Hutton's single was augmented with studio orchestration.
"Roses and Rainbows" was a big hit on the West Coast, and enough stations played it to push the song up to #73 in Billboard. But the song's success was clouded by the machinations of the record company owning nearly all the rights to the song. Larry Goldberg received a writer's credit on "Roses and Rainbows," despite never penning a single lyric. Anihanbar Music owned the publishing rights, which they purchased from Kim Fowley. Even the B-side of "Roses and Rainbows" was "Monster Shindig," a track found on a Hanna-Barbera cartoon album.
"The problem was that Hanna-Barbera had to own everything," said Fowley, "and I owned the publishing on 'Roses and Rainbows.' So they were very clever - instead of saying to me, 'finally your friendship and your investment and time and money in Danny is paying off, we're going to make him a star,' instead they told me I failed as a producer, that I had him on two previous labels and that he failed twice, and to let him go. They gave me $150 for my publishing claim. I was 25 years old then - the older version of me would have called up Danny and worked together to ask for a great amount of money. But back then, I took the $150 and walked away."
Hanna-Barbera's primary goal, however, was not to simply break Hutton as a performer - they wanted to put a harmony duo on the pop charts. The harmony duo of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm. Yes, THAT Pebbles and Bamm Bamm. During the Flintstones' sixth-season premiere episode, "No Biz Like Show Biz," the animated moppets develop a singing ability, enough to have their own Bedrock Top 40 hit. While the episode did feature several renditions of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm warbling "Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In)," an uncredited Danny Hutton was briefly featured in the episode singing "Roses and Rainbows", as was another HBR group, The Creations IV, with a few bars of "Dance in the Sand" (HBR 440).
By the end of November, Hutton had enough of HBR, and a lawyer helped extricate the singer from the HBR contract. But even after Hutton left, HBR squeezed one more single out of him. "When I was doing one of the sessions as the Bompers, they needed another song, so I wrote a song right in the studio, 'Big Bright Eyes,' it was just me and a guitar. I recorded it as a demo. I left HBR and went to MGM Records, and all of a sudden in Billboard they have a review of 'Big Bright Eyes' - HBR took the demo, got the same arrangers and orchestra for 'Roses and Rainbows,' overdubbed all the instruments onto my demo, and released it."
Hanna-Barbera's other homegrown act, a garage-rock trio called the Guilloteens, already proved their mettle as one of Memphis' top rock bands (with no less than Elvis Presley calling them his favorite band). The Guilloteens moved to Los Angeles, and eventually impressed Phil Spector enough that the producer wanted to give the Guilloteens' most popular song, "I Don't Believe," the full Wall of Sound treatment. "We had six drummers on Spector's demo for 'I Don't Believe,'" said Guilloteens guitarist Louis Paul. "That track was absolutely incredible. The 12-string intro was totally Phil Spector's idea, originally our song was in the key of A, he told us to go to B minor and do some string rolls. But Phil spent more time in the studio with the Righteous Brothers, and we were next on the list - but during that period of time, our manager sold us to Hanna-Barbera."
Suddenly the Guilloteens were no longer recording at A&M's 24-track recording studio. "We walked into H&R Sudios and cut 'I Don't Believe' cold," said Louis Paul. "We did it live, the producer stuck mikes on the floor. H&R Studios had a little 8-track channel board and two Scullys sitting side by side, that was the studio. If you needed a vocal overdub, they ran the band track to the second machine while you sang. We didn't get that shot, they took us to some little bitty cheap studio, and the track was released in two days."
Despite the rushed production, "I Don't Believe" became a major hit in the Guilloteens' Memphis hometown, and appeared on several regional playlists. The group eventually released some more sides with HBR, until infighting and financial difficulties forced Paul to quit the band. "Hanna-Barbera did spend some money on us," said Paul. "They bought two pages in Billboard, one page was us, one page was Danny Hutton. I called Hanna-Barbera a few years back, but nobody there even remembered the Guilloteens. Believe it or not, 'I Don't Believe' is still a big hit in the Czech Republic, the last time I got my BMI royalty readout, the song is still being played there."
While their homegrown acts could only generate regional hits, HBR was much more successful by licensing tracks. When a five-piece rock combo from Oklahoma, the Five Americans, tore up the Dallas/Fort Worth area with their pre-psychedelic recording of "I See The Light," selling 8,000 copies of the 45 through a small regional label owned by their manager, John Abdnor, HBR took notice. "In 1965 we released 'I See The Light' regionally," said the Five Americans' Mike Rabon. "Because it received a lot of attention in Texas, Okahoma and Louisiana, it got noticed by Hanna-Barbera, and they picked up our distributorship."
"I See The Light" became HBR's first Top 40 hit, peaking at #26 in the early spring of 1966, and spurring HBR to release the Five Americans' debut album (HBR 8503 mono, 9503 stereo). "We did the cover for our album on Hanna-Barbera's lot," said Rabon, "with photographs of us jumping on a trampoline. They did the album cover there, they did the designing and all that."
"Tom Ayers was Hanna-Barbera's PR guy," said John Burrill, another member of the Five Americans. "Ayers was the sweetest guy. He took us to see groups like the Electric Flag in Malibu. It was a strange transition for us - we were wearing sharkskin suits and were very manicured musicians, and when we got to Los Angeles and started playing the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, three weeks later we're in bucksins and beads."
After the success of "I See The Light," HBR released another Five Americans track, "Evol - Not Love," and the track received substantial airplay. Meanwhile, in the Five Americans' Dallas home base, a controversy brewed. Despite reports of strong sales in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, the song was inexplicably missing from local radio station KLIF's playlists, who claimed their produced music survey was "the most accurate popular music survey in America."
Abdnor sued KLIF, claiming that KLIF's music survey was not as accurate as advertised, and that the unlisted "Evol - Not Love" had outsold half the songs on KLIF's survey - essentially charging KLIF with restraint of trade. During the trial, KLIF's general manager had referred to "Evol - Not Love" as a "mediocre effort," and that KLIF reserved the right to not add any song or artist who appeared on any of their competing Dallas-Fort Worth stations, including KBOX or WFAA. Eventually KLIF changed the language describing their music surveys, but by that time "Evol - Not Love" was off the charts - and within a few months, off of Hanna-Barbera completely, as Abdnor took his small Abnak label to the national level.
Jimmy Rabbitt was the music director for KLIF during this time period. "The program director told me not to play 'Evol - Not Love' until it got really big. So we didn't play it. We got sued for not playing the Five Americans, and it went to court, and it was in court for two weeks - I had to testify, and I remember that they made us change the description of our survey, because we really didn't reflect the sales. And at the end of the lawsuit, I got fired from the station - and went to work for Abnak Records as their national promotions man."
Meanwhile, Hanna-Barbera increased their licensing program, picking up masters from regional hits for national distribution, and providing the illusion of a fully-stocked label. "The Fife Piper," an instrumental regional hit for a West Virginia flute-fronted band, the Dynatones, was picked up from tiny St. Clair Records, and became a moderate hit (HBR 494). From Panorama Records in the Pacific Northwest, HBR picked up The Dimensions, a garage band from South Seattle with "She's Boss" (HBR 477). A reciprocal agreement with Pye Records in England gave HBR Murray's Monkeys (HBR 469), as well as Laurie Johnson's soundtrack to the TV series The Avengers (HBR 8506 mono, 9506 stereo). Other pickups included Fort Worth's Charles Christy; Detroit's Robbie & Robyn, and two R&B artists from Nashville, Art Grayson and Earl Gaines.
In 1955, Earl Gaines was the lead vocalist on Louis Brooks and His Hi-Toppers' soul hit "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)," but by 1966 Gaines was part of the Hanna-Barbera roster. His first single for HBR, "The Best of Luck To You" (HBR 481), was a strong soul hit in the autumn of 1966 (albeit credited to "Earl Gains"). Gaines had one more single and an album licensed through HBR, but there were problems between HBR and Gaines' manager.
"Hoss Allen, a disc jockey at WLAC, was my manager at the time," said Gaines, who still performs and records around Nashville. "We recorded the album in Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville, at Bradley's Barn, and shipped it to HBR. I loved the album, and hoped we could do another with HBR. But Hoss was a heavy drinker, and he kept bugging people for money and advances. I never received any money from HBR, but they did pay royalties. And what little money I got, I got from Hoss Allen. He got enough for a home."
SVR Records, a small Detroit label, licensed three of their groups to HBR - a soul group called the Four Gents, and two popular Motor City garage bands, the Unrelated Subjects and the Tidal Waves. The Tidal Waves' cover of the Premiers hit "Farmer John" was already a #1 hit in Detroit, while The Unrelated Subjects "The Story of My Life" is still heard on Detroit oldies stations today.
"I was 15 years old at the time," said the Tidal Waves' Bill Long, 'and I think the oldest guy in the band was the drummer, 17 at the time. We were so excited about going national, I just figured Hanna-Barbera were branching out into rock and roll, and I was excited that it was a big company with lots of money. I would have hoped for Capitol Records, but we were more into making the music than worrying about the label. When I saw our first 45 with HBR, it was pretty cool looking, compared to the SVR label, which was pretty plain."
"I remember that for the mastering of The Unrelated Segments' 'The Story of My Life,' I wanted it to be quite biting," said John Chekaway, the owner of SVR Records. "I was really fussy about the sound, and it was always so iffy doing lacquer transfers. HBR worked with stereo masters in Los Angeles, they did a very good job - if an acetate didn't sound right, they immediately sent me another transfer to address the problems. It took three tries to get it right."
One of the rarest HBR records in the company's run is a copy of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" (HBR 492). According to Elevators historians Andrew Brown and Pete Buesnel, and as part of their website, http://www.lysergia.com, in June 1966 HBR entered into a verbal agreement with International Artists, the Elevators' record label, to press West Coast copies of "You're Gonna Miss Me." International Artists' president Bill Dillard agrees to the deal, but insisted that HBR wait until the contracts were signed before pressing any copies. Hanna-Barbera eventually trumpeted the acquisition of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators master in the July 11, 1966 edition of Billboard.
Two weeks later, International Artists Records announced in a full-page Billboard ad that IA, not HBR, had full exclusive rights to the song for national distribution. Apparently when Bill Dillard learned that HBR pressed copies of "You're Gonna Miss Me" before any contracts were signed, he took the masters and stampers back to Texas, which International Artists used throughout the record's print run. Ironically, many of the IA pressings still have the initials "HBR" in the dead wax, despite attempts by the mastering agents to scratch the initials out!
In September 1966, HBR planned a multi-record release of several licensed tracks and LP's. In addition to their cartoon product, HBR readied such singles as the Abbey Tavern Singers' Irish drinking song "Off to Dublin in the Green" (HBR 498), a cover instrumental of the country chestnut "Almost Persuaded" by pianist Larry Butler (HBR 499), and a hard-rocking reinterpretation of the garage classic "Psychotic Reaction," by a Texas studio group called the Positively 13 O'Clock (HBR 500).
The Positively 13 O'Clock's lead singer was a familiar face in HBR history - Jimmy Rabbitt, the music director at KLIF who was fired after the "Evol - Not Love" music survey lawsuit. Besides his stint on radio, Rabbitt had several regional singles, and eventually Tom Ayers at HBR contacted Rabbitt. "I was in California, trying to get national distribution for one of my songs, 'Wishy Washy Woman,' and the guys from the Five Americans told Tom Ayers about me. Tom brought me over to HBR, and tried to tell me what I was playing wasn't what he needed at the label, and then he pulled out some acetates - groups like Arthur Lee and Love, and the Count Five, and others. He then said, 'We've been trying to make a deal on "Psychotic Reaction," but it's not happening - so why don't you come back and make a cover of it?'"
With that, Rabbitt went to Robin Hood Studios in Dallas, and cut a cover version of "Psychotic Reaction" that was more frantic, more freaky, more psychedelic than anything the Count Five could muster. With a throwaway B-side, and a roster of musicians that would later include members of Mouse and The Traps, The Positively 13 O'Clock was born. "Our version of 'Psychedelic Reaction' got better reviews," said Rabbitt, "but the Count Five's version just - it just happened. It became the bigger hit. I sang lead for the 13 O'Clock. I might have played rhythm guitar on it too, but I'm not sure. It took a long time for us to cut it - and then we went out and played as 13 O'Clock, and some of the members later went to Mouse and the Traps."
Another rare HBR pressing involves the Chocolate Watchband, the Los Angeles garage group with a devoted collector following. After the group recorded a cover of Dave Allen and the Arrows' "Blues Theme", the Watchband's Tower/Uptown label refused to put out the record. Hanna-Barbera leased the track, crediting the song to "The Hogs." The song's B-side, "Loose Lip Sync Ship," is a trippy B-side instrumental that would later appear on a Nuggets compilation. In the middle of the instrumental jam, lead singer David Aguilar goes into a full-blown freakout, shrieking "Freaks are for kids, not for silly rab-bytes," then cascading into an old-time sermon filled with reverb and a chorus of "Row Your Boat." The producer's credits on the 45, listed as "The Phantom," led many to surmise that Frank Zappa produced the avant-garde recording; but most likely, the record was either produced by the Watchband's regular producer, Ed Cobb, or by the band themselves. In fact, the first portion of "Loose Lip Sync Ship," with lyrics and additional instrumentation, appears as the song "Gossamer Wings," on the Watchband's album No Way Out.
By May 1967, although the Hanna-Barbera cartoon company comfortably dominated Saturday morning television, the record division was in a shambles. Regional hits were licensed and released with little fanfare; chart appearances were minimal at best, and the licensing fees cost HBR a small fortune. And the one group with whom HBR actually had a Top 40 hit, the Five Americans, left HBR when their manager, John Abdnor, took his Abnak Records label to the national level. Ironically, the very week HBR announced they were ceasing independent distribution, the Five Americans' song "Western Union" was finishing its run atop the Top 10.
"Don Bohanan was quite down about the folding of the label," said SVR president John Chekaway. "He made an effort to transition all the licensed product wherever he could, and they immediately connected us with Liberty Records for distribution."
"I think Hanna-Barbera wanted to have a label, period," said Jimmy Rabbitt. "And they hired Tom Ayers because he was a well-known Hollywood promotion man. Tom Ayers spent a lot of money trying to get them a label. You gotta know how much money they spent leasing those records and pressing them up."
Many of the HBR performers and front office staff found new projects. Danny Hutton became part of Three Dog Night. Kim Fowley became a successful producer and performer. The Guilloteens recorded some sides for Columbia; while frontman Louis Paul stuck around with Hanna-Barbera, doing some voice work for the company. Tom Ayers would move to RCA Victor, and eventually signed David Bowie to that label. The Unrelated Subjects and the Tidal Waves moved to Liberty Records.
"In a world of one-hit wonders," said Kim Fowley, "HBR was a one-hit-wonder record label, with the Five Americans. Three hits, if you count Danny Hutton and the Guilloteens. It was a nice try, but it didn't become Sun Records or A&M either."
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Golden Dawn - It's Gonna Be A Golden DayIt?s Gonna Be A Golden Day
This band is not to be confused with the 90s ritual-magick band. I?m sure I?ll love them too, but (like Nirvana) they should have chosen a different name; this one has been taken since the 60s. The Golden Dawn to which I presently refer produced some of the hardest-rocking metaphysics you?ll ever hear. Texas produced some of the finest music of the era, a good deal of it emanating from the International Artists label, who had Thirteenth Floor Elevators hogging most of the glory but also preserved such true freaks as the Red Crayola for incredulous modern ears.
That would have been plenty, but they also had The Golden Dawn on the roster, who if the Elevators had never existed would have been the best psychedelic band in Texas. Perhaps in fact they were, but they only managed one album (A Power Plant in 1968) and not a very long one at that. Laboring under the shadow of the Elevators and the Crayola, their star never quite attained the ?legendary? luminescence of their peers--but Texas music doesn?t get any better than this. The Golden Dawn was out on as farflung a spiritual tangent as were the Elevators, yet they played much tighter rock and roll. (The Red Crayola were lightyears past either, but they ended up severing themselves from the most minimal standards of coherence to get there.)
So there?s a chunk of the playing field that the Golden Dawn will have wholly unto themselves for all eternity. And a glorious chunk it is. Their liner notes attest that they were as heavily into meditation as they were into acid (they weren?t shy about the fact they?d read a little Crowley either). Their LP (both cover and title) was as unabashed a celebration of the triumph of sacred herb as anybody could desire. One wishes more present-day bands would be as militant about it. There are things like The Chronic, but I can?t think of much from the ?rock and roll? bands--not the Americans at least. There?s a thriving scene in England around Hawkwind, Bevis Frond, Gong, and a hundred other interlocking bands. Prime Minister Blair, for all his punk roots, probably won?t consider giving them their Stonehenge back (as if Maggie had ever had the right to take it away), but even if they don?t have their standing stones the freaks still have each other. In America, unfortunately, hive mentality remains on the throne. So if by chance you inhale, don?t hold your breath.
Remember that cereal commercial, filmed entirely in yellow, tawny, electric brown and orange, and featuring sunbeams glistening off of a haystack? Some corn-pone voice would drawl, ?It?s gonna be a gol-den day!? Surely there were many lovely days for this band, sneaking a toke or two behind the barn. Ah, yes, people breathed easier in them thar days...The hell they did--you don?t believe that, do you? We?re talking Texas! In the 60s! Paranoia was one of the very emblems of hipness. If you were into any sort of chemical adventuring beyond coffee, beer or cigarettes, you were best off assuming your phone was being tapped and the FBI was following you around, because it was not at all inconceivable. And the local cops would be more than happy to pick up from the feds whatever slack there was. It was one of those historic changing-of-the-guard moments. You know what that means--you?re busted! Or at least fearful of it. Nowadays it?s hard to appreciate what a brave gesture it was for a rock band in that place and time to put it all on the line, flaunting their lifestyle choices in so provocative a manner.
These people truly were ?outrageous? in a way to which most moderns have forgotten even to aspire--because back then the outraging of certain authority figures over that particular set of issues could get you anything from a fractured skull to 10-to-20 years in jail. Or both. Lest we forget, in the more white-trash areas of Texas (and just about anyplace else in the country where the kids still eat lead paint chips) such a fate can easily be manufactured for you, to this very day.
If I may digress: That?s one thing nobody is ever willing to give Deadheads credit for--true grit. Punk was little more than a fashion statement after the first few years, and unlikely to get you more than a lot of dirty looks, but Deadheads (especially in the years before their MTV coronation as a ?valid? subculture) had guts. Year after year they?d go out on tour, knowing full well that they were sitting ducks for every narc within 500 miles of the show who was too lazy or chickenshit to earn a badge doing real policework and picked upon lamblike suburban tie-dyes for the crime of flaunting themselves in front of somebody else?s parents instead. (Fun Facts To Know And Tell: During WWII, the theme song of the Bulgarian resistance was entitled ?He Falls In the Battle For Our Freedom.? I?m not even Bulgarian, and yet it comes to mind.)
What does all this have to do with the Golden Dawn? What, you mean the G.D. initials aren?t enough?..welllllll... The only parallel in recent times that I can draw to the atmosphere of young Texas in the late 60s is that of Deadheads in the early 90s being thrown in jail for nothing more or worse than their chemical preferences. (Which is going to be the next cultural war, after we win the one for freedom in our sexual preferences. Sign up now. We?re gonna need something to keep us entertained in our old age.) Anyway...I ramble ridiculously, but the fact remains that The Golden Dawn were Texas kids who were into peace, pot and microdot, as well as meditation and various metaphysical practices...and while they never were as persecuted so publicly and spectacularly as the Elevators, they lived and breathed and did their very best to practice their peace-and-love in a poisonous, rednecked, hate-filled environment not of their making, which is why they played their rock and roll with a viciousness that the Dead Kennedys or Fear never had a prayer of attempting. Which is not to say that the latter bands weren?t louder or more raucous overall, but when all is said and done, they were merely doing what was expected of them. When the Golden Dawn were doing their thing nobody had ever heard it before, and there was no niche that had already been carved out in society for them. Nowadays you can go to the mall and the New Age boutique is right next to the body-piercing cubicle, but people back then were obliged to make everything up as they went along.
This is why the freaks of the 60s were the freaks of the century. There are modes of expression developed by latter generations that were inconceivable during the Summer of Love, but the only reason there was a possibility for such things was that the 70s and 80s kids stood on the shoulders of giants. One could say that there would have been no hippies had it not been for Elvis on the one hand and the beatniks on the other--but the hippies didn?t feel any particular debt to either, nor was there any trace of the kill-the-father hostility that the hippies ultimately inspired. Which is the other thing the punks owed to the hippies--a context. Johnny Rotten used to parade around in a homemade, self-mutilated ?I Hate Pink Floyd? t-shirt. I?ve never lost any sleep over that, but it begs the question: what would Johnny have been had there never been a Pink Floyd to hate? Precious little--a Teddy Boy with bad teeth, muttering to himself about life on the dole. Since killing-the-father is what punk is all about, one couldn?t have expected anyone to admit it at the time, but now that ?punk? is synonymous with Boring Old Fart it?s long overdue that somebody ought to ?fess up.
It?s not likely to happen, and I guess it doesn?t matter. As far as the ?ber-society is concerned, ?punk? and ?hippie? both are synonymous with Loser, and people should be distracted from making any finer distinctions, much less researching the question for themselves. But if you care to, A Power Plant (their only album--the French liner notes bemoan the fact as much as I do), was released on CD in 1992 and can be located without too much difficulty. It?s the crappy French reissue label, Eva, but that?s infinitely preferable to the crappy American reissue label, Collectables. You will find it to be one of the most simultaneously enlightened and pissed-off records you will ever hear. For all the snarling rock and roll tunes (?Evolution,? ?Starvation,? ?I?ll Be Around) on it, there are also beautiful mellow numbers that nonetheless have an edge to them. There?s even one midtempo tune that sounds like the Monkees. No matter. The rock and roll on this record kicks and growls and leaves tooth-marks on your aura even as it elevates your consciousness. $26? Cheap at twice the price. Buy!
Golden Dawn - George Kinney Speaks on Bobby Rector
Monday, June 25, 2007,
Billy Hallmark called me a couple of days ago and told me the bad news about Bobby Rector. I am deeply saddened by his passing. Although most of you know I am a believer in the idea that human beings possess an eternally evolving soul, the loss is no less for us left here to mourn. He is on a completely new journey by now, but I will miss him greatly.
I met Bobby back in 1966, after my fellow Golden Dawn members insisted that we find a new drummer due to several problems we were having with our current drummer at that time. Bobby was recommended by Billy Hallmark, largely due to Bobby's close association with Stacy Sutherland and John Ike Walton, Ronnie Leatherman, Terry Penny, Johnny Gathins and others. He was "one of those Kerrville boys."
He drove into my life in a red Corvette and a winning smile. He won the gig at the first audition...he was simply the best drummer we had ever picked with. His drumming was always on beat, and he threw in stuff we had never heard before...it matched our music perfectly. He was a strong, intense drummer, but a very gentle, kind person.
Bobby was also a very accomplished artist. He designed many posters for our band and his design for the cover of our album, Power Plant, was preferred by the band for production, but we were overridden by Intentional Artists producer, Leland Rogers. The cover that came out was designed by George Banks, from Houston, and, I admit, it was a great cover as well. But Bobby drew stuff all the time and we were always impressed by his artistic ability.
Like most bands of the era, there was a lot of debate and variance of opinion among members about a lot of issues, both philosophical and strategically. I was the poet/leader with dreams of world reform and belief in the emergence of an enlightened species that would save our world and propel us into the next phase of human evolution with expanded capacities for compassion, reverence, and conscious abilities. I have devoted my entire life to these goals and ideals. But others, like Bobby, were much more pragmatic about these goals. Bobby believed in living life as it is and making decisions that reflected traditional concepts of success. That is, Bobby wanted to us to be a money-making band, based solely upon musical ability and good business planning. I welcomed Bobby's ideas, because I saw the value and necessity of them if we were to continue to make music professionally. So all in all, we made a good strategic team. The rest of the band had varying ideas blending the benefits and downsides of each of the more polarized ideals, which essential boils down to spirit vs. matter, or art vs. money.
In all cases, though, Bobby was open-minded and fair in his assessments and contributions to our discussions, and, primarily, he was always a reliable and trustworthy drummer and a close, dear friend.
After the band broke up, I lost contact with Bobby for many years. Then when I contacted him again, in 2002 to join the Texas Psych Fest for gigs in Houston and Austin, he was suffering from several illnesses that prevented his participation. I have always regretted the fact that he did not play for those gigs. It would have been much more of a "real" reunion if he and Tommy Ramsey had played. As it were, Jimmy Bird and Billy Hallmark and I did the shows as the only original members of the Golden Dawn. And while we did our best, and put together a really great band, it would have been a great comfort to my heart to have played a few more gigs with Bobby setting the beat and keeping everything where it was supposed to be musically.
Bands are only the expressions of the members therein. And Bobby Rector was an integral, respected, essential member of the Golden Dawn.
Keep up the chops, Bobby; I guess the rest of us will be there before too long to start a new band. And it will truly and forever be a Golden Dawn.
Your friend and brother in music,
Gilbert Shelton Interviewed by Frank Stack, excerpted from The Comics Journal #187Excerpted below are portions of the Gilbert Shelton interview from TCJ #187, conducted by Frank Stack. In the completed version, Shelton guides us through his history as a cartoonist -- from his early days at the University of Texas' newspaper, The Texas Ranger, right up to his current status as yet another expatriate American artist living in France.
Of the current incarnation of Shelton, interviewer Frank Stack writes: "He's mellowed some, though the truth is that, sharply critical of the society as he always has been in his published work, personally he's always been a calm, rational and emotionally mature person. With my questions in this interview I kept trying to get him to vent some anger and some passionate feelings against the kind of right-wing jerks and pontificating crooks that, I thought, he had every reason to hate. But he wouldn't take the bait. As you will see, reading this interview, he preferred to speak about things he felt positively about. Trash-talking is not Gilbert Shelton's game."
FRANK STACK: Well, we have to start somewhere. I assume that sometime in your early career you decided to be a cartoonist. But early on, were you thinking that you'd be a cartoonist, or a writer, or an artist, or what?
GILBERT SHELTON: I've never really been much of anything other than a cartoonist. I remember that when I was four or five years old I would copy the faces of cartoon characters out of the newspaper comic strips. I could do Dick Tracy, and Nancy, and Henry.
STACK: Not Mickey Mouse?
SHELTON: I don't remember Mickey Mouse being in any of our local papers.
STACK: Would you write your own stories?
SHELTON: I didn't have enough imagination. I could copy drawings, but I wasn't good at inventing things. I remember being in kindergarten at age five and having the teacher tell us to get out our paper and colors and draw a picture of anything we felt like drawing. I looked around to see what the other kids were drawing, and they all seemed to be doing a picture of a house with smoke curling up out of the chimney, a lollipop-shaped tree in the yard and the sun in the upper right-hand corner of the sky with lines emanating from it. So I drew the same thing. I knew that the windows of houses weren't supposed to be right up in the corners, but I drew them that way because the other kids did.
STACK: Accepting authority? The authority of the other kids?
SHELTON: Yes, I was the youngest in my class, I think.
STACK: Did you read comic books when you were a kid? Stupid question.
SHELTON: Yeah, I liked Donald Duck and Little Lulu. You know, Disney never allowed Carl Barks, or anyone else, to sign their names to the stories, but I could tell when a Donald Duck story in any given issue of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories was going to be funny, that is to say written by Barks, by looking at the lettering style. I learned how to read before I was in the first grade, mainly by studying Donald Duck.
STACK: Where did you go to school?
SHELTON: I went all the way through public school in Houston. I did best in reading and arithmetic at first, but after a couple of years I built up more confidence about drawing. I wasn't usually the best artist in my class but I was usually in the top two or three.
STACK: Didn't you tell me once that you didn't take any art classes in high school?
SHELTON: I never took art in high school, but I did go to private art classes given by a little old lady when I was 10 or 12 years old. In high school we had a cartoonists' club and I was a member. They gave the club a bulletin board in the front hall and each week we'd have a display of cartoons.
STACK: You told me the name of one of your characters...
SHELTON: Poddy. "Poddy rules the world" was his slogan. Outside of school I would deface local advertising billboards with Poddy graffiti. A sort of early eco-terrorist, you might say. I spray-painted Poddy on the billboards in my neighborhood with such persistence that eventually the billboard companies were unable to sell those spaces to any advertisers, and the billboards fell blank. That was just more space for me to paint on, of course.
STACK: Can you still draw Poddy?
SHELTON: Sure. [He starts drawing.] Let's see. He was always running from left to right, carrying a 23-cent piece in his left hand. He has a long, flexible tongue like an anteater.
SHELTON: I didn't make the nose long enough... In those days I would try to copy the style of VIP, Virgil Partch, who would do things like putting both eyes on the same side of the nose. Partch himself was copying the style of, or parodying, Pablo Picasso. That was the modern cartoon style of the '50s. Poddy's teeth I got from Ton Smits, a New Yorker cartoonist.
STACK: You said a local family showed you The New Yorker?
SHELTON: One family in our neighborhood had moved to Texas from the Northeast and they had a collection of bound volumes of cartoons from The New Yorker which I studied intently.
STACK: What high school in Houston did you go to?
SHELTON: Lamar. Named after Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas from 1838 to 1841.
STACK: I remember Lamar. I was going to W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi.
SHELTON: Lamar played Ray for the state quadruple-A football championship in 1954, as I recall.
STACK: And Lamar won.
SHELTON: High school football has always been one of the most important things in Texas.
STACK: Did you do athletics, or anything besides defacing local billboards?
SHELTON: No. This was a big school, with 3,000 or so students. There were plenty of outstanding athletes. And there were a lot of creative people too. Tommy Sands, for instance, was a student there at the same time I was. You remember him, the teen-idol singer who married Nancy Sinatra and never did another gig after he divorced her? He was about six years older than me, I think, but I had almost caught up with him in school because he spent a lot of his time doing his daily television show. Also Tommy Tune the dancer was in my class, and Max Neuhaus the sound artist.
STACK: What did you do when you finished high school? Did you go straight to college?
SHELTON: Yeah. First I went to Washington and Lee University. That's a small men-only school in Lexington, Virginia. It had about 600 students.
STACK: And why did you not continue there?
SHELTON: I was bored, and I wasn't doing well in my studies. The only thing to do there was join a fraternity, and I wasn't invited to join. Ninety-five percent of the students at Washington and Lee were in one fraternity or another, so that left me and a dozen or so other weirdos and eccentrics sitting in the local bar, Doc's. That's where I met Stanley Marsh III, later to be a renowned art patron, who commissioned the work of art now known as the Cadillac Ranch -- the row of Cadillacs buried nose-first in concrete with their tailfins sticking up, in Amarillo, Texas.
STACK: So did you finish a full year at Washington and Lee?
SHELTON: Yeah. Then I went to the University of Texas for a year, and then Texas A & M for a half year, and then back to the University of Texas where I got my bachelor's degree in the social sciences in 1961.
STACK: Why all that moving around?
SHELTON: I went to A & M because my parents had moved to College Station and I thought it would be a good idea to move back in with them and save money. It turned out to be boring there, too. I was driving to Houston or Austin every weekend. And Texas A & M didn't have a student humor magazine. It was the Texas Ranger that brought me back to the University of Texas.
STACK: You had contributed a number of cartoons to the Texas Ranger when I was its editor in the academic year '58-'59...
SHELTON: I did some cartoons, but I wasn't part of the social scene. I never went to any of the Ranger parties that year, even though I was invited. Most of the people working on the magazine that year were a couple of years older than me, and I think I was sort of intimidated.
STACK: I would never have guessed that you were intimidated. I remember thinking, me and the others, that you were a sort of cocky young talent, self-confident, ingratiating and funny.
SHELTON: I probably had had to drink two or three beers to build up the nerve to walk into the Ranger office and appear to be self-confident. But anyway, I started getting more involved in the following couple of years when Bill Helmer, Lynn Ashby, and Hugh Lowe were the editors, in the years '59-'60 and '60-'61.
STACK: You went to New York right after you got your degree?
SHELTON: Yeah, I moved to New York in September of '61 and started looking for a job. I looked in the classifieds under "historians" -- that's what I had mainly studied -- but there weren't any jobs in that category. I had one contact in the publishing business, Bill Helmer, who was now associate editor at Escapade and Caper magazines, and he helped me find an editorial job elsewhere. I probably would never have found a job if the Berlin wall crisis hadn't caused a lot of people to get drafted about that time.
STACK: I remember it well. I was one of them. I had to quit graduate school at the University of Wyoming and come to New York and spend my days sitting at a desk at the army base on Governor's Island.
SHELTON: The editor of two little automotive magazines, Speed and Custom and Custom Rodder, had been called back into active duty from the reserves, just like you, and I was hired as assistant editor to put the magazines together in his absence. It was easy, I just followed the editorial formula they had already worked out. I would sneak my own drawings into the magazines from time to time, saying they were drawings from the readers.
STACK: I remember you saying at the time that you did almost all of the magazine yourself, since the readers' contributions were so consistently dull and incompetent.
SHELTON: Yeah, the good automotive magazines, Hot Rod and Rod and Custom, were published in Los Angeles by Petersen Publishing Company. The New York car magazines were low-quality imitations. What do they know about cars in Manhattan?
STACK: There were several of us ex-Ranger people working in New York that year. Besides you and Helmer and me, there was Lynn Ashby, who was working as a reporter for the New York Times. We made lots of contacts, like the Help! magazine people, Harvey Kurtzman, Terry Gilliam, and Chuck Alverson.
SHELTON: I showed Kurtzman my cartoons from the Ranger at that time, but he wasn't interested in publishing them in Help!. I remember showing my stuff to Thousand Jokes magazine too. That was a big-circulation monthly collection of single-panel gag cartoons, as you might recall, and the editor, I don't remember who it was, had a curious comment. He said, "Personally, I hate your work, but I guess it's the wave of the future, and you'll probably do all right. We don't want it for Thousand Jokes, though." [laughter]
STACK: I remember you had tried to work with an old professional comic strip writer.
SHELTON: Yeah, I can't remember much about that, except that some guy gave me a written script for a daily newspaper strip that he wanted to have drawn up.
STACK: What was the theme?
SHELTON: High school athletics. I tried to do it but it took me a week to get one day's worth done, and I realized if I had to do an episode every day I'd be in big trouble.
STACK: You said you sold some stuff to Escapade or Caper?
SHELTON: No, I don't think so. I did sell a few gag cartoons here and there, but I can't recall specifically. The first national publication I ever sold anything to was a magazine called College Humor, back around '59.
Birth of The Hog
STACK: What was the genesis of Wonder Wart-Hog?
SHELTON: The idea for this character came to me one day as I was walking down the street in New York in '61. I even remember exactly where I was, it was the corner of Avenue of the Americas and 45th Street, not that that had anything to do with it.
STACK: I remember the early roughs you did, on yellow sheets of paper. In fact, I may even still have some of them stuck off in my files someplace.
SHELTON: I was working on the first Wonder Wart-Hog story in the fall and winter of '61, when you and I lived in the same neighborhood on the upper west side of Manhattan. The first story was actually written by Bill Killeen, the former editor and publisher of Charlatan, the student humor magazine at Oklahoma State University. I had shown Killeen my ideas for the Wart-Hog strip, which was to start with the origin of the hero, and he told me I shouldn't start with the origin, I should start with the fully-developed character and come back later to the origin. He offered to write a story himself, which he would then publish in Charlatan magazine, which he intended to start publishing in his hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts, now that he no longer attended Oklahoma State University.
STACK: So Wonder Wart-Hog was first published in Charlatan magazine?
SHELTON: No. There was a new college humor magazine that had been started back in Austin, called Bacchanal. The editor of Bacchanal, Dave Crossley, was one of a group of guys who had been fired from the staff of the Texas Ranger for sneaking obscenities into the illustrations and text. Bacchanal was going to be distributed at all the Southwest Conference colleges, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for this project. The magazine was well-done, with inside color and everything, but unfortunately it only lasted for two issues, March and April of '62. The first two Wonder Wart-Hog stories appeared in these.
STACK: You had gone back to Texas by this time?
SHELTON: Yes. It was looking as though I was about to be drafted, too. I had been called in for my pre-induction physical exam in New York and I had passed, so I decided I had better get back in school and get a student deferment. So I went back to Texas and enrolled in graduate school.
STACK: That was the fall of '62?
SHELTON: The summer session. By this time, it was apparent that Bacchanal was going to fail for lack of distribution, and the position of editor of the Texas Ranger had fallen vacant again, so I applied for the job and was appointed. I was the editor for all of the academic year '62-'63, and I did half a dozen Wonder Wart-Hog stories during this time. Some of the scripts I wrote myself, and some of them were written by Killeen, who by this time had moved to Austin.
STACK: The Texas Ranger had a big circulation. I think it had a circulation of 20,000 copies per issue at its peak in '61-'62.
SHELTON: I believe the maximum was 12,000, but it was still the biggest of the college humor mags. It went into a long, slow decline and finally died in the '70s. Anyway, after I was editor of the Ranger, I dropped out of graduate school in history and started over again as a freshman in the art department. The draft board didn't seem to care, though. They kept giving me the deferment. But after two years, I flunked out of art school and was finally drafted. The army only kept me for a couple of days, however.
STACK: And why did they only keep you for two days?
SHELTON: They said I was medically unfit. Maybe they didn't like the fact that I admitted taking drugs like peyote and LSD.
STACK: Were you humiliated or delighted?
SHELTON: I was glad to get off the hook. Vietnam was really heating up by this time, '64. I thought I was doomed. [laughter]
STACK: What did you do then? You had your character, Wonder Wart-Hog. Weren't there people interested in publishing it?
SHELTON: Bill Killeen was publishing it in Charlatan magazine, which he had re-started in Gainesville, Florida. That incarnation of Charlatan lasted until Killeen was sued for libel by some official of the University of Florida whose name had found its way into the joke column of the magazine. But I wasn't making any income from the Wart-Hog. I lived off my friends for a while. I published six or eight numbers of THE Austin Iconoclastic, all but the last two of which were pamphlet format. I also published a small edition of your Adventures of Jesus, at least I took credit for being the publisher. It was xeroxed clandestinely at the University of Texas law school by a law student named Brooks Alexander, and I stapled it together. One of these original editions, which is titled the Adventures of J. by F.S., is supposed to be very valuable today since there were only about 50 copies made, but I imagine it would be sort of difficult to distinguish a genuine original from a copy of the original.
STACK: One of the things in THE Austin Iconoclastic which was memorable was the regular "Austin's Monuments to Bad Taste" feature.
SHELTON: That was Jack Jackson's contribution. Some of the monuments he made fun of were the sculptures by your teacher and mine, Charles Umlauf, and I imagine if Jackson had tried to go to art school Umlauf would have killed him. [laughter]
STACK: If Charles Umlauf blamed you for that, that might have been one of the reasons you found art school difficult.
SHELTON: No, I thought Umlauf was friendly towards me. I had another art teacher who told me that he had wanted to give me a C but the other teachers on the jury had overruled his decision and forced him to give me a B-minus instead.
STACK: That's one of the first good stories I've heard about the University of Texas art faculty.Well, I thought at the time, and I think lots of other people thought too, that you had an extraordinary feeling for what's funny. You said earlier that you didn't know how to do jokes, but somewhere along you did learn. How did you know if it was funny? Did you just show it to somebody and say, "Is this funny?" Did you have sounding boards? Did you try things and change them? Did you talk to people about it?
SHELTON: If it makes me laugh, then I know my idea is funny. But I wasn't especially good at the single-panel gag-type joke, like Virgil Partch used to do. He was very funny with the single-panel gags, but after he started doing a daily comic strip it wasn't so funny.
STACK: You're talking about Big George?
SHELTON: Yeah. But in the '40s and '50s VIP was really funny.
STACK: Who else did you think was funny?
SHELTON: Let me see... Charles Addams. Cobean. George B. Price. Jules Feiffer. Shel Silverstein. Kliban. And in the newspaper comics, Chic Young, Charles Schultz, Mort Walker, Johnny Hart and Mel Lazarus.
STACK: I remember you saying you liked Dick Tracy.
SHELTON: I liked Dick Tracy because it was so weird. I don't know if Chester Gould was trying to be funny, but Dick Tracy really broke me up. I liked the names of the villains, like Flyface.
STACK: Why did you decide to leave Texas, where it seems like there was some kind of scene developing in music and other things, and go to California?
SHELTON: I left and returned to Austin several times. In '64 and '65 I spent some time in Cleveland, where my girlfriend Pat Brown was going to the Cleveland Art Institute.
STACK: Wasn't Robert Crumb living in Cleveland at this time, too?
SHELTON: I think so, but I never actually met Crumb until '68, in New York. In Cleveland I applied for a job at the American Greeting Card Company of Robert Crumb fame, but I was turned down. I did meet Dave Sheridan in Cleveland then, where he was a student at the Art Institute, and Fred Schrier too. During '64 and '65 I was shuttling around between Austin, Cleveland, and New York. Harvey Kurtzman had started reprinting old Wonder Wart-Hog stories from the Ranger in his "Public Gallery" section of Help!, and in '64 he asked me to start writing new Wart-Hog stories for his mag, for which I got $35 a page. Help! didn't last long after that. Then I went out to California for the first time in '65, in a truck with a bunch of guys in a motorcycle gang called The Cleveland Gooses. I stayed with friends in Venice and Summerland, California, and lived in Santa Barbara briefly. In March, 1966, Tony Bell and I started doing regular Wonder Wart-Hog stories in an automotive magazine published in Torrance, California, called Peter Millar's DRAG CARTOONS. Then Tony and I moved back to Austin and continued sending in the strips from there until Millar went out of business in '68. One of the reasons that Millar Publishing Company went bust, maybe, was the publication of two issues of Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly, done by me and Tony Bell and Joe Brown.
STACK: Wasn't it the second Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly that had "The Second Ugliest Thing in the World"? The portrait of Wonder Wart-Hog standing in the same pose as the rejected official portrait of Lyndon Johnson by Peter Hurd?
SHELTON: Yes. I imagine very few people remember that story now, how Lyndon rejected that portrait, calling it the ugliest thing he had ever seen. Tony Bell did the drawing for Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly, and there was a big poster done of it too. Probably not many of our readers got the allusion. I wonder whatever happened to that official portrait of L.B.J...
STACK: I believe somebody bought it and gave it to the National Portrait gallery in Washington, D.C.
SHELTON: Anyway, Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly failed after two issues. Millar had had 140,000 copies of each printed, and he had to sell half of them to break even. But the thing was too weird for the distributors and most of the copies stayed in the warehouses. Only 40,000 of each number were sold. I remember looking and looking for a copy on sale at various newsstands around Austin, and I never found one anywhere.
STACK: Was there anything being published at this time that anyone would recognize as an underground comic?
SHELTON: The format of Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly was modeled after Jim Warren's Creepy, with 64 pages in black and white and a cover price of 50 cents. The archetypical underground comic, Zap, didn't appear until a couple of years later. There had been some earlier things that could be called underground comics, like The Adventures of Jesus and Jackson's God Nose, back in '64.
The Vulcan Gas Company
STACK: So Wonder Wart-Hog Quarterly sounds like first a career break, then a career setback. What did you do then, in '68?
SHELTON: About this time a friend of mine, Houston White, and some other guys opened a rock dance and concert hall on Congress Avenue in Austin -- the Vulcan Gas Company -- and I became art director, in charge of getting the posters done each week. I did a number of posters, in a style influenced by the California poster artists, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, Bob Fried, and others. These posters for the Vulcan Gas Company were similar in style to the California ones, but larger, since this was Texas. They were printed by an Austin printer named Johnny Mercer, and some of them were really beautiful, with split-fount inking. Only about 100 copies of each of these posters were printed, so they're quite rare now. I did this for about a year, until I moved to San Francisco in the summer of '68. Jim Franklin then became art director for the Vulcan Gas Company, and then for Eddie Wilson's Armadillo World Headquarters, which was more successful. A whole art and music scene grew up around the Armadillo World Headquarters, which I missed.
STACK: I remember being at a party in Austin and seeing you there with Janis Joplin, if my memory serves me right.
SHELTON: Yeah, Janis and I were close friends and it's entirely possible you saw us together. Janis started at the University of Texas in '62. She was studying drama, I think. These were the days of the big folk music revival, and Janis would sing each week at the regular hootenanny in the student union. She was a folk music purist at the time, and when I once suggested to her that she ought to try doing some rock and blues, she rejected the idea. But then she dropped out of school and moved to New York in '64, and then later went out to California with the Texan Chet Helms, and well, the rest is history.
STACK: Did the two of you go to California at pretty much the same time?
SHELTON: By the time I got to San Francisco, Janis was already a star. She'd been discovered at the Monterey Pop Festival, and she already had an album out with Big Brother and the Holding Company. The album cover was done by Robert Crumb.
STACK: Columbia Records didn't have the nerve to use Crumb's original front cover, so they used his back cover as the front. The original front cover was too raunchy, with Janis sweating and all.
SHELTON: [laughing] I didn't know that. But it makes a great front cover anyway.