* Andrew Hill: Andrew!!! (Blue Note CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Directstep (Columbia/Sony—Japan CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Future Shock (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* John McLaughlin: Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (Columbia LP)
* David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Matthew Shipp: Art Of The Improviser (Thirsty Ear 2CD)
* Test: Test (AUM Fidelity CD)
* P.M. Dawn: The Bliss Album…? (Gee Street/Island CD)‡
* Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia 2LP)
* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Northrup Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN 10-19-71 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Steppin’ Out With The Grateful Dead: England ’72 (d.4) (GDP/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Adams Field House, Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT 5-14-74 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings (d.4-6) (GDP/Rhino 9CD)
* Grateful Dead: Sandstone Amphitheatre, Bonner Springs, KS 7-04-90 (d.2) (SBD 3CDR)
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Mercury/Sundazed 2LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros./Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Chicago: III (Columbia 2LP)
* Chicago: V (Columbia LP)
* Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise LP)
* Emmylou Harris: Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* King Crimson: THRAK (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: The ConstruKction Of Light (Virgin CD)†
* King Crimson: The Power To Believe (DGM/Sanctuary CD)†
* King Crimson: ProjeKct One: Live At The Jazz Café (DGM CD)†
* Robert Fripp: Exposure (Expanded Edition) (d.1) (DGM 2CD)
* Tool: Undertow (Volcano CD)†
* The Red Crayola: The Parable Of Arable Land (Lt’d Edition) (Int’l Artists/Charly 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: God Bless The Red Krayola And All Who Sail With It (Int’l Artists/Charly CD)
* The Red Krayola: Live 1967 (Drag City 2CD)
* The Red Krayola: Coconut Hotel (Drag City CD)
* The Red Krayola: Singles (Drag City CD)
* Mayo Thompson: Corky’s Debt To His Father (Texas Revolution/Drag City CD)
* John Fahey: America (Takoma/4 Men With Beards 2LP)
* X: “4th Of July”/”Positively 4th Street” (Elektra 7”)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island 2CD)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD)
* Sonic Youth: Goo (Geffen/MoFi LP)
* Sonic Youth: “Helen Lundeberg”/ “Eyeliner” (SY 7”)
* Jim O’Rourke: Bad Timing (Drag City CD)
* Beck: “Diamond Bullocks”/ “Runners Dial Zero” (Bong Load Custom 7”)
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: OK Computer (EMI/Capitol CD)†/‡
* U.S. Maple: “Stuck”/ “When A Man Says Ow” (Skin Graft 7”)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)
One Saturday afternoon in early 1967, Lelan Rogers (brother of Kenny) was at the Gulfgate Mall in Houston, Texas. He was there with his wife, to replace their recently deceased parakeet. Meanwhile, a noisy “battle of the bands” was taking place in the “Santa Claus” area of the mall and, being employed by the International Artists record label to scout out local talent, he decided to hang out for a while to check it out. As he recalled later:
Three of them [were] up on the stage that had four or five different kinds of instruments, and they could not play a note. They were just making noise and they were really putting the people on: I was watching, and the young people were really getting off, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old teeny-boppers, really getting off watching whatever this was—this no-nonsense music. And them getting off, the older crowd, 25 to 80, wanted to be part of what the youth was enjoying…I was watching the faces of the crowd, I figured anybody that was able to put on a crowd like that—there’s got to be a market [fn1].
Rogers approached the band of noise-makers and handed them his card. The Red Crayola would go on to make two of the most outrageous records of the psychedelic era for International Artists but despite Rogers’s imaginings of a market for this kind of abject weirdness, the records sold poorly at the time. Who’d a thunk?
But The Red Crayola were no put on—or at least only in the sense that Dada is a put on. Comprised of three art-damaged, sometime college students Mayo Thompson, Steve Cunningham and Rick Barthelme (brother of novelist, David), the band started out like every other band of the era: wanting to be the Beatles. But when that proved too limiting and difficult, Yoko Ono’s approach seemed much more appealing. Barthelme was already starting to make a name for himself as a painter. He knew John Cage personally and had participated in the early “happenings” of Allan Kaprow and Claus Oldenburg and therefore knew there was another way to go:
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… 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… The rude and disconnected soundtracks [the “happenings”] sometimes employed or produced were tasty additions to our repertoire [fn2].
Audience participation was an integral part of The Red Crayola’s live performances at the time and a group a friends and hangers-on nicknamed “The Familiar Ugly” would regularly join them onstage for chaotic noisemaking. And so, on April Fool’s day 1967, some fifty people plus the band crammed into Andrus Studios to begin recording their debut album, The Parable Of Arable Land. Consisting of six “Free Form Freak-Outs” with The Familiar Ugly interspersed with six quirkily original songs, the album is undeniably strange yet completely captivating, a genuinely lysergic experience. Originally issued in mono, the label was infatuated with the new-fangled format and demanded a stereo version. Although the original multitracks had been recycled, a stereo master was created by Walt Andrus “by the ‘miracle sound’ where you make a copy of it and flange it and get it a little out of phase, swoosh it around some” [fn3]. Unlike most rechanneled stereo masters, this one is actually an improvement, featuring radically weird effects which go far to enhance the “psychedelic” experience; the mono mix is relatively tame by comparison.
The band traveled to California just in time for “The Summer Of Love,” but by this time any pretense at being any sort of conventional “rock band” had completely evaporated and they assaulted the hippies with minimalist scraping, howling feedback, and the sound of ice melting onto a piece of tinfoil. Needless to say, the reaction was mixed as you can hear on Drag City’s two-CD compilation from the California sojourn, Live 1967. The legendary John Fahey invited them to an impromptu studio session, but International Artists took offense and demanded the tapes, which were subsequently lost. One can only imagine what that sounded like! Recording sessions for a second album to be titled Coconut Hotel, took place at Andrus in the fall, but consisting as it did of short avant-garde sound experiments, the label rightfully rejected it as “uncommercial” and it remained unreleased until Drag City rescued it from obscurity in 1995. It is, indeed, a difficult listening experience. With opportunities for live performances drying up, Barthelme moved to New York to pursue his art and writing career and The Red Krayola essentially disbanded.
Despite the poor sales of Parable and the rejection of Coconut Hotel—not to mention receipt of a stern cease and desist letter from the owners of the Crayola trademark—International Artists contacted Mayo Thompson about making another album in the spring of 1968. Thompson agreed, but God Bless The Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It was very different from what came before. From its stark, black-and-white cover to the jittery, angular songs within, the album pre-echoes the post-rock ethos decades later. Like its predecessor, it also failed to sell in any significant numbers and the label soon folded. Steve Cunningham moved to Austria to pursue a degree and career as a technical writer while Barthelme became a successful painter and author. Mayo Thompson soldiered on, later moving to London where he helped establish Rough Trade as the preeminent punk record label, producing seminal records by Pere Ubu, The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire and The Raincoats while periodically continuing to work under The Red Krayola moniker.
Despite their growing critical reputation, those first two records have not been well served in the digital era. The British label, Charly, has controlled the rights to the International Artists catalog for decades and previous CDs of this material have been bad transfers from noisy vinyl copies, making them not much better than bootlegs. However, it seems like Charly is finally getting their act together. Working with the original master tapes, these albums were recently remastered by Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom (a/k/a Pete Kember) and packaged in deluxe gatefold editions with extensive liner notes by Paul Drummond. Well, it’s about time! Parable includes two CDs, both mono and stereo, loaded with bonus tracks while God Bless…stands alone. These are beautifully well done and, believe me: the sound quality is exponentially improved; this music sounds startlingly modern.
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 in rock music…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 under the hippie heading, where it never once belonged, but where it nevertheless passed as part of the revolution. From our vantage point 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… 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 [fn4].
Hear for yourself! Please note that Charly says these are “limited editions.” I don’t know what that means, but I suggest getting them while you can. God Bless The Red Krayola And All Who Sail With It!
[fn1] Quoted in Drummond, “The Red Crayola Story Part 1: The Parable of Arable Land,” p.3-4).
[fn2] Barthelme, “The Red Crayola: All They Wanted To Play Was The Crack-Ball Stuff” in Oxford American, Issue 58 (2007), p.48-49.
[fn3] Quoted in Drummond, p.12.
[fn4] Barthelme, p.50.