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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tales from the Vulcan Gas Company #1 - Forrest Preece

Texas Texas Psych Blog is please to announce a new Series: Tales from the Vulcan Gas Company. Here, we will be collecting memories and recollections from the people who were there so details about this important history and culture isn't lost forever. 

Please enjoy Tales from the Vulcan Gas Company #1 by Forrest Preece.

The Vulcan Gas Company,

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
In the late sixties, I was in my early twenties, in UT graduate school part-time and starting a career in advertising. My life experience to that point had been so whitebread and conventional that I squeaked.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
I was a Longhorn Band player and had a Plan II degree. I’d had a summer internship at a large ad agency in Houston . My grades were solid and about the only experience I’d had with “letting myself go” was buying a book or magazine not on some recommended list.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
Then one night in 1968, on a whim, I decided to visit this venue downtown called Vulcan Gas Company. The rush that it gave my senses when I went inside was unlike anything I had ever known. From the tranquility of lower Congress Avenue, I’d been transported into the heart of a Bruegel painting.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
I felt an aural assault of heavy blues with a powerful bass line punching me in my core and soaring guitars. People swaying, dancing and just plain rocking out with everyone around them. And suspended from the south side ceiling was a beneficent gray-headed man flapping gels over an effect light, producing huge, swirling amoebas on the north wall. After that introduction, I spent many a weekend night there.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
Soon I learned who some of the key people running the place were. Houston White, a tall, guy with long hair was the owner of the business. A brilliant artist named Jim Franklin lived upstairs where he drew his posters for the concerts. (In 1970, he would pioneer the idea of using the armadillo as the symbol of the counter culture in town.)

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
So many memories – like after the national championship football game at Arkansas and then the victory over Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, two studs from the UT team showed up and mingled unobtrusively in the crowd. Suddenly a young woman saw them, ran up on the stage, grabbed the mike and announced their presence. Another woman poked her and said, “And they’re looking for chicks!”

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
Another time, I sat down in a folding chair and a nice guy took the seat next to me. He just wanted to talk. He told me that he’d been diagnosed with an eye disease and that he was going blind, so he wanted to see as many concerts as he could before he lost his sight. We had a good time talking about our favorite bass players. I think that Mother Earth was playing that night.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
And the bands! Shiva’s Headband with my Longhorn Band mate Jerry Barnett on drums and the wild-haired Spencer Perskin on electric fiddle. Conqueroo with Ed Guinn on keyboards. Georgetown Medical with Johnny Richardson on lead guitar and Don Lupo on bass. These were regular acts – and then there would be out of town stars like the Steve Miller Band. I can still hear his version of “Mercury Blues” in my head.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
Bubble Puppy played a terrific concert one night—man, those guys were laying down a powerful and solid groove. And Mother Earth -- with a short singer named Tracy Nelson who had a deep, vibrato-filled voice that made the walls shake with every note she sang. Plus old time bluesmen like Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Joe Williams often took the stage to great applause.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
One night, I was amazed to see a strange apparition on the stage: a reed-thin, albino guitar player with white hair dangling to his shoulders. He played volcanic riffs and sang in a wail from the bottom of his soul. Later Johnny Winter would go on to national fame and all of us who had seen him at the Vulcan were amazed.

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
One special night, I met some guys at the cafĂ© nearby who had a band called Hub City Movers. I told them that I played sax (yeah, well, with the Longhorn Band) and they said that I could sit in with them for one number. I ran home and got my horn. We did a version of “Watermelon Man,” and as I was leaving the stage their lead guitar player grabbed me by the arm and said, “Man, you did great.”

Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
On a few other occasions I would show up for jam sessions, one time playing with my old junior high friend and guitarist Ike Ritter. A few days after that session, I was walking back from class to my place in West Campus and the bass player for a hot band called New Atlantis saw me, hailed me down and said that he had heard me. He asked if I might like to play a few rehearsals with them to see if I’d fit in with them. I thought about and said that it just wouldn’t work—I had too much of a class load in school, I was working part-time at a local ad agency, and my priority at that point was making my career happen. I just couldn’t to commit to doing a lot of concerts, if they decided that they liked me.
Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company

(If I thought about it some more, I could come up with a lot of stories about specific concerts and people I met there. But you get the idea.)


Vulcan Gas Company
Vulcan Gas Company
To all of us who hung out in that magic spot, the Vulcan Gas Company was a place to escape for just a few hours from the madness that was happening all around us in Vietnam and on the streets. People of all colors mingled and when the music started playing, there was just about always someone willing to dance.
            
It was only there for a few years, but what an impression the Vulcan made on me. I would give anything to go back there for even one night.

Forrest Preece
Austin, Texas
http://www.goodrightarm.com



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