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The Red Krayola
|Also known as||The Red Crayola|
|Origin||Houston, Texas, United States|
|Labels||Rough Trade Records, International Artists, Celluloid Records, Leiterwagen Records, Radar Records, Sordide Sentimental, Drag City|
|Associated acts||Art & Language|
|Past members||Frederick Barthelme|
The Red Krayola (formerly the Red Crayola) is an American underground rock band from Houston, Texas, formed in 1966 by the original trio of singer/guitarist Mayo Thompson, drummer Frederick Barthelme, and bassist Steve Cunningham.
The group formed as part of the same 1960s Texas psychedelic scene in which the Thirteenth Floor Elevators formed. While studying art at the University of St. Thomas, the members signed with independent label International Artists. Their confrontational, experimental approach employed noise and "free-form freak-outs", presaging the development of industrial rock and winning them a small cult following.
The Red Crayola disbanded in the late 1960s, but were resurrected in the late 1970s when Thompson moved to England and found favor in the post-punk scene. Thompson has continued using the name, in its legally altered spelling for performances or releases in the USA, for his musical projects since. The group has released recordings on European labels such as Rough Trade and Recommended. In the mid-1990s, Thompson returned to the United States, signing with Drag City and releasing further albums.
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. It departed completely 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. Studio demos by the original Red Crayola were released on the 1980 compilation of International Artists rarities, Epitaph for a Legend. In 1969, Thompson recorded a solo album called Corky's Debt to His Father for a small label called Texas Revolution.
Mayo Thompson continued to make music, both under his own name and as The Red Crayola (reverting to the original name in Europe). The next incarnation of the group was a duo: Thompson and American drummer Jesse Chamberlain. The two recorded the single "Wives in Orbit" and the album Soldier Talk, with the latter featuring cameos by Lora Logic and members of Pere Ubu, both of which could be seen as musical responses to punk rock. Radar Records reissued Parable of Arable Land in 1978 in the UK, accompanied by 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. 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, who Thompson described as "the baddest bastards on the block", for three LPs: 1976's Corrected Slogans, 1981's Kangaroo? (also featuring The Raincoats' Gina Birch, Lora Logic of Essential 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.
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".
- Unterberger, Richie. "The Red Krayola". AllMusic. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
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- "The Red Crayola - Hurricane Fighter Plane ". Shelf3d.com. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
- John Walker. (1987). "Art-Language & Red Crayola" Archived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine. In Cross-Overs: Art into Pop, Pop into Art. London/New York: Comedia/Methuen, 1987. artdesigncafe. Retrieved 07 January 2011.
- "Dusted Reviews: The Red Krayola with Art & Language - Five American Portraits". Dustedmagazine.com. 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
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