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11 Jul 2017

The Red Crayola* With The Familiar Ugly ‎ "The Parable Of Arable Land"1967 US Psych Rock Experimental






Mayo Thompson, Lora Logic, Gina Birch, and Epic Soundtracks. London, circa 1979–84. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Drag City.




The Red Crayola* With The Familiar Ugly ‎ "The Parable Of Arable Land"1967 US Psych Rock Experimental

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After Houston-based International Artists Records enjoyed unexpected commercial success with one of the most eccentric bands to emerge from the State of Texas, the 13th Floor Elevators, the label's proprietors presumably set out to find some folks who were even weirder, and they found a band that fit the bill in the Red Crayola. The group's 1967 debut album, The Parable of Arable Land, actually documents the work of two different groups; the Red Crayola themselves conjure up a sound that's part psychedelia, part garage punk, and partly some sort of experimental rock that would not truly make itself known until many years down the road, and they generate an impressively freaked-out energy on deliberately primitive numbers like "War Sucks" and "Hurricane Fighter Plane." Six of the 12 tracks on The Parable of Arable Land are devoted to the Red Crayola; the rest find the three members of the group collaborating with 45 friends, acquaintances, and fellow travelers credited as "the Familiar Ugly." The Familiar Ugly tracks are each credited as "Free Form Freakout," an inarguably apt description, and they feature the various participants making all manner of chaotic noise on musical instruments both real and imagined as well as various household objects, and though the roiling mass of sound occasionally threatens to cohere into something, within moments it invariably descends back into the sound of several dozen hippies trying to navigate their way out of a trap of their own lysergic imagination. The album allows the songs to rise in and out of the "Freakout" segments, a bit like an overheard conversation, and the Red Crayola seem to be having great fun making audio manipulation part of their music, particularly on the bent and noisy title track in which they descend into a familiar ugly of their own. However, compared to their later work, guitarist and vocalist Mayo Thompson, bassist Steve Cunningham, and drummer Rick Barthelme actually deliver relatively straightforward and coherent performances on the band tracks, which generate a spaced-out but potent groove. While the truly bent Texas psychedelic scene of the 1960s provided a context in which the Red Crayola could thrive, The Parable of Arable Land exists on a plane all its own; if art-damaged noise rock began anywhere, it was on this album. (The group changed its name to the Red Krayola to avoid a lawsuit after the release of this album, and it has appeared under both group names in various issues.).......by Mark Deming ...............

The Red Krayola were a band at the very cutting edge of psychedelic music and have been described as the 'notorious self-styled bastard sons of the hippie dream'. They broke boundaries, unleashed a free-form anti rock noise on unsuspecting audiences, took to the stage with an experimental ensemble called the Familiar Ugly, and all this in conservative 1967 Houston.

The Parable Of Arable Land, their first and finest album recorded for International Artists Records in 1967, sees Mayo Thompson lead them amongst the freak outs in a selection of enduring songs such as the much copied 'Hurricane Fighter Plane' and 'War Sucks'.......

“I have in my pocket a hurricane fighter plane”

Mayo Thompson (Hurricane Fighter Plane)

With that Mayo Thompson uttered the truest statement he’s ever given in his entire life. By far the least insane song on an album too weird for even late 1960s Berkeley. Indeed there is a story where The Red Crayola was paid $10 to stop a performance in Berkeley, which presented the audience with squalls of feedback and an ice cube melting onto aluminum foil with a contact mike attached. Later reviewers would remark that The Red Crayola (and The Familiar Ugly, the members responsible for the ‘Free Form Freakouts’ that adorn the album) made the audience uptight. Honestly that was probably The Red Crayola’s intention as they were highly methodical with their approach. Many attribute the cacophonous sound with the first forays into what would eventually come to define the ‘industrial genre’. In fact many of the ‘Free From Freakouts’ are far more maddening than what came after it.
Introducing the album is a sound that would feel more at home on an AMM album than anything remotely categorized as rock. Much of the album seems to owe quite a debt to more avant-garde musicians than anything going on in rock, especially on the ‘Free Form Freakout’ pieces. Rhythms are pointless though apparently among the noise are people attempting to keep rhythm by striking matches together and blowing on a soda pop bottle. If anyone has good enough ears to notice this, kudos to them. From there comes perhaps the closest approximation to a single that the early incarnation of The Red Crayola would ever achieve. ‘Hurricane Fighter Plane’ features Mayo Thompson’s completely surreal ode to his fighter plane. The bass player tries his best impersonation of someone who knows how to play the bass and literally could not be more perfectly attuned to the weird energy of the song. Roky Erickson (of another famed weird 60s band 13th Floor Elevators) plays the impressionistic organ. Loose drumming defines the piece as it sort of wanders off into yet another ‘Free Form Freakout’.
Mayo Thompson gets a number of memorable lines into the atmospheric rumblings of ‘Transparent Radiation’. By far the most memorable is “Eating babies for nourishment” showing off just how strange he could get. The Familiar Ugly do a pretty fine job on the next ‘Free Form Freakout’ as a discernible rhythm can almost be filtered out from all the chaos, but fortunately any attempts at clarity are thankfully thwarted. From here comes the anti-war song simply named ‘War Sucks’ which appears to have a lot in common with the drone strum work of the Velvet Underground. Moving back into ‘Free Form Freakout’ Mayo Thompson sings of “I will not talk of dead men’s rooms and tombs”. Repetitive guitar work at times flirts with more oppressive tones.
On the title track The Red Crayola appear to merge the two worlds, of their psychedelic rock and avant-garde tendencies. Sounding akin to the freest possible jazz the song, even decades later, is incredibly unsettling. Such is the weirdness of the title track that the following ‘Free Form Freakout’ goes for a traditional song structure, letting the group relax to a large degree. Bringing things to a close is the minimal ‘Former Reflections Enduring Doubt’ which has an untrained, loose style to it.
Probably the hardest part of listening to The Red Crayola and the Familiar Ugly’s ‘Parable of Arable Land’ is how uncompromising the whole thing is. There is hardly a moment of rest among the high levels of anxiety they enjoyed creating. Clearly not attuned to any of the milder leanings of the psychedelic leanings of their brethren they rebelled against what was expected of them, making their song prickly and frustrating. Musicianship was secondary in their ultimate goal, and this additionally is something that has to be somewhat ignored while listening to their peculiar sounds. Nor did they stop after this record. Much later Mayo Thompson would re-form The Red Crayola (also as The Red Krayola due to legal concerns from Crayola) with musicians like Pere Ubu and Lora Logic, among many others. In fact, The Red Crayola continues to this very day, with its most transmission from 2010.
Seeing how far The Red Crayola’s sound reverberated into so many future bands and art forms (Mayo Thompson is a visual artist and his many collaborators often were multidisciplinary as well) is impressive. For a band that initially put so many people off, it is incredible that The Red Crayola has managed to find its way through almost five decades worth of musical changes, all the while remaining true to their unique artistic vision......by Beach Sloth ............

The Red Crayola were a band at the very cutting edge of psychedelic music and have been described as the 'notorious self-styled bastard sons of the hippie dream'. They broke boundaries, unleashed a free-form anti rock noise on un suspecting audiences, took to the stage with an experimental ensemble called the Familiar Ugly and all this in conservative 1967 Houston. This their first, and finest album from 1967, recorded for Independent Artists Records, in which leader Mayo Thompson leads them amongst the freak outs in a selection of enduring songs such as the much copied 'Hurricane Fighter Plane' and 'War Sucks'. It was lovingly re-mastered from the original tapes by devoted fan, Sonic Boom of Spacemen Three who considers the band the greatest and yet least recognised of the great 60's experimenters and visionaries................

Originally released in 1967, as this is the long running band's very first effort. Highly under-appreciated 'experimental psych' in which as for the few other Red Crayola CD's I've heard, this one is probably the best. 'The Parable Of Arable Land' employs weird and unconventional sounds of jugs, sticks, flutes, kazoos, etc. Hard to believe, but the band actually STILL exists today. Well, at least singer / songwriter Mayo Thompson is active with putting out new releases and touring occasionally. A couple of the tunes that I was sort of blown away with were "Free Form Freakout", "Pink Stainless Tail" and "Transparent Radiation". Might be too strange for some. Line-up: Mayo Thompson - guitar & vocals, Steve Cunninghan - bass and Rick Barthelme - drums. Might appeal to fans of Skip Spence, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Pere Ubu, Syd Barrett and 13th Floor Elevators. Let your freak flag fly!...............By Mike Reed ................

I have to disagree with comment[s] dissing "the deluges of tuneless noise between tracks". The Free-Form Freak-Outs are what make this record so special. The original Red Crayola included not only art-rock legend Mayo Thompson (later of Pere Ubu and other adventuresome combos) but also Rick Barthelme, brother of celebrated PoMo writer John, and later a succesful author in his own right... The boys were acquainted with John Cage, who may have influenced the Free-Form Feak Outs. In any event, the Freak Outs , which are based on the band's friends -- here dubbed "The Familar Ugly" -- showing up in the studio with anything they have that makes noise and whanging away, are not as totally random and aimless as they may first seem. The musicians in the band add just enough material over the top of the chaos to give it some direction, combined with some judicious sound mixing. In other words, if you actually listen to this stuff, it starts making a kind of sense after a while. To my ears, this is one of the few truly successful attempts to create an extended sonic form from psychedelia. When most rockers tried to get psychedelic at length, they got too precious or pretentious.
When the songs emerge from the din they're pretty darn cool too. "War Sucks" indeed.
By the way, you may also see the Decal import which combines 'Parable of Arable Land' and 'God Bless the Red Crayola' on a single CD. I don't recommend it because 1) the disc deletes the Freak Out after War Sucks, detracting from the experience and making the track listing on the label incorrect, and 2) 'God Bless' isn't that good anyway.........By Griff Heartfield ..................

The Red Crayola—later known under legal obligation as The Red Krayola—was a group of avant-garde musicians from Houston, Texas, who came together in 1966 through their shared experiences as art students at the University of St. Thomas. Composed of singer/guitarist Mayo Thompson, bassist Steve Cunningham and drummer Frederick Barthelme, the band’s music foreshadowed the advance of the post-punk and no wave scenes of the late '70s and early ‘80s.

Incorporating aspects of free-form jazz and wildly ambitious psychedelic freak-outs, they were able to successfully meld these disparate and atonal rhythms into something vaguely cohesive and startlingly original. Their music was a mixture of improvised cacophony and loosely structured instrumentation. But far from the meandering improv that some bands then favored, it never seemed that The Red Crayola thought these spontaneous musical expressions gave them license to muck about in pointless and contrived rhythmic extrapolations. Their songs were deceptively well-ordered—though you’d be hard-pressed to notice on first listen.
The band signed to International Artists that same year, which was also the home to fellow psych-rockers The 13th Floor Elevators. The label released The Red Crayola’s debut LP, "The Parable of Arable Land," in 1967. The record featured six songs, with wildly improvised "Free-Form Freak-Outs" interwoven between those tracks. These interstitials were brought to vivid musical life by The Familiar Ugly, a collection of 50 anonymous musicians who were encouraged to do just about anything to make noise for these recordings.

Roky Erickson, psych guru and lead singer for The 13th Floor Elevators, lent his musical services to a few tracks—most notably playing organ on single "Hurricane Fighter Plane" and harmonica on "Transparent Radiation."

"The Parable of Arable Land" was a grand statement for the band; it introduced Thompson’s versatile and abstract lyricism while highlighting Cunningham and Barthelme’s shattering rhythm section. Veering between the outright dissonance of their psych inclinations and a far more minimal rhythmic approach, the band was able to throw everything they had into each song but still manage to maintain a clear sense of direction and purposeful execution.

There's some contention by the band that the entire album was cut in a single session, though material has surfaced that tends to discredit this assertion—specifically a demo of "Hurricane Fighter Plane," which turned up on an International Artists Records compilation. But regardless of the session length, the album was a truly original and defining series of artistic expressions and is credited with heralding the beginning of the industrial music genre that arose during the '70s.

"The Parable of Arable Land" opens with the first of seven "Free Form Freak-Outs," and these wildly disorienting pieces have given the album much of its claim to fame, though you'd be remiss if you were only familiar with it through its reputation and these sections of shattering improvisation.

Each actual song on the record is given an odd and verbose subtitle, which further emphasizes the outlandish nature of the band and, in particular, Thompson's lyrics. "Hurricane Fighter Plane" is subtitled "When the Ride Is Over You Can Go to Sleep," and the others are equally strange and somewhat dissociative. But these songs aren't simply odd for the sake of being odd; the musically subversive nature of The Red Crayola is born from the ramshackle genius of its members.

Other songs like "Transparent Radiation" and "Former Reflections Enduring Doubt" are proof enough that the band can take the most abstract musical concepts and turn them into something interesting and involving. The entire record is a testament to their ability to wring real creative inspiration from decades of musical influence. "The Parable of Arable Land" isn't simply a psych record, nor is it a jazz or rock record, though it shares tendencies of all of them; it exists outside conventional categorization and definition and, in fact, sounds like nothing that was being released at the time.

The record felt light-years ahead of its time, and though it might be best-remembered for the spontaneous nature of the "Freak-Outs," the band knew that you can't get by on just the shock of rhythmic cacophony. There has to be some underlying direction and momentum that propels the music forward. And on "The Parable of Arable Land," The Red Crayola discovered that fine balance between absurdity and genius. It might not have always been smooth and melodic, but it sure kept your attention. And once the band had that, that was just where they wanted you.

Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees. ......By JOSHUA PICKARD ...................

The Red Crayola were a band at the very cutting edge of psychedelic music and have been described as the 'notorious self-styled bastard sons of the hippie dream'. They broke boundaries, unleashed a free-form anti rock noise on un suspecting audiences, took to the stage with an experimental ensemble called the Familiar Ugly and all this in conservative 1967 Houston.
This their first, and finest album from 1967, recorded for International Artists Records, in which leader Mayo Thompson leads them amongst the freak outs in a selection of enduring songs such as the much copied 'Hurricane Fighter Plane' and 'War Sucks'.
This release is a deluxe gatefold two record edition featuring both the mono and stereo versions.
It was lovingly re-mastered from the original tapes by devoted fan, Sonic Boom of Spacemen Three who considers the band the greatest and yet least recognised of the great 60s experimenters and visionaries...................

The Red Krayola are something like the absolute Hippieband. For the obscure-psychedelically named "The Parable of Arable Land" the band members met with the noisy hippie community The Familiar Ugly and played in a single take a wildly communicative soundness. Love-In-Lifestyle at album-length, but also with all radicalities and thus already unique in the 60s-psych scene of Texas, from which also the legendary 13th Floor Elevators come.

Anyone who believes that The Velvet Underground debut in 1967 has already been all about avant-garde sound art, will be chased by this sound monster probably to the fire red devil. Although the album is something like a tracklist from which individual songs crystallize, in between, but also seven "free-form freakouts", which honor their name. Here the band as such goes back and leaves itself to the infernal-atonal noise of the hippie community that surrounded them during the sessions. Wildly abused instruments, guitars, ringing, speech, knocking; Even a chain saw has been used here. At least Musique concrète, perhaps even Proto-Industrial.

But that is not all about acoustic madness. The pop songs on the record breathe pure psychedelics, are overloaded, overloaded with Hall effects, and have been hunted too often by the effects device a few times too often. The listener does not get a really harmonious sound at any moment, but rather an extremely quirky sound world that impresses in its consistency, but equally frightens. Anyone who stays tuned will discover fascinating melodies, creative soundscapes and surreal lyrics on songs such as "Hurricane Fighter Plane" or "Transparent Radiation" (later congenially covered by the Spacemen 3). Not least, the unfiltered lo-fi roughness of the record rocks, just on songs like the vigorously stomping "War Sucks" and the garage skirt "Pink Stainless Tail". An album that can combine acid-pregnant hippie children, harmony-seeking noise rockers and rock enemies. Otherwise, just a colorful swamp (see the disc cover), which you have to go through and perhaps the most radical, probably the most fascinating psych album of the 60s......by......Fabian Lutz ........

The Red Krayola (originally Crayola) is a peculiar phenomenon, a profoundly cryptic anti-rock band that is still becoming, under the steady hand of Mayo Thompson, one of the quirkiest and longest running freak shows in American alternative music. The story begins in Houston, Texas, in 1966, in a low, ranch-style, brick house on a weedy lot in a weedy subdivision out past Sharpstown and Bellaire, somewhere just short of Jackrabbit Road.

The Red Krayola was formed in the late summer of 1966, when Mayo returned from a college trip to Europe. We had been hanging out since we ran into each other at an art-film series at the University of St. Thomas the previous spring. He was enrolled there; I had been kicked out of the architecture school at the University of Houston, or was about to be, and was busy being a young painter. The movies were all French, except the Italian ones. There was an art theater in town, too, which we frequented. The Alray? Something like that.

Anyway, in hallowed response to our own moment in human history, we decided to form the band. Mayo recruited Steve Cunningham, a younger St. Thomas student, to play bass, and we declared ourselves a heady rock trio. We played “House of the Rising Sun” and “Louie, Louie,” and later “Hey Joe” and others. We were a lousy cover band, deeply devoted to the noise, the sound, the ethos, but remarkably incompetent. Plus, there were entirely competent cover bands in town at that time, further deterring us. But being a cover band was about as interesting to us as Sunday-painting, so we made up our own songs—“Transparent Radiation,” “Concrete Block,” “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” “Former Reflections Enduring Doubt,” “War Sucks,” “Mother.” We practiced at Mayo’s mother’s house way out west of town (Hazel Thompson was a legendary high school teacher at Bellaire. She was exceedingly tolerant and encouraging, and she treated us to many hamburgers). Steve got a bass shaped like Paul McCartney’s, and Mayo and I went to some grotesque music store where I acquired red glitter-finish drums on the installment plan. Or maybe some kind art patron gave me the money, or bought a painting. I cannot now remember. The drums were very red and sparkly, very pretty, very loud when struck with authority. Alas, they did not play themselves. My left foot did not know what my right foot was doing. Keeping time was the last thing on my mind.

Later, I bought many belts and wore them all at the same time, adopting the nickname “Belto,” a cruel parody of another drummer of that moment.

Because we couldn’t play all that well, we had to do something else, something more interesting, and since we were art-inclined, we went that route, leaning on every possible art idea at every turn. Soon we were making “free music,” playing long improvised pieces heavily invested in feedback, random acts of auditory aggression, utterances of all kinds. We began to have big ideas about ways to listen to music, and what “music” was.

As players, some of us were better than others. Mayo could play a little guitar and already had that odd touch on the instrument that he has today—his playing was wonderful and startling, very spare, full of asides and quotations, and always giving you the impression he was about to screw the pooch, musically speaking. Steve Cunningham could play a bit of bass, and did so, fearlessly. As a drummer, I was like the last guy selected for the dodge-ball team—no time, no coordination, no nothing. So I was spectacular on drums. And all this worked fine because in the larger scheme of things, we didn’t really want to play well. Playing well was what we were against. It was what everybody else did. Much later, in the second (and little known) band that Mayo and I put together, the Rocking Blue Diamonds, playing well became an issue, so we solicited the talent—coerced it, is probably more accurate. But in the mid-’60s, with the Red Krayola, that wasn’t the deal. The deal was to participate in the party and do something surprising while you were at it. So we drank, did the drugs in the style of the time, and we thought well, or thought we did, which we understood was more important than playing well. Of course, there is some debate about this matter still.

We were not exactly hippies, but we were the natural allies of the hippies. We disliked what the hippies disliked and liked what they liked. There was That Idiot War, for example, which we still seem to be having, though many leagues away. And marijuana. And…other stuff. Hair. Breasts. Fellow-feeling. So we were sort of elitist pseudo-hippies, art kids who spent a lot of time at galleries and museums and films and hung out with Jim Love, Fredericka Hunter, Ian Glennie, and sundry others in the Houston art circle of those days. The previous generation of Houston artists like Dick Wray, Jack Boynton, Roy Fridge, who was a friend of Jim’s, was still around, too. Sometimes I worked for Jim hanging shows for various galleries and museums. In some sense, though, everything centered on Fredericka Hunter, a young woman from Galveston with whom everyone was utterly bewitched. She was late of Wellesley and had come to Houston to finish her degree in art history at St. Thomas. She had a nice apartment where we hung out and where I lived for a time, beneficiary of her kindness. Her suitors were many, every hat for miles around hurled into the ring, and she eventually took up with Ian Glennie, a talented architecture student from Rice who was also an avid collector of practically everything, and was well ahead of us in the matter of knowing what was going on in the music scene in California, not to mention England. He was from California, so every time he went home he brought back all the new music. He was also a book collector, poetry mostly, lots of small-press materials.

Among the outlying hippies we hung out with were F. Cavett Sharp and his wife, Claude (her name returns in a mist), and their two attractive traveling companions, Linda Linda and somebody else. Linda Linda was never known by anything but Linda Linda, a bit of intrigue we all appreciated. She gave the appearance of a sexy high-school dropout. Her friend, who had a more conventional name, Paulette, maybe, was even sexier and more dropped-out. F. Cavett Sharp, who liked to be called F., styled himself a photographer and took some band pictures for us. They were typical of the time and hopelessly pedestrian. He and the other three were traveling through Houston from New York, or so they said, but they had been in town a year or two when we met them, so they weren’t traveling all that fast. And there were others: the legendary Danny Schacht, who, as Mayo has previously reported, counted the band “ontologically unsound”; the semi-legendary Ira Something, piano genius who never left his house, friend of the painter John Gilchrist; the wholly-legendary Frank Davis, folk singer and local hero, rebuilder of Jaguars, and personage of somewhat dour personality, especially if he thought you were less marvelous than you thought you were, and he usually did. There was also a fellow named George X who was a great follower of the band and a key player in the development of the Familiar Ugly, more about which later, who did the cover art for our first LP, The Parable of Arable Land. And there were many more, including F.R.B. Rapho (aka Mike Metyko) (R.I.P.), a grand fellow and artist, and Tinker, Pluto, and Bloom, about whom nobody remembers anything. And Mark Froman, who owned the club Love where we played all the time. The greater list is too long for replication, but accept as a given that there was a small but vigorous “scene” in Houston in those days. We became one with it.

So there we were in the Red Krayola, a name we took as a sort of parody of the clever California band names of that moment, a name that had come to us while trailing down Main Street in my roofless (courtesy of the sculptor Jim Love) blue Fiat, shooting 16mm film for a movie we were making at the time (because, before we were a band we were filmmakers, you see). I do not remember what the movie was called; I do not know what became of the evidence. It had burned film, hand-tinted frames, stop-action stuff, cartoons, action scenes, recreations of Godard and Truffaut and much more. It was an amalgam. We had seen Cleo from 5 to 7 and dozens of other fine films, and we were 16mm. There was talk of an Eclair, the camera, not the pastry.

Since we were taken with art it was natural that our idea of music included John Cage and La Monte Young and Albert Ayler and anyone else who made music that didn’t sound like traditional music. Harry Partch. The Fugs. Mayo had, I believe, a fondness for blues stuff, but it was a little bit of a bracketed fondness, in the sense that we were not really able to play it without tongue in cheek. Still, we tried. Sometimes we almost got away with it. I had done some “happenings,” performance-art exhibitions after Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, and the rude and disconnected soundtracks these events sometimes employed or produced were tasty additions to our repertoire. I’d already done a strange two-hour tape (sadly now lost to the pan) based on the Kennedy assassination—morbid, dirgeful, hypnotic. And we went to clubs to hear Lightnin’ Hopkins, made the acquaintance of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, went to Cage concerts at the Music Hall, and, of course, our fellow traveler Ian Glennie kept bringing in the California EPs and LPs. He was right on top of everything, from John Mayall to John Fahey, the Spencer Davis Group, the Godz—whatever was out there, Ian had it first.

Owing to a range of impairing influences, whatever rudimentary skills I had as a drummer always escaped me somewhere in the first set of any evening. I could still play loud, and I did, but often I would jump off the drums in later sets, allowing other (always better) drummers to sit in. Sometime they shoved me off, saying “Kid, you’re awful.” “Exactly!” I countered, but by that time they were blissfully rocking on. So it happened that during the late fall of 1966 and the spring of 1967 we played loud and long and had a lot of queer ideas about music that we asserted in one public venue after another. Astonishingly, we developed a following in this manner and eventually went to California and played festivals out there during the summer of 1967. This trip was arranged by Kurt von Meier, an L.A. art critic who, in the fog of my memory, caught our act at a local club while visiting Houston to see some show or other, but perhaps that’s more fog than memory. In L.A., at Kurt’s house, where we were staying, we encountered some or all of the Doors. Who remembers? Just like in the TV movies, there was acid in the punch. By this time we’d put aside almost all pretense of being a rock band, and were bent on making the toughest music we could, more and more of which was derived from art musicians and run through both a rock grinder and a can’t-play-all-that-well grinder. Noise music. We were fond of Cage’s “chance music,” too, and figured out we could accomplish some of the excitement and freedom and happy accident of that kind of aleatory work by encouraging fans and hangers-around (sometimes a few, sometimes scores) to get up on stage and “play” with us. We provided them with microphones and electronics and miscellaneous noisemakers, sometimes instruments, asking only that they do something audible, a request that not everyone respected, and which we came to accept as part of the drill. The guy who kept striking kitchen matches right up in the microphone’s face really was never heard until the recordings we did at Walt Andrus’s studio, for example, whereas the guy who “played” motorcycle, well, you could almost always hear him. All these folks were pleased to be invited onstage to perform in the “free” portions of our shows, and it became routine that half the audience would end up on stage with us, bleating and haranguing the microphones and instruments in long, exhausting “free pieces” that often had some sort of rhythmic beginning, and more often than not devolved into a lovely cacophony—squealing and banging and scratching and smacking and hollering and rattling and so on. People brought pre-recorded tapes and played them into microphones. There was a feedback of every imaginable sort. Feedback was, at that time, where you always started if you were interested in noise. We all did whatever we wanted without regard for any of the conventions of rock music, or any other music, and the performances became squeak and blister fests—a raucous attack of unordered and unlicensed aural disturbances from a disconnected bunch (sometimes three, sometimes one hundred and three ) of, well, hippies. You’d have to say that the fans were hippies, and they were our fans, I guess, part of the culture we were living in during those days, so we were kind of hippies, too, though as I’ve already said, our commitment was something both less and more profound. At heart we were as elitist as could be, but these folks came to our shows and some we knew and most we did not know, but whenever we played, there they were, ready to mount the stage and screech until the last plug was pulled, and there we were, ready to invite them—the Familiar Ugly, we dubbed ’em. We liked what this process produced, in the aural way, because it was (and remains) interesting to hear, a kind of raspberry aimed at almost everybody and everything, which is more or less what we intended, all things considered. In short, the Red Crayola was both a mockery of the California bands and the hippie culture, and an alternative to it, though of course, being as the audience was made up of hippies, nobody really noticed, and that was okay, too, because all we wanted to do was play the crack-ball stuff, be heard, attack whatever conventions were around, and have a good time doing it.

As hippie replicants, we believed in peace and love. Deeply. We played at a club called Love on the corner of Richmond and Shepherd in Houston, and later at some Houston artist’s fake-o mimicry of the Fillmore named the Love Street Light Circus, and some of us were often very drunk or stoned or both. We sometimes also played more conventional pop venues in Houston at the time, mostly the Catacombs, or something like that, behind some ditsy cover bands (the Moving Sidewalks is one I recall). We were the bad boys of Houston music for about half a minute then, and later, when we played in California in the Summer of Love, we were the evil, whack-job, what-the-fuck-are-they-doing? guys at the Berkeley Folk Festival, where the headliners were Richie Havens, Steve Miller Blues Band, Country Joe and the Fish, and the like.

To say that we did not want to play well is, of course, only true if by playing well one means what ninety-nine percent of all human beings on the planet mean when saying it. If you were addressing the other one percent, then we wanted desperately to play like perfect angels. We wanted to make noise, to crack some skulls, and make sounds that stunned, sometimes by remarkable volume, sometimes by a magical syrup of rhythms and tones, and always with noises nobody had ever heard before, at least not as rock music. By now, a thousand years later, the original Red Crayola sounds charmingly old-fashioned, since all kinds of noise music came later, from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, to the 1001 screech–and–squawk bands that are out there now, to the ambient people, to Kronos Quartet at its most aggressive and intentionally bad. The list goes on and on. The truth is that, by accident and design, we were way out ahead of our time, we were packing everything we could think of into the music and slipping it into the culture under the hippie heading, where it never once belonged, but where it nevertheless passed as part of the revolution. From our vantage out on the edge, Zappa and the Velvet Underground, and other more conventionally strange bands, were Vichy-puppet right-wingers, ordinary musicians trying to do something different and still function within the rock & roll framework. We said fuck the framework, listen to this, motherfucker. And then busted your eardrum. And we did it over and over from 1966 to 1968. The first LP, The Parable of Arable Land, which was recorded early on at the Andrus studio, is a wonder if you are wasted, and a poor example otherwise, as the nice guy who recorded it did it on two tracks instead of thirty-two, thus flattening the thing out somewhat. You had to be there? Yes. On top of that, our producer, Lelan Rogers, some relation to Kenny, had this idea to intermingle the songs with the free stuff. Fade the one into the other, you know? Wouldn’t that be cool?

The second LP by the original group, which was released about thirty years later as Coconut Hotel, was a refinement of what we were intrigued by—noise, cut up into hat-size sections. The “one-second-pieces,” where we each played single sounds at unplanned but orchestrated-by-watching-each-other intervals, were a high point, as were various other concept pieces (three minutes of organ, for example, six hands on a piano, pieces for various prepared instruments). This is what the Crayola was about in ’67. This is what we played in the clubs in Houston, and in concerts in California, and what we recorded when we recorded a (possibly still unreleased) LP with the late John Fahey in Berkeley in 1967. This is what we did at the Berkeley Folk Festival, and at the Angry Arts Festival in Venice, California, and at Joan Crystal’s Lousiana Gallery openings, and just about wherever they’d let us back then. We started with “House of the Rising Sun” and a year later were taping contact microphones to our throats, and putting big copper wires in the place as guitar strings, miking ice (Steve Cunningham’s great moment), and trying out small electric motors. The idea was that pure, saintly sound could save you from certain death and that rock & roll was—dare I say it?—fundamentally compromised. We were not entirely wrong, as history has demonstrated..........(from The Oxford American).............

Biography

The contrarian body of work of the Red Crayola—sometimes spelled “Krayola”—contains some of the richest and most interesting stuff in the experimental rock tradition. Mayo Thompson and writer Frederick (or “Rick”) Barthelme, the brother of Donald Barthelme, formed the Red Crayola in the summer of 1966. Fellow undergraduate Steve Cunningham joined the band later that year, as did early members Bonnie Emerson and Danny Schact. Lelan Rogers—the promo man of International Artists, the label that released the 13th Floor Elevators’ records—went to Houston’s Gulfgate shopping mall one day to buy a new parakeet, and he happened to see the Red Crayola playing there in a battle of the bands sponsored by a local FM station. Rogers got the band a recording contract with IA in December 1966.

The Parable of Arable Land (International Artists 1967) was credited to The Red Crayola with the Familiar Ugly, the first of many times the band has shared credit on a release. The Familiar Ugly was an “auxiliary group” that contributed the “Free-Form Freak Out”s sequenced between the album’s songs, and according to the Red Crayola’s 2005 Drag City bio, at the time of the sessions for Arable Land the Familiar Ugly consisted of more than 50 people. Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators played the keyboard on “Hurricane Fighter Plane” and the harmonica on “Transparent Radiation.” Among Arable Land’s other timeless classics, “War Sucks” also deserves mention. IA rejected the band’s proposed second album Coconut Hotel (Drag City 1995), which includes a series of “One-Second Pieces.” The band met the legendary musician and music scholar John Fahey at a West Coast festival and subsequently played with him in concert. Fahey and the Red Crayola recorded enough material for a double album in Berkeley in 1967, but incredibly, the label lost the tapes.

The second album the band actually released was God Bless The Red Krayola and all who sail with it (International Artists 1968)—the change in spelling apparently reflected the exercise of legal pressure by the crayon manufacturers—and was recorded with drummer Tommy Smith in place of Barthelme, who had moved to New York.

Thompson recorded the lovely solo album Corky’s Debt to His Father (Glass 1988) in 1970 for the Texas Revolution label, but the label folded before releasing it. However, a single by Saddlesore, Thompson’s new collaboration with Barthelme, was released: “Old Tom Clark” b/w “Pig Ankle Strut” (Texas Revolution 1970). During the next few years, Thompson’s interests drove him away from the rock world and into the art world, and in 1973 he began collaborating with the conceptual art group Art & Language.

Credited to Art & Language and the Red Crayola, Corrected Slogans (Music Language 1976), recorded between 1973 and 1976, sets Marxian critical theory to minimal melodies and accompaniment. Thompson moved to London in 1977 and revived the Red Crayola with drummer Jesse Chamberlain, who had played on Corrected Slogans. They re-recorded the songs from a prophetic live single they had planned to release in 1976, resulting in “Wives in Orbit” b/w “Yik Yak” (Radar 1978). During this time, Thompson also played an important role in the development of the adventurous Rough Trade label. With Rough Trade owner Geoff Travis, Thompson co-produced now classic records by Stiff Little Fingers, the Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, the Fall, and many others, and he worked as A&R man and press representative for the label.

The classic example of the Red Crayola’s English post-punk period is Soldier-Talk (Radar 1979), recorded with Lora Logic and all of Pere Ubu. Logic and Epic Soundtracks of Swell Maps contributed to “Micro-chips & Fish” (Rough Trade 1979) and Kangaroo? (Rough Trade 1981), another collaborative album with Art & Language. Logic’s bassist Ben Annesley also joined, as did Pere Ubu’s synth pioneer Allen Ravenstine. Thompson, in turn, joined Pere Ubu from 1980 to 1982 and played on The Art of Walking (Rough Trade 1980), which includes Ubu’s version of “Horses” from Corky’s Debt to His Father, and Song of the Bailing Man (Rough Trade 1982). The Red Crayola recorded the single “Born in Flames” (Rough Trade 1981), featuring one of Lora Logic’s best vocal performances, for Lizzie Borden’s feminist-socialist sci-fi film of the same name. The Red Crayola with Art & Language released a single in West Germany with lyrics in German: “Rattenmensch: Gewichtswächter” (Konkurrenz 1981).

A hiatus followed Black Snakes (Recommended 1983), again with Art & Language, and the album Bismarckstrasse 50/Three Songs on a Trip to the United States (Recommended 1983). After a brief period as Rough Trade’s label manager in the mid-80s, Thompson moved to Germany and began collaborating on a new version of the Red Crayola with painter Albert Oehlen; this version of the band eventually appeared on Malefactor, Ade (Glass 1989), followed by a few more years without vinyl production. The band resurfaced on the German single “The Red Crayola on Forty-Five (Think, Our Guitars Are Hot, Money)” (Leiterwagen 1993), followed by the “4teen” single and The Red Krayola album (both Drag City 1994).

The Red Krayola featured Jim O’Rourke and a number of Chicago sidemen who have continued to collaborate with Thompson; from the West Coast, Tom Watson of Slovenly and George Hurley of the Minutemen have also been members of the Red Krayola during this period. This band’s main releases so far are “Amor and Language” (Drag City 1995), Hazel (Drag City 1998), Fingerpainting (Drag City 1999), Blues, Hollers and Hellos (Drag City 2000) and Introduction (Drag City 2006). Singles (Drag City 2004) collects most of the band’s non-LP singles tracks to date. The Red Krayola resumed its collaboration with Art & Language on Sighs Trapped by Liars (Drag City 2007) and Five American Portraits (Drag City 2010).......By Oliver Hall..............





The Red Crayola live, 1967. Mayo Thompson, Frederick Barthelme, and Steve Cunningham. Photo by Dr. James Cunningham. Courtesy of Drag City.




Line-Up:
Rick Barthleme - batteria
Steve Cunningham - basso
Mayo Thompson - chitarra, voce

Guests
The Familiar Ugly - strumenti vari
Roky Erickson - organo, armonica

Tracklist
A1 Free Form Freak-Out
A2 Hurricane Fighter Plane
A3 Free Form Freak-Out
A4 Transparent Radiation
A5 Free Form Freak-Out
A6 War Sucks
A7 Free Form Freak-Out
B1 Free Form Freak-Out
B2 Pink Stainless Tail
B3 Free Form Freak-Out
B4 Parable Of Arable Land
B5 Free Form Freak-Out
B6 Former Reflections Enduring Doubt

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..