The amount of talent that was in and around Houston's music scene in 1968 is simply astounding. All it takes is a quick reading of issue #2 of Mother, Larry Sepulvado's short-lived rock magazine, to tell you that loud and clear as a Roky Erickson howl.
Take the cover.
Unfortunately Mansonesque in retrospect, that's the visage of Rick Barthelme, son and brother of two famous Donalds. At the time, Rick Barthelme was the drummer in the Red Krayola, the psychedelic rock / noise group that coalesced around Mayo Thompson at the University of St. Thomas. Eventually Rick would revert to his full name of Frederick Barthelme and become an award-winning author of New South-based "dirty realism" and "K-Mart fiction," but at the time he was still alienating crowds with the sort of atonal, experimental rock that was capable of alarming the freaks in Berkeley, CA enough to elicit a $10 bribe to stop playing. That's right, Houston out-weirded Berkeley.
That cover photo was taken by the late Les Blank, the soon-to-be-award-winning filmmaker most famous locally for his documentaries The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins and A Well-Spent Life, about Navasota's sharecropping songster Mance Lipscomb. Both are now in the Criterion Collection.
Half of the rest of the photographs in Mother were snapped by a part-time artist, part-time folkie by the name of Guy Clark. "Guy is good at anything that is artistic," Sepulvado noted in his column "For What It's Worth."
So was the Houston of 1968, as that column makes abundantly clear in its first few paragraphs. "Houston is a very fertile ground for talent," wrote Sepulvado. "Already projected from this area is JANIS JOPLIN of Big Brother and the Holding Co., JERRY JEFF WALKER of Circus Maximus both of who [sic] at one time played Houston's folk club SAND MOUNTAIN on Richmond, Lightnin' Hopkins and his brother, MANCE LIPSCOMB, Johnny Nash, and Gale Storm. (?) Impressive, huh?" (Storm was a joke... She was a local who went on to mainstream fame as a postwar pop was then in the twilight of her fame. Also, Hopkins and Lipscomb were not related.)
Sepulvado name-checks some local bands with hilariously dated names: Eden's Children, Ultimate Spinach, Neurotic Sheep. Can you dig, man?
Sepulvado then moves on to the bands he thinks really have a chance to hit it big: Red Krayola, the 13th Floor Elevators, and Fever Tree.
Though none of them exactly seized control of the pop charts, each developed cult followings and critical acclaim that extends into the present. The Elevators were the most psychedelic band of all time, bar none. Chicago's uber-hip Drag City label is enamored with the Red Krayola, who were a primary influence on that city's post-rock scene of the 1990s and early 2000s. Fever Tree managed to chart in 1968 with their single "San Francisco Girls" and rapper Madvillain built a track around their funky take on Steve Cropper's "99 and a Half Won't Do" in 2004.
Sepulvado was also high on The Moving Sidewalks. "Bill Gibbons is an exceptional guitarist with one of those really strange voices," he noted, pretty much describing every ZZ Top album to come. And down in the news and notes section of the column there's this aside: "More from Sand Mountain; Townes Van Zandt has a record contract and an album and single slated for release."
All that plus ruminations on the then-rarely-explored interconnectedness of rock and country music and Donovan's career and renunication of psychedelic drugs. And then there's that interview with the Red Krayola touted on the cover, in which they talk about how they ruined a party at UH and played a disastrous / sublime set (depending on who you believe) at the opening of artist/sculptor David Adickes's new Allen's Landing club: the Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine.
Said the Krayola's Mayo Thompson: "[Adickes] knew Rick [Barthleme] because of the art thing. We used to crash his openings and drink wine and stand around. He got us one time to play this happening. He did a little light show and impromptu number and told us he was opening this club and we hinted about being the house band. So the last time he saw us we were doing semi-rock music. The next time he saw us we had dropped the drums and the Familiar Ugly." (It was the '60s. Explaining "Familiar Ugly" here is too hard to explain.) "We were doing this three-piece thing with clarinets, trumpets, guitars, razors on cymbals, phonograph turntables, and tapes, etc. But he had already asked us to play the press opening for Love Street and we played our music. He hired another [house] band."
Sepulvado asked the band to clarify if they indeed even made it to that opening.
"We played opening night and he knelt down front, wanting us to get off stage," Thompson said. "I'm not knocking him but I don't think he liked us too much. He has provided a certain class to Houston that it did not have before."
All that, plus ads like this: