The lava-lamp and drug-hazed phenomena of psychedelic rock exploded across America’s cultural consciousness during the latter half of the ’60s, and Texas inexplicably found itself as ground zero for perhaps its strongest shockwave. San Francisco might claim the high water mark of Hunter S. Thompson’s famed hippie culture, but in being insulated from much of the commercialism of the West Coast’s flower-power scene, the Lone Star State was producing a much more far-out brand of acid-fueled musical expression.
Built around Houston indie label International Artists, a more wildly freeform, experimental version of psych-rock surfaced in 1965. The label launched the careers of legendary interstellar freakout artists like the13th Floor Elevators and Red Krayola. Unfortunately, IA was doomed to the same blinding yet brief flash as the psych scene itself, and the label folded in late 1969, just before the debut release of a new signee, a 19-year-old Fort Worth kid.
“I originally began working on demos for a suite of songs I was going to call Mother’s Milk for IA in March of 1968,” Johndavid Bartlett said. “I was holding out – I wanted mine to be the 13th record to be released by IA – but the damn label went bankrupt after they released number 12.”
The bubble of the Texas psych scene burst with the demise of IA, and Bartlett’s potential contribution disappeared along with it. The original tapes were lost, and Bartlett’s association with the legendary label was reduced to the occasional footnote in psych-geek fanzines.
Fast-forward half a century, and Bartlett might finally get some closure with the album that never was. Last Sunday, the 67-year-old, backed by Denton throwback psych outfit Acid Carousel, went into Cloudland Recording Studio to begin work on a new album, one that, if not a complete recreation of the lost IA album, is definitely using it as its muse.
Robby Rux, who co-owns Cloudland and the studio’s label, Dreamy Life Records, with wife Jennifer Rux and others, said he and his team were approached by Bartlett about eight months ago.
“He heard our names from multiple people and how we did a bunch of psychedelic music,” Rux said. “He was telling us his story, and when he told us he was on International Artists, that made us stop immediately. Those bands are a lot of the reason Jen and I do what we do. My immediate thought was, ‘Let’s try to redo that album.’ ”
With so much time having passed since the original IA sessions, Bartlett was hard-pressed to recall a lot of the material. Instead, Bartlett and company have made an effort to capture the spirit of those lost recordings as best they can.
A handful of the lost songs that will appear on the upcoming Dreamy Life album, In Your Dreams, were salvaged. Others, Bartlett said, were gathered here and there from bits of inspiration that struck throughout the intervening years – and there’s even a brand new song.
Called “Jerusalem,” the new tune was inspired by a classic 13th Floor Elevators show attended by Bartlett, in which frontman Roky Erickson was extremely late. The band began vamping onstage while electric jug player Tommy Hall started riffing vocals. He began chanting “Jerusalem” and “Bethlehem,” Hall’s nicknames for Austin and Houston — cities he considered sacred meccas of Texas hippie culture. Bartlett’s lyrics for the new song were taken from what he could recall of Hall’s adlibbing that night.
For the recording sessions, Bartlett had intended to use musicians he was familiar with, old friends who were around back in the day. The Ruxes had the idea to incorporate Acid Carousel, a band whose members are now the same age that Bartlett was 50 years ago. The match has proved to be perfect, with the collaboration infusing a new magic into Bartlett’s songs, bringing them into the present day while still capturing the youth and energy that was essential to the essence of psychedelic music in the ’60s.
“What a great yin-yang of age,” Bartlett said of the unlikely pairing. “They added a whole new layer of energy [to the music] I couldn’t possibly have added myself. I haven’t been this excited about a creative bubble in a long, long time.”
In return, Bartlett is serving as a vicarious hero of sorts for the Acid Carousel folks, giving them a direct window into the ’60s psych culture they’ve patterned their own sound after.
“I couldn’t be any damn happier that Robby came to us to be a part of this project,” said Gus Baldwin, one half with John Kuzmick of Carousel’s brain trust. “We’re excited to hopefully be able to write some music that’ll bring the stars together.”
Work on In Your Dreams will continue for at least the next few months with the hopes of a late-year release. As much as Bartlett might wish for it to be done sooner, it’s not very long to wait for a record 50 years in the making.