Posts Tagged ‘psychedelic rock’

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

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“Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

In the summer of 1966, Jimi Hendrix was going by the stage name of Jimmy James and playing in New York City bars with a band called the Blue Flame.

Less than a year later, his Jimi Hendrix Experience had three hit singles to its credit in his new base of the United Kingdom, and the band was about to release its first album to an eagerly anticipating audience.

“Are You Experienced?” hit the British shelves on May 12, 1967, a few weeks before the Beatles’ latest long-player, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Both represented how far rock music had come in the dozen or so years it had been in existence, and particularly in the short time even since the Blue Flame days.

It took another three months, though, for “Are You Experienced?” to be released in Hendrix’s native United States. The Experience had made its American live debut with its stunning appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, a set that filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker caught for posterity. The Monkees subsequently invited the Experience to open for their summer concerts, but that experiment didn’t last too long.

So Hendrix still was relatively unknown in the United States when “Are You Experienced?” came out, but that didn’t stop it from selling strongly, reaching No. 5 and establishing Jimi as … well, Jimi Hendrix.

The U.K. and U.S. releases of “Are You Experienced?” are substantially different. The British version does not include any of the hit singles – “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” – which, of course, represented some of the strongest tracks on the American issue. On the other hand, “Can You See Me,” “Remember” and “Red House” were removed from the U.S. version, the latter against Hendrix’s wishes.

In 1993, MCA rectified the situation on compact disc, including all the songs from both releases, plus the B-sides of the British singles: “Stone Free,” “51st Anniversary” and “Highway Chile.”

For the sake of this discussion, let’s go with the American version. It’s difficult to think about “Are You Experienced?” without hearing the opening notes of “Purple Haze” blasting out from the grooves of the first song on Side One!

Few, if any, chord progressions and guitar leads are more recognizable than the start of “Purple Haze,” and calling the song a musical landmark almost seems like an understatement. At once we have the full bloom of psychedelia and nascent hard rock – it even might represent the birth of what became heavy metal – into a sound that still seems to be on the cutting edge 46 years later, and perhaps always will.

The lyrics have been a source of discussion for four and a half decades, especially the line “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky,” which often are misinterpreted, usually for comedic purposes. Jimi claimed the finished product was boiled down from a much longer science-fiction epic. He also disavowed the seemingly obvious drug references.

“I dream a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” Hendrix said in a 1969 interview with the New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze’, which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”

Whatever it is, that song serves as a defining moment in the history of popular music. It scored the Experience another bit hit in Britain, hitting No. 3, and also was the band’s first charting single in the United States, peaking at No. 65.

The theme of “Manic Depression,” the second track on the American version of “Are You Experienced?”, is summarized on Hendrix’s introduction to the song during a performance at San Francisco’s Winterland in October 1968: “a story about a cat wishing he could make love to music, instead of the same old everyday woman.” The composition is in a 3/4 time signature, somewhat unusual for rock music at the time.

One of the most-covered rock songs of the ’60s remains “Hey Joe,” which was written by – or at least, it was copyrighted by – a South Carolina-born musician named William Moses Roberts Jr. In 1965, the Los Angeles band the Leaves had a regional hit with the song, and they re-recorded it the following year, putting it on the national charts. Other artists to cut versions around the same time include the Standells, the Surfaris, Love, the Music Machine and the Byrds.

Hendrix’s version represents his first recording as a bandleader, at the urging of manager Chas Chandler, who actually had been looking for an artist to record the song. Folk singer Tim Rose had performed “Hey Joe” at a slowed-down tempo, and Hendrix’s arrangement appears to have been based on that. Adding backing vocals are a vocal trio called the Breakaways, three ladies named Jean Hawker, Margot Newman and Vicki Brown (in case it ever comes up in a trivia contest).

“Hey Joe” was released in the U.K. on Dec. 16, 1966, quickly vaulting up to No. 6 on the charts and establishing the Jimi Hendrix Experience as one of the hottest acts in a nation that had an unparalleled abundance of quality rock groups at the time. The band’s live debut of the song was at Monterey, and Jimi closed his set – and the entire Woodstock Music and Arts Festival – with “Hey Joe” on the morning of Aug. 18, 1969.

“Love or Confusion” is one of the more sonically affected songs on “Are You Experienced?”, its musical overtones enhancing the uncertainty expressed in Hendrix’s heartfelt lyrics:

My head is poundin’, poundin’
Goin’ ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
Must there always be these colours?
Without names, without sounds
My heart burns with feeling, but,
My mind, it’s cold and reeling
Is this love baby,
Or is it just confusion?
You tell me baby, is this
Love or confusion?

“May This Be Love” is a true gem of psychedelia, as Hendrix takes the listener on a journey to a world where all is well, all is ideal: “Some people say day-dreaming’s for the lazy minded fools with nothing else to do/So let them laugh, so just as long as I have you to see me through.”

Featuring one of Hendrix’s many eminently memorable guitar riffs, “I Don’t Live Today” examines the mundane side of life, perhaps with Jimi ruminating about his days as a struggling musician and the tremendous disappointment therein. The key line: “It’s such a shame to waste your time away like this, existing.” The song evolves into a jam featuring a prototypical example of Hendrix’s guitar awash in studio effects, panning back and forth between channels and giving listeners at the time a taste of something they’d never heard before, from anyone.

In the U.K., Track Records issued “The Wind Cries Mary” as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s third single, and it became another No. 6 hit. The languidly paced love song is one of Hendrix’s enduring classics, and deservedly so. The Curtis Mayfield-derived riff evokes the melancholy of the subject, a lament for lost love put forth in an eloquent manner that establishes Jimi’s genius as a lyricist:

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary

The Experience often opened its shows with “Fire,” a tremendous showcase for Hendrix’s riffing that, as with many of his earliest songs, still sounds fresh and invigorating today. According to an article in Record Collector, the song’s genesis is from when Jimi asked bass player Noel Redding’s mother if he could stand next to her fireplace to warm himself. She agreed, but her great dane was in the way: “Aw, move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over.”

In an album full of tracks that built the foundation of Classic Rock, “Third Stone from the Sun” stands out for its influence what would become jazz-rock fusion. The signature melody has been dropped into many a guitar solo over the years, with the teenage Ted Nugent quoting it during his flashy run on the Amboy Dukes’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” later in 1967, and the Allman Brothers often including it in “Mountain Jam.”

Thematically, the song draws from jazz great Sun Ra’s vision of worlds beyond ours, with Hendrix employing dialogue at varying speeds to portray an extraterrestrial being’s description of the earth to his control center (pre-Major Tom). In 2000, Experience Hendrix released “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” boxed set, which includes the uncut dialogue between Jimi and producer Chas Chandler. Much of it goes somewhat like this:

Starfleet to scoutship, please give your position, over.
I’m in orbit around the third planet from the star called the sun. Over.
You mean it’s the earth? Over.
Positive. It is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over. I think we should take a look.
Strange beautiful grass of green, with your majestic silver seas, your mysterious mountains.
I wish to see closer. May I land my kinky machine?
Although your world wonders me, with your majestic and superior cackling hen, your people I do not understand.
So to you I shall put an end. And you’ll never hear surf music again.

The “surf music” line has been a source of conjecture for decades. Guitarist Dick Dale wrote in his autobiography that the comment was Hendrix’s reaction upon hearing that Dale was battling a possibly terminal case of colon cancer. Dale recovered, and he later covered “Third Stone.” And Frank Zappa often quoted the line in concert to introduce the suf music-inspired “Theme from Lumpy Gravy.”

The British “Are You Experienced?” opened with the faded-in burst of guitar feedback that erupts into “Foxy Lady,” another song that certainly has stood the test of time with its distinctive octave-leap riff and sexually charged lyrics. The liner notes of the 1992 CD reissue quote Jimi as saying he was relatively shy and never would approach women in the way the song suggests. Nonetheless, from every available report, Mr. Hendrix did quite well with the ladies, indeed.

Both versions of “Are You Experienced?” close with the title track, a monumental piece of audio experimentation that serves as a grand summation of everything Hendrix brought to the table on his debut album. Much of the instrumentation is recorded backwards, extending the possibilities of what the Beatles had introduced in such psychedelic staples as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Rain.” Jimi’s lyrics explore a theme he’d revisit often, of entering a brave, new world, so to speak:

I know, I know you probably scream and cry
That your little world won’t let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you trying to prove that
You’re made out of gold and, eh, can’t be sold

So, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

So has anyone who appreciates the “Are You Experienced?” album for what it is: a true cornerstone of Classic Rock, this by a man who had been playing to audiences of a perhaps a dozen just nine months before its release.

“Revolver” by the Beatles (1966)

Picture Beatlemania as it erupted in the United States in February 1964: Teenage girls screaming at four young “mop-top” musicians performing melodic love songs.

Two years later, the girls still were screaming. But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey had been transformed far, far beyond the cartoonish – yes, there actually was a Beatles animated series – portrayal of the Fab Four phenoms.

The release of “Rubber Soul” in late 1965 demonstrated how far the band had progressed musically, the lyrical simplicity of previous songs supplanted by a newfound complexity, particularly on Lennon’s material. Under the guidance of producer George Martin, the Beatles were able to translate their musical aspirations to vinyl.

“Revolver” is a groundbreaking statement in that it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities as to how a popular band could present itself to its audience. Stylistically, lyrically and sonically, the album represents a major step in formulating what we now know as classic rock.

Proceedings began on April 6, 1966, when the band started work on a new composition by Lennon that carried the working title of “Mark I.” After experiencing a bad LSD trip the first time he tried LSD, unwittingly dosed by his dentist, John decided to try the drug on better terms, using Dr. Timothy Leary’s writings as a guide. That did the trick.

“Mark I” apparently represents Lennon’s sonic conversion of an acid trip, evoking Leary’s words to a backdrop of tape loops, many of them running in reverse. In an attempt to add to the sense of otherworldliness, he suggested that he should be suspended from a rope to spin around as he delivered his vocal. Nineteen-year-old engineer Geoff Emerick came up with the more practical solution of Lennon singing into a Leslie revolving speaker, which he hijacked from an organ.

In the original version of “Mark I,” as released three decades later on “Anthology 2,” Lennon’s vocal is thin and tinny, described by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn as sounding like it was coming from the cheapest of transistor radios. By the time the song was completed as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the voice transmission is much higher fidelity, if hardly conventional.

According to McCartney and Harrison, Lennon drew the lyrics primarily from Leary’s “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead,” co-written by fellow LSD proselytizers Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. The first couple of verses read much like their guide to a good trip:

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Although the Beatles started work first on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” it is the final track on “Revolver,” which contains 14 tracks on its British version. Unfortunately, Capitol Records still was playing games with Beatles records as of 1966, and the American release contains only 11 songs, clocking in at well under half an hour.

Either way, kicking off the album is one of Harrison’s best-known songs, and one that looks to continue to resonate long after all of us are gone, “Taxman.” Stewing at his native United Kingdom taking 94 percent at his earnings, he launches into a viciously cynical diatribe from the government’s standpoint:

Don’t ask me what I want it for
(Haha! Mister Wilson!)
If you don’t want to pay some more
(Haha! Mister Heath!),
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman

Now my advice for those who die, (Taxman!)
Declare the pennies on your eyes, (Taxman!)
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
And you’re working for no-one but me!

If Harrison’s attack on the tax structure was revolutionary for 1966, the song that follows it on “Revolver” is no less. “Eleanor Rigby,” of course, is McCartney’s nihilistic vignette set to a string quartet, ruminating on “all the lonely people” and, by extension, on organized religion: “No one was saved.” Many other artists covered “Eleanor Rigby” in various forms, including the overtly psychedelicized Vanilla Fudge version. But the Beatles’ original arrangement – the strings, Paul’s plaintive vocal, John and George backing him on the chorus – remains the strongest.

The U.S. version of “Revolver” omits three Lennon songs that appear on other American albums: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert.” The first of those – a languidly paced number that abruptly drops out in places, as if the singer indeed has nodded off – is laced with many of the sonic effects of which John became enamored while recording “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Harrison returns with “Love You To,” the first of his three sitar-dominated compositions for the Beatles and probably the strongest one. Again, he expresses the cynicism of his worldview – “There’s people standing ’round/Who screw you in the ground/They’ll fill you in with all their sins you’ll see” – but this time he’s able to steer matters in the right direction with the love of his woman.

“Revolver” is an album of contrasts, and diametrically opposed to Lennon’s experimentation is McCartney’s penchant for straightforward love songs. “Here, There and Everywhere” is such an effort, presaging much of what has been criticized as fluff during his solo career, although this composition certainly has much more merit than something like, say, “Silly Love Songs.” (Although that Wings effort was the biggest hit of 1976!)

Speaking of hits, they don’t have much more staying power than “Yellow Submarine,” written by Lennon for Ringo’s vocal contribution to the album. The fanciful journey in what very well may be a barbiturate has been sung by children for a couple of generations now, enjoying the nonsense of claiming, “We all live in a yellow submarine!” Of note in the actual recording are the various nautical sound effects, which help keep the track sounding somewhat fresh as it plods along.

“She Said She Said” is another acid-influenced Lennon composition, this time based on a conversation he had with Peter Fonda when both were tripping. One drawback of the U.S. “Revolver” is that only this track and “Tomorrow Never Knows” were present to represent John’s work.

McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” has been heard recently in TV commercials, but the original uses the Beatles’ inimitable harmony vocals to great effect in conveying a thoroughly uplifting message, one that might be needed after the listener mulls “She Said She Said.”

Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” features an exceptional guitar line, with Harrison playing his 12-string Rickenbacker and McCartney adding support. The lyrics are rather cryptic, but one entirely plausible suggestions is that they refer to Mick Jagger’s then-girlfriend (“bird”) Marianne Faithfull, who had scored a couple of mid-’60s pop hits despite a lack of prior performing experience.

“For No One” shows McCartney taking the opposite approach of “Good Day Sunshine” with a melancholy statement on the breakup of “a love that should have lasted years.” Given full credit on the album cover for his French horn playing was Alan Civil (1929-89), principal hornist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 1988.

The popular story behind Lennon’s “Doctor Robert” is that he wrote it about a pill-pushing physician in New York. Certainly, the lyrics hint at some type of prescriptive shenanigans:

Ring my friend, I said you call Doctor Robert
Day or night he’ll be there any time at all, Doctor Robert
Doctor Robert, you’re a new and better man,
He helps you to understand
He does everything he can, Doctor Robert

“I Want to Tell You” is one of Harrison’s best Beatles songs, faded in with a stuttering, hard-rock intro that goes a long way toward defining the band’s sound of its proto-psychedelic period. Again, George is prone to ruminate: “But if I seem to act unkind/It’s only me, it’s not my mind/That is confusing things.”

McCartney does his best Motown impression on “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which became a hit U.S. single in 1976 after being re-released on Capitol’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation. The song shows the Beatles as maintaining their strong R&B roots in the midst of their transformation to psychedelia.

The release of “Revolver” in August 1966 coincided with the start of a short tour, which wrapped up with a performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Aug. 29. No songs from the new album were included, of course, as the band ripped through their usual Fab Four-type set, most of the sound drowned in screams.

And that, of course, was that.

“Anthem of the Sun” by the Grateful Dead (1968)

Say you’re a recording engineer who helped get the riff to sound the way it did on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” From there, you go into production for Warner Bros. Records, where you’re assigned to work with a relatively new band from San Francisco.

Your first album with the group goes relatively smoothly, the result of a three-day session that was typical in early 1967. That fall, you start work on the followup.

Welcome to Dave Hassinger’s world. Dealing with the Grateful Dead at the time – or at any point in the subsequent 28 years, for that matter – wasn’t going to be easy for anyone who was used to dealing with anything near normal, and Hassinger wasn’t up to the task.

The breaking point famously came when Bob Weir requested a sound like “thick air.” After that, the band was on its own. Warner’s could have scuttled the project, but company president Joe Smith believed in what the Dead was doing. So the members were granted the then-unheard-of privilege of producing their own record.

The finished product, “Anthem of the Sun,” finally made its way to the shelves in the summer of 1968. Even amid the spate of different-sounding music – history tends to lump it together as psychedelic – emerging at the time, the album stood out for its blatant disregard of conventional song structures. To this day, it remains one of the most intriguing listens not only in the vast Dead catalogue, but in the whole of what now is considered rock’s classic era.

The album’s credits attest to the complexity of “Anthem of the Sun.” The musicians are credited with playing unexpected and somewhat exotic instruments: Jerry Garcia on vibraslap; Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on celeste and claves; Phil Lesh on trumpet, harpsichord and guiro; Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart on orchestra bells, gong, chimes, crotales, prepared piano and finger cymbals; and Tom Constanten on prepared piano and electronic tape. Oh, yeah: Garcia, Lesh and Weir also play kazoo.


A vibraslap

(I had to look this up, because I didn’t know if it really exists: “A vibraslap is a percussion instrument consisting of a piece of stiff wire [bent in a U shape] connecting a wood ball to a hollow box of wood with metal ‘teeth’ inside. The percussionist holds the metal wire in one hand and strikes the ball [usually against the palm of their other hand.] The box acts as a resonating body for a metal mechanism placed inside with a number of loosely fastened pins or rivets that vibrate and rattle against the box.”)

By the way, “Anthem” marked the Dead debut of Hart and Constanten, who helped steer the band toward new visionary heights as the experimentation of the late ’60 reached its pinnacle.

The staggering array of recording venues also demonstrates that the album is out of the ordinary: four studios in California and New York, plus half a dozen live performances, including such quaint-sounding locales as the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, Eagles Auditorium in Seattle and the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Ore.

That was the band’s grand concept, to merge concert and studio tracks to produce something akin to an actual Grateful Dead show of the period. Fortunately, the live recordings survived to be released decades later; the Feb. 14, 1968, performance at San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom, available as “Road Trips Vol. 2, No. 2,” actually contains the whole of what would become “Anthem of the Sun” and serves as the basis for much of the album.

As far as the music goes, everything starts deceptively simply, with an organ note and Garcia singing “The other day they waited, the sky was dark and faded/Solemnly they stated, ‘He has to die, you know he has to die.'” Despite the lyrical subject matter and a minor-key, phase-shifted middle eight, the next minute and a half proceeds relatively lighthearted compared with what follows.

Garcia’s short narrative, called “Cryptical Envelopment,” actually is the opening part of a suite called “That’s It for the Other One,” which evolves into a cacophony of instrumental bursts derived from numerous concert tapes layered on top of one another. What eventually emerges became one of the Dead’s most-played riffs, the E-D combination of “Quadlibet for Tenderfeet,” better known as “The Other One.” Weir’s lyrics seem to tell of some type of mystical journey, culminating with “Cowboy Neal at the wheel of a bus to Never-Never Land,” his tribute to the legendary Neal Cassady of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” fame, who died just before the Carousel Ballroom show.

“That’s It” features a brief reprise of “Cryptical Envelopment” before heading into John Cage-type territory with the sound collage called “The Faster We Go, the Rounder We Get” and “We Leave the Castle.” For listeners who adhered to the Dead’s lifestyle beyond music, the combination of all the percussion instruments listed above must have been a real treat, particularly for those wearing headphones.

Eventually the noise dies down and a cheery guitar riff takes its place, leading into “New Potato Caboose,” Lesh’s composition with lyricist Bobby Petersen. Elements of the song sound relatively normal following “That’s It,” particularly the extended out jam, which became a high point of live sets featuring Phil’s bass guitar explorations.

Following is Weir’s “Born Cross-Eyed,” which manages to compress several bizarre approaches to songwriting and execution into just over two minutes of music. Nevertheless, Warners released the song as a single, perhaps solely because of its brevity. (The B-side is a short studio version of “Dark Star” that bears little resemblance to what it would become during Dead concerts over the decades.”)

“Alligator” is notable as Robert Hunter’s first lyrical contribution to a Grateful Dead recording; he’s co-credited with Lesh and McKernan, as opposed to the monster songwriting team he’d later form with Garcia. The song is treated to numerous overdubs, including those kazoos, that frame it in a thoroughly different context from its in-concert origins.

The overdubs eventually give way to a rawer sound, as the band relies primarily on the Carousel show to take the song to its conclusion, which is a segue into “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks”).

“Caution” dates all the way back to 1965, when the band was in the process of transforming from the Warlocks to the Emergency Crew to the Grateful Dead. The song began life as a knockoff of Them’s “Mystic Eyes” but became a showcase for Pigpen’s bluesman persona: “I went down to see that gypsy woman, and I told her my story …”

The album concludes with a long segment of guitar feedback, which is exactly how the band wrapped up its concerts, much to the delight of the more chemically aided members of the audiences.

The listening public in general didn’t know what to make of “Anthem of the Sun” on its release, as the album peaked at No. 87 on Billboard. And it received plenty of retroactive criticism during the ’80s backlash against ’60s psychedelia.

But of course, the Dead’s reputation has soared since those dark days, and the album eventually was ranked number 287 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

That’s not bad for a project that had the producer quitting right smack in the middle.

“The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” by the 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

Take a look at the singer in this video from Germany in 2010.

Sure, it looks as if he’s had some ups and downs over the years. But all in all, he seems to be in pretty good shape.

In 2005, filmmaker Keven McAlester released his documentary about the singer, Roger Kynard “Roky” Erickson. Judging by the movie, you’d never guess that Roky ever would be able to function in society again, let alone return to performing music.

But he continues to do his thing on stage, including shows this coming weekend in New Jersey, if you’re out that direction.

That’s good news for fans who have followed Roky – pronounced “Rocky” – since his days as frontman for the ’60s-era band the 13th Floor Elevators, and who have cheered him on during his peaks and valleys in the decades since.

In the rock ‘n’ roll canon, Roger Kynard Erickson usually is mentioned in the same breath as another Roger, “Syd” Barrett of Pink Floyd, and Canadian multi-instrumentalist Alexander “Skip” Spence, of Moby Grape and Jefferson Airplane.

Those musicians often are cited as primary casualties of the era’s drug culture, men whose predilections for substances led to debilitating mental illness.

Roky isn’t the only one of them who’s still making music. He’s the only one who’s still alive.

His story begins in Austin, Texas, in 1965, when he came to local prominence with a band called the Spades. Barely 18 at the time, he wrote two songs that became audience favorites, “We Sell Soul” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

Late in the year, Roky decided to team up with members of a band called the Lingsmen for a new aggregation. Erickson, guitarist Stacy Sutherland, bass player Benny Thurman and drummer John Ike Walton opted for the name 13th Floor Elevators, as a nod to the number that doesn’t exist in hotels (and possibly signifying the 13th letter of the alphabet, which also is the first letter of the word “marijuana”).

If the band name was thoroughly unusual for mid-’60s Texas, the addition of a fifth member was downright unique. To quote Mark Deming on allmusic.com: “nobody played electric jug quite like Tommy Hall … actually, nobody played it at all besides him.”

That’s right. He’d picked up a jug, put a microphone next to it and make noises that somewhat resemble what you’d hear on a submarine’s sonar. As you might imagine, he had to be in a certain frame of mind to operate thusly.

“With the Elevators, Hall made it a rule to drop acid every time someone picked up an instrument,” Jennifer Maerz of the Houston Press wrote in “Ex-13th Floor Elevator Tommy Hall Is Still Psychedelic.

Speaking of psychedelic, we can attribute the coining of the word to British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who came up with the term for the hallucinogenic drugs he prescribed to author Aldous Huxley. (He’s the guy who wrote “The Doors of Perception,” from which Jim Morrison and company took their band’s name.) At the start of 1966, the word wasn’t widely known, except to folks like Dr. Timothy Leary. But that soon would change.

The 13th Floor Elevators started the year by going into the studio to record two songs for the band’s first 45, working with a producer named Gordon Bynum for a label called Contact Records. The B-side was called “Tried to Hide,” while the main track turned out to be an updated version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” If you’ve seen the movie “High Fidelity,” that’s the song that’s playing on vinyl during the opening.

The single made a national impact, peaking at No. 55 on the Billboard charts and No. 50 on Cash Box. The song’s most notable feature, even more than Hall’s jug, is Erickson’s frantic vocal delivery, in marked contrast to what other popular singers were doing in early 1966.

The success of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” resulted in the 13th Floor Elevators being offered gigs far away from Texas, most notably San Francisco, where acts like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead were starting to make names for themselves. After taking in some Elevators shows, the Bay Area bands started to veer away from folk and blues toward uncharted territory.

Returning to Austin, the Elevators went to work on recording an album, which also ended up being unlike anything anyone had heard before. Or since.

“The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” not only used Osmond’s contribution to the language prominently, but it also came with an album cover goes a long way toward summing up what psychedelic music was, is and will be.

John Cleveland, an Austin artist, ably executed the theme of bright colors surrounding an eye with a pyramid and smaller eye within the pupil. As band collaborator Powell St. John recalled in an interview decades later, “It was one of those arcane symbols of which Tommy was so fond and so vague in explaining. Maybe it had something to do with Scientology. Tommy was very big on Scientology. ”

The album was recorded for International Artists, a small Houston record company with a staff producer named Lelan Rogers, whose brother, Kenny, would score a hit with a band called the First Edition and a song called “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” (I heard he’s recorded some other stuff, too. And been in some movies. And lent his name to a chain of chicken restaurants.)

Lelan produced nine new songs to go with the pair of tunes originally recorded for Contact. The result is sonically primitive – adding to the technological limitations is the apparent loss of the original master tapes – but fascinating, a document of the raw tools that paved the way for a style of music that’s still revered in many quarters today.

“You’re Gonna Miss Me,” naturally, is the opening track, kicking off with a riff reminiscent of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” but quickly veering off the beaten path with the introduction of Hall’s jug noises. Roky breaks in with an otherwordly “Oh, yeah!” before warning his girlfriend of an imminent departure. The key switches from E major to E minor for a the bridge before returning to the main theme, punctuated by blasts from Erickson’s harmonica. The net result is two-and-a-half minutes of pure adrenaline.

The pace slows with “Roller Coaster,” which begins with a Walton drum roll leading in to a menacing guitar figure, with Sunderland using reverb and echo to great effect for the time. Roky starts intoning the Hall-penned lyrics: “Once, somewhere, some time ago, his eyes were clear to see/He put his thoughts into my mind, and gave myself to be.” He and Sutherland trade guitar licks with Hall’s jug bubbling up prominently, until Roky redoubles his vocal effort: “Well, it starts like a roller coaster ride, so real it takes your breath away/It slides you through your point of view, you look back to where you thought you’d stayed.” Perhaps listeners in 1966 weren’t exactly hip to what Hall was writing about, but seeing the words in print makes the subject matter quite a bit clearer!

Tommy’s wife at the time, Clementine, co-wrote the next track, “Splash 1,” with Roky. Compared with the freakout that was “Roller Coaster,” “Splash 1” comes across as a relatively straightforward, sparely arranged love song … until you’re confronted with lyrics like “The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine/It’s so familiar, in a way I can’t define.” Perhaps it’s a coincidence that a preferred method of taking LSD at the time was to use an eye dropper, straight into the ol’ cornea?

“Reverberation (Doubt)” opens with a burst of feedback, flowing into a riff that sounds like a speeded-up “Roller Coaster.” The lyrics, again by Tommy Hall, reflect pure paranoia: “Well, you finally find your helpless mind is trapped inside your skin/You want to leave, but you believe you won’t get back again. … It holds your thought, your mind is caught, you’re fixed with fascination/You think you’ll die, it’s just a lie, it’s backward elevation!” This ode to a bad trip, was the follow-up single to “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and actually made it to No. 129 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under, shortly after the album’s release.

“Don’t Fall Down” features a call-and-response vocal arrangement, with Tommy’s lyrics sticking to a more conventional (for him) love-song script: “Every time you need her, she is there, to ease the pain that fogs you/And when you don’t need her, from her stare, she says she’s needing you.”

The frenzy factor is upped again with “Fire Engine,” with suitable sound effects roaring through the song’s start, punctuating Sutherland’s reverb-drenched chords. His playing is particularly prominent during this composition, showing him to be an inventive guitar player whose style seems to have made many fans among West Coast players who developed similar chops.

“Thru the Rhythm” is built on one of those great ’60s-era riffs that seem as if they’d be right at home as the theme music for a period spy movie. Unfortunately, Hall’s lyrics serve as an unnerving foreshadowing of what would come to pass in Roky’s life: “You gobble all the blessings they taught you to digest/They may be hard to swallow, but they keep your tongue depressed/Your scattered whims were born depressed, so when something slams into your chest/You flutter about your sleep distressed, and then you stop to ease your breast/A scattered rim leaves you obsessed, but solid thoughts are soon suppressed/Where are you?”

Keep those words in mind for later reference.

St. John’s “You Don’t Know” is the song on the album that uses Hall’s jug to best effect, as his noises punctuate a relatively spare arrangement. Although the key line is “You don’t know how young you are,” other lyrics register high on the lysergic scale: “Your eyes are filled with liquid snakes and liquid plastic castles.” Another eye-dropper reference, perhaps.

While “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Roller Coaster” are the best-known tracks on “Psychedelic Sounds,” the tune that most lives up to the album title is “Kingdom of Heaven.” Sutherland’s minor-key, languidly paced guitar riffs lay the foundation for an entire rock genre, as do St. John’s set-the-scene lyrics:

Here you are at my place within your glistening eyes
I´m watching your reactions as the thing within you cries
And I´m bringing you this message ´cause I think it´s time you knew
That the kingdom of heaven is within you

The incense and the candles and the colors on the wall
Your image stands reflected as a princess come to call
Your suspicions I´m confirming as you find them all quite true
And the kingdom of heaven is within you

Through the stained glass windows moonlight flashes on the choir
And splashes on the altar in glows of liquid fire
Then it bathes you with its glory and you begin life anew
And the kingdom of heaven is within you

Another St. John song, “Monkey Island,” either alludes to the “monkey on the back” of addiction or the recurring theme of nonconformism that runs through his and Hall’s material: “Well, here I am on Monkey Island, hiding behind a rock/I’m all dressed up with my monkey suit, pretending to be something I’m not.” Maybe a combination of the two.

The Elevators’ debut wraps up with “Tried to Hide,” which co-composer Sutherland actually builds atop major chords. Hall blows on the jug frenetically as his lyrics – yes, they’re about alienation again – are sung by Erickson: “You think you´re strong when you´re all restraining/You think you have when you´re only claiming/When I got near all I saw was fear/And I know that you tried to hide and you cried ´cause you lied about it.”

So … for anyone who had equated “Incense and Peppermints” or “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” with psychedelic rock, the guys who invented it obviously had a lot more depth, and a much darker side. Adjust your (doors of) perceptions accordingly.

I’d like to report that the 13th Floor Elevators went on to triumphs and successes in accord with their groundbreaking performance on their first LP. Actually, the sophomore effort, “Easter Everywhere,” is regarded in some circles as the band’s crowning achievement, and it actually charted nationally, peaking at No. 122.

Sessions for a third record, eventually released as “Bull in the Woods,” had just gotten started when the forces that be caught up with the 13th Floor Elevators.

If Austin, Texas, doesn’t seem as if it would be the most enlightened of cities well into the 21st century, think about what it must have been like in the mid-’60s. Here was a group of long-haired musicians playing strange music, obviously (except for non-user Walton) hopped up on something, and just as obviously serving as a menace to the young people of the Lone Star state. As those on the scene have stated in interviews over the decades, John Law was out to get the boys in the band, especially that singer.

Arrested for possession of a single marijuana cigarette, Roky pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to avoid a potential 10-year prison sentence. The claim had plenty of merit, as he’d already been diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent some time in a mental hospital. This time around, though, he wound up in Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was surrounded by inmates who did a whole lot more than smoke pot. As the movie “You’re Gonna Miss Me” chillingly explains, Roky played guitar in a Rusk pickup band that also included a couple of murderers, one of whom molested a boy and stuffed his body into a refrigerator.

Erickson, to no one’s surprise, emerged from his experience a changed man. He returned to performing, but took the paranoid attitude of the Elevators’ lyrics to new levels. With a band called Bleib Alien – the first word is an anagram for the Bible – he started singing about monsters and horror films, eventually recording a whole (tremendous!) album on the subject.

Eventually he dropped out of music and lived in an apartment near his mother’s house, clipping coupons and answering sweepstakes mailings, as documented in “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” With the intervention of his brother, a classically trained tuba player who lives in Pittsburgh, Roky finally overcame his issues enough to restart his career.

Walton’s reminiscences served McAlester well in his documentary, providing a good bit of insight to the rise and fall of the 13th Floor Elevators. Clementine Hall also provided some commentary, but Tommy was nowhere to be found.

Stacy Sutherland may have been one hell of a guitar player, but he fought his own demons, serving time in prison on drug charges after the demise of the Elevators. On Aug. 24, 1978, he was fatally shot by his wife, Bunny.

The website www.lysergia.com contains excerpts from an interview an unnamed person conducted with Sutherland a year before his death. In it, the late guitarist talks derisively of the San Francisco scene, the supposed epicenter of psychedelia in the late ’60s:

Their culture had definitely been into drugs more so, I think at the time, and it was more advanced in senses … but it didn’t have a freshness like Texas had to it, it was more washed out. One of the things I found when I first got out there was a walk I took down to Haight Street which was supposed to be where all the “beautiful people” were at the time, but I didn’t see anything but derelicts and dope fiends running around in the streets freaked out … shot up and whatever, begging money off people, it wasn’t anything that I was looking forward to seeing, it didn’t have the freshness Texas did at the time.

The Texas scene burned out quickly, though, leaving shattered lives in its wake. Fortunately, Roky Erickson has lived to tell about it. And even better, he’s still making music, including material from the album that started it all.