The Conqueroo - From The Vulcan Gas Company (Blues Rock US 1968)

Sabtu, 20 Oktober 2012

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If any Austin group of the late '60s could be called the Vulcan Gas Company's de facto house band, it would have to be the Conqueroo. That, despite the fact that the Vulcan was self-billed as a psychedelic concert hall and the Conqueroo was hardly psychedelic although certainly a hippie favorite. If any musical genre could have been attached to the eclectic Conqueroo, it would have been not one but a fusion of many: folk, rock, jazz, and blues. Nonetheless, the Conqueroo was a regular at the Vulcan -- featured prominently on many Vulcan handbills and posters -- from the hall's opening in October 1967 until its closing in mid 1970. Sonobeat owners Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Jr.) first heard the Conqueroo perform with the 13th Floor Elevators at Austin's Doris Miller Auditorium in January 1967. But ultimately it was the Conqueroo's regular performances at the Vulcan that convinced the Joseys they had to record the group.

Recording sessions at the Vulcan Gas Company -- initially in December 1967 and again in March '68 -- yielded Sonobeat's fifth release and third rock single, a pairing of Conqueroo Ed Guinn's I've Got Time (featuring an enigmatically dramatic, yet strangely reserved, duet) and 1 to 3 (featuring an equally dramatic but uninhibited vocal by its composer, Bob Brown). No fancy recording techniques were used; the single is nothing short of two great songs performed passionately by great musicians, captured just a little raw at one of Sonobeat's favorite venues. It remains the only commercial single release by the original incarnation of the Conqueroo, who often shared the Vulcan stage with the Elevators, Johnny Winter, or Shiva's Headband.

Sonobeat issued the Conqueroo's single with a two-sided black and white picture sleeve designed by legendary Austin illustrator Gilbert Shelton (who lived with the Conqueroo and half a dozen other assorted characters in a large house just off the University of Texas campus).

A stunning image by celebrated Austin photographer Belmer Wright (not to be confused with another great Austin photographer, Burton Wilson) completed the sleeve, which has a bit of the look and feel of one of those famous Vulcan Gas Company handbills of the '60s. Both sides of the sleeve are identical, except for the song titles, hand lettered by Shelton. A banner flowing through the OOs in "Conqueroo" proclaims "Recorded Live at the Vulcan Gas Co.", but the single was not actually recorded before a live audience. Shelton's sleeve art refers to "The Conqueroo", but the group was later known as just "Conqueroo".

Originally scheduled as Rs-104 (which collectors will note is etched in the single's dead wax), the Conqueroo release moved up a notch on Sonobeat's schedule after Shiva's Headband had second thoughts about the release of their single, also recorded at the Vulcan and originally scheduled for release ahead of the Conqueroo's. Bill Josey Sr.'s handwritten notes on the Conqueroo master tape box indicate both songs were recorded using two 2-track Ampex recorders. The second recorder was used for vocal overdubs that were recorded immediately after the band laid down the instrumental tracks. There is an ethereal "other worldness" to these recordings, imparted by the band itself but enhanced by the vast acoustics of the Vulcan Gas Company.

While cataloging the Sonobeat master tapes in 2008, we discovered two instrumental tracks that the Conqueroo recorded during the March '68 session. Both are instrumental tracks that probably were supposed to have vocals but were never completed. One song may be titled None of Your Business, Waitress. Unfortunately, there's no additional information about these tracks in the Sonobeat archives, so we're uncertain why they were never completed and released.

One of Austin's best-loved bands of this era they opened their own club, The Vulcan Gas Company in 1967 and among its attractions were the 13th Floor Elevators and many of the best black blues singers of the era. The club lasted until 1970. Their 45 appeared in a picture sleeve and featured some fine 'acid' guitar work. Indeed the band have been referred to as Austin's Grateful Dead. They moved to San Francisco for a while and whilst there Brown and Guinn also worked as The Angel Band. Disillusioned The Conqueroo split and returned to Texas. They reformed briefly in the mid-seventies. 

Their retrospective album is a live recording from 1968. It features fine guitar work on Passenger and Banana And The Cat but is patchy overall so primarily for archivists. Ed Guinn and Bob Brown also cut a long demo tape about early 1967 of entirely fresh material, but this hasn't resurfaced to date. They also helped back comic artist, and Austin resident Gilbert Shelton on his sole 45.

Powell St. John went from Laredo to Austin, Texas in 1959, a harmonica playing, beret wearing beatnik kid who had a hunch that something was going on somewhere. Powell began his musical career in Austin in the early 1960's, playing at parties and clubs around the University of Texas campus. Eventually he came to work with Kenneth Threadgill of Austin's Threadgill's Bar, performing with Janis Joplin and Lannie Wiggins in a small trio called The Waller Creek Boys. Later, in answer to a request for material from Tommy Hall of the 13th Floor Elevators, St. John wrote six songs for their two first albums. In the late 60's, Powell formed a blues and rock band with Tracy Nelson named Mother Earth.

Some of the most famous musicians in the world have recorded Powell's songs, such as Janis Joplin (Bye, Bye Baby), Boz Skaggs (I'll Forever Sing), Tracy Nelson (Livin' with the Animals), Roky Erickson (Right Track Now) & Doug Sahm (You Don't Know).

01. Passenger
02. Banana and the Cat
03. Words Are not as Strange
04. 1 to 3
05. Walking Blues
06. Midnight Hour
07. I've Got Time
08. Get Out of My Life Woman
09. I Think About It

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