Further evidence the heady days of 1967 were not the exclusive domain of L.A., San Francisco, New York or London. The Red Krayola, probably one of the most wildly influential yet strangely un-commercial bands to emerge from that period, came from Texas. In fact, they were in that classic mold of Art-School/Avant-Garde/free-form and really didn’t aspire to become commercial hot-shots.
Lucky for the world they didn’t, because I used to jealously guard my knowledge of them when they first surfaced out of fear they’d be discovered by the mainstream and turned into a hit machine, or badly misunderstood as bands like Sopwith Camel and Moby Grape were.
No, they maintained their sturdy underground roots, and have grown in stature over time and are often pointed to by other bands and musicians as prime inspirations. So clearly, they did something right.
In 1966, The Red Krayola signed to International Artists, home label to fellow psych-rockers The 13th Floor Elevators, which was run by Lelan Rogers (brother of country musician Kenny Rogers). In 1967, the label released the psychedelic album Parable of Arable Land, featuring six songs by the original three members interwoven with a cacophony generated by approximately 50 anonymous followers known as The Familiar Ugly, who appear on a number of noise tracks called Free-Form Freak-Outs. 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson also makes guest appearances on “Hurricane Fighter Plane” (playing organ) and “Transparent Radiation” (on harmonica). The album’s title track was a tape loop of electronic sounds with musical improvisations layered on top of it; a sound that foreshadowed the Red Krayola’s second recording.
The album Coconut Hotel was recorded in 1967 but rejected by International Artists for its lack of commercial potential. It departed completely from the full-sounding guitar/bass/drums/vocals rock sound of the Red Krayola’s first album. Coconut Hotel featured such self-described tracks as “Organ Buildup”, “Free Guitar” and a series of atonal “One-Second Pieces” for piano, trumpet and percussion. The album did not see release until 1995. During this period, the band performed a concert in Berkeley, California, where they attached a contact microphone to a sheet of aluminum foil that was set under a block of melting ice; this performance is captured on Live 1967. The Red Krayola also performed with guitarist John Fahey and recorded an entire studio album of music in collaboration with him, but label head Lelan Rogers demanded possession of the tapes, and recorded documentation of those sessions has been missing ever since.
The band’s second album to see release (and the first to be released with the new “Krayola” spelling) was 1968’s God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It. God Bless presented a middle ground between Parable of Arable Land and Coconut Hotel, having veered away from the cacophonous psychedelic approach of their first album, but performing short, minimalist songs on electric guitar, bass and drums (interspersed with occasional a cappella harmonies and piano interludes) to achieve some surprisingly melodic results and even more surprisingly off-kilter lyrics. Hints of the as yet unheard music on Coconut Hotel also revealed themselves (the track “Listen to This” is a one-second piece with spoken introduction, and “Free Piece” sounds like an outtake from Coconut Hotel). The album was not as well received as the band’s first release and the Red Krayola’s original lineup disbanded. Studio demos by the original Red Crayola were released on the 1980 compilation of International Artists rarities, Epitaph for a Legend. In 1969, Thompson recorded a solo album called Corky’s Debt to His Father for a small label called Texas Revolution.
Tonight’s track is one of their signature tunes. Hurricane Fighter Plane is Red Krayola at its best and most adventuresome. If you aren’t familiar with them, by all means check them out.