Red Krayola

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The Red Krayola
Also known asThe Red Crayola
OriginHouston, Texas, United States
GenresPsychedelic rock
Experimental rock
Outsider music
Years active1966–present
LabelsRough Trade Records, International Artists, Celluloid Records, Leiterwagen Records, Radar Records, Sordide Sentimental, Drag City
Associated actsArt & Language
MembersMayo Thompson
Albert Oehlen
Past membersFrederick Barthelme
Steve Cunningham
Jesse Chamberlain
Lora Logic
Allen Ravenstine
David Thomas
Markus Oehlen
Epic Soundtracks

Red Krayola (formerly The Red Crayola) was a psychedelic experimental rock band from Houston, Texas, formed by art students at the University of St. Thomas (Texas) in 1966. The band was led by singer/guitarist and visual artist Mayo Thompson, along with drummer Frederick Barthelme (brother of novelist Donald Barthelme) and Steve Cunningham. Their work prefigured punk, post-punk, indie rock and the no wave scene in 1980s New York City.

They made noise rock, psychedelia and occasionally folk/country songs and instrumentals in a DIY fashion, an approach that presaged the lo-fi aesthetic of many 1990s US indie rock groups. Reviewing the band has produced conflicted results - in an extremely positive review from Pitchfork Media, critic Alex Lindhardt wrote: "It's a band that has no idea how to play its instruments. In fact, they don't even know what instruments are, or if the guitarist has the ability to remain conscious long enough to play whatever it is a 'note' might be."[1] He added, "This is a band that was paid ten dollars to stop a performance in Berkeley. If Berkeley's not having it, you know you're in for rough sledding."

Thompson has continued using the name, in its legally required permutation The Red Krayola, for his musical projects since.



In 1966, the band 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 because of its complete departure 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 aluminium 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.

In 1969, Thompson recorded a solo album called Corky's Debt to His Father for a small label called Texas Revolution. The album, which has come to be regarded by many as the unheralded jewel of the Krayola catalogue, is devoid of Thompson's usual avant-garde indulgences, and consists instead of ten lyrically dense but warm-hearted pop songs, in various styles – Dylan-inspired blues-rock, Tex-Mex pop-rock with psychedelic touches, and early country rock not dissimilar to the contemporary work of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Thompson was backed by studio musicians on the album and none of his usual Krayola (or 13th Floor Elevators) cohorts appear.


Mayo Thompson continued to make music, both under his own name and as The Red Crayola (reverting to the original name for Europe). He teamed up with American drummer Jesse Chamberlain and recorded the single "Wives in Orbit" and the album Soldier Talk, both of which could be seen as musical responses to punk rock. Radar Records reissued Parable of Arable Land in 1978 in the UK, which came with a flexi-disc, on which was an up-tempo version of Hurricane Fighter Plane recorded in July 1978, with an apparent punk rock influence as well.[2] His collaborations in the 1970s and 1980s read like a roll-call of the avant-garde and experimental artists and musicians of the era. The Red Crayola teamed up with the British-American conceptual art collective Art & Language,[3] whom Thompson described as "the baddest bastards on the block",[4] for three LPs: 1976's Corrected Slogans, 1981's Kangaroo? (also featuring The Raincoats' Gina Birch, Lora Logic and Swell Maps' Epic Soundtracks) and 1983's Black Snakes. Thompson joined Pere Ubu for a period in the early 1980s, performing on their albums The Art of Walking and Song of the Bailing Man, and provided soundtrack music for Derek Jarman. Throughout this time he was prolific as a producer for many other seminal experimental and alternative rock acts, including The Fall (1980's Grotesque (After the Gramme)), The Raincoats, Scritti Politti, Blue Orchids, Cabaret Voltaire, Stiff Little Fingers, Kleenex/LiLiPUT, The Chills and Primal Scream.


The 1990s found The Red Krayola with a new audience, who came to the group via musicians associated with Chicago's post-rock scene and in particular the Drag City label, who had joined the band's ever-shifting line-up for a number of releases including the LPs The Red Krayola (1994), Hazel (1996), and Fingerpainting (1999). These were, among others, Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs of Gastr del Sol, the post-conceptual visual artist Stephen Prina, German painter Albert Oehlen, George Hurley (formerly of Minutemen and Firehose), Tom Watson of Slovenly, Sandy Yang, Elisa Randazzo and John McEntire of Tortoise. In 2006, the group issued an album, Introduction, and an EP, Red Gold.

In 1995, Drag City released 1967's Coconut Hotel LP and in 1998 issued The Red Krayola Live 1967 with material from the Angry Arts Festival and Berkeley Folk Music Festival including their live collaboration with John Fahey.

In 2007, Drag City released Sighs Trapped by Liars, another collaboration of Red Krayola with Art & Language, followed in 2010 with another, Five American Portraits, which consists of musical portraits of Wile E. Coyote, President George W Bush, President Jimmy Carter, John Wayne, and Ad Reinhardt, with vocals by Gina Birch. In 2016 came Baby and Child Care, recorded in 1984.


Pere Ubu covered "Horses," a track from Mayo Thompson's solo album Corky's Debt to His Father, on 1980s The Art of Walking, while Thompson was a member.

Houston, Texas hardcore punk band Really Red recorded a cover of "War Sucks" for their 1984 Rest in Pain LP and followed it with a soundscape piece entitled "Just the Facts Ma'am", which is an obvious tribute to the free-form freakouts on "Parable of Arable Land".

British space rock group Spacemen 3 recorded a version of "Transparent Radiation" from the Red Krayola's Parable of Arable Land, and the same album's lead track "Hurricane Fighter Plane" was covered by Nik Turner's post-Hawkwind outfit Inner City Unit, UK Goth rock legends Alien Sex Fiend in 1986 and by Scottish act Future Pilot AKA in 1996, as well as by ultra-violent punkrockers The Dwarves (who were originally a psychedelic garage band). Also covering "Hurricane Fighter Plane" was New Zealand post-punk band The Pin Group, led by future solo performer Roy Montgomery. Boston-based indie outfit Galaxie 500 covered "Victory Garden" from the Red Krayola's second album on their own second album On Fire. In April 2009, Spectrum, fronted by ex-Spacemen 3 frontman Peter Kember, released an EP named for and headlined by a cover of "War Sucks".



  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved July 2, 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "The Red Crayola - Hurricane Fighter Plane [1978]". Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  3. ^ John Walker. (1987). "Art-Language & Red Crayola". In Cross-Overs: Art into Pop, Pop into Art. London/New York: Comedia/Methuen, 1987. artdesigncafe. Retrieved 07 January 2011.
  4. ^ "Dusted Reviews: The Red Krayola with Art & Language - Five American Portraits". 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2012-04-01.

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