Off the Record

Music News

Saxon, March 2009
Saxon, March 2009 (Photo by John Anderson)

Sky Saxon

The eccentric, charismatic founder of garage-psych pioneers the Seeds, Sky Sunlight Saxon, passed away on Thursday, June 25, at St. David's South Austin Hospital of heart and kidney failure, due to an undiagnosed internal infection. He was thought to be 71, though no official birth record could be obtained. Inspired by the recent resurrection of fellow psychedelic survivor Roky Erickson after headlining the Black Angels' Psych Fest 2 in March, Saxon – born Richard Elvern Marsh – announced his permanent residency in Austin merely two weeks before his death. He was scheduled to take part in the California '66 Revue Tour this summer with members of Love and the Electric Prunes, and, as recently as Saturday, June 20, performed a short set backed by locals Shapes Have Fangs, as World Spirits, at Antone's. "I don't believe in death," Saxon told OTR the previous Thursday as part of an afternoonlong conversation – a short, strange trip to say the least. "In a higher understanding, none of us die; we leave our body. We're going from one room to another room." A memorial service is scheduled for Sunday at the Scoot Inn, 6pm. In lieu of flowers, his wife, Sabrina, asks that donations be made through to assist in the burial traditions of Ya Ho Wha/Father Yod & the Source Family.

It Came From the Basement

Back in the day: Explosions in the Sky's first promo photo, circa 1999
Back in the day: Explosions in the Sky's first promo photo, circa 1999

Explosions in the Sky played its first show as Breaker Morant on July 4, 1999, for an audience of one – Erik Wofford, who engineered the instrumentalists' Local Live session on KVRX. "Nobody had ever heard them; no one wanted to do it," laughs Wofford, who later produced the band's CD-R debut, How Strange, Innocence. "I could see this glimmer of hope." The quartet changed its name after the taping, and "Remember Me as a Time of Day" wound up on Volume 4 of KVRX's longstanding Local Live series. A decade later, Explosions brings out the fireworks at a sold-out Stubb's on Saturday with the Octopus Project and the Wooden Birds, though not literally – that display at South by Southwest 09 was paid for by the city. Percussive catalyst Christopher Hrasky says EITS is dusting off a few never-before-played songs for the occasion and, after a brief run with the Flaming Lips, plans to hit the studio: "At this point we're still going with this idea of putting these pieces together to form one long suite of music where there's individual songs, but works best when taken as a whole."

Here Comes the Sun

Harlem (Photo by John Anderson)

It certainly pays to have Matador Records co-head Gerard Cosloy prowling Red River regularly. Local garage-pop trio Harlem recently signed to the indie titan, which is digitally re-releasing the band's gloriously shambled 2008 debut, Free Drugs. "I thought the songs were fantastic," relates Cosloy. "I really like the interplay between [Michael] Coomers and Curtis [O'Mara], the back-and-forth banter and shit. They each have pretty distinct styles, and every time I saw them I thought they just got better and better." Harlem kicks off a brief West Coast tour tonight (Thursday, July 2) at Club de Ville, leading up to a recording session at the Distillery in Los Angeles. "We're going to try and swim in the ocean every morning and then record at night," cracks Coomers. "The whole point of going out to L.A. is to get a sun-bleached album out of it, so it's not necessarily Texas roaches crawling over the tape – not that that wouldn't make an awesome record."

Down by the River

Ryan Bingham
Ryan Bingham (Photo by John Anderson)

In preparation for last month's feature on Ryan Bingham ("The Cowboy Song," June 5), OTR floated down to Whitewater on the Horseshoe, a natural amphitheater set on 460 acres on the banks of the Guadalupe River just outside Canyon Lake, where Bingham and his Dead Horses stomped a mud hole for the better part of 75 minutes. Along with operating a successful tubing and camping business, Whitewater has stacked an impressive lineup for its second full season, including Dwight Yoakam (July 9), Reckless Kelly (July 11), Delbert McClinton (Aug. 1), and a two-night stand from Ghostland Observatory (July 17-18), not to mention a free weekly live music series with local favorites the Band of Heathens (tonight, July 2) and Guy Forsyth (July 23). While the 4,000-capacity venue could use some delay speakers in the back and overcharges for parking ($10), the scenic atmosphere more than offsets the inconvenience. "We sell the experience," enthuses co-owner Will Korioth, who plans to expand in October with the addition of 50 more cabins, a restaurant operated by Wahoo's Fish Tacos, and proper bathroom facilities. "The theory is that when they park their car on Friday, they're done. It's a true destination."

Off the Wall

Tex-Mex purveyor Joe King Carrasco holds the rare distinction of having the late Michael Jackson as a backup singer. In 1981, the King of Pop was mixing The Jacksons Live! at Studio 55 in Los Angeles as Carrasco & the Crowns were cutting their major label debut for MCA, 1982's Synapse Gap. "I loaned him a Walkman, because he had never heard Off the Wall on one before; he spent like three days listening to it," recalls Carrasco, who currently resides in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and recently released the soundtrack for his self-proclaimed and directed "trailer-trash epic" Rancho No Tengo. In return, the iconic thriller recorded harmonies for the reggae-tinged single "Don't Let a Woman (Make a Fool Out of You)." Jackson was paid union scale for the session – $100. "When he did the session, his dad came in and kind of freaked out because he caught him in a different studio with us," Carrasco laughs in fond remembrance. "He had really incredible mic techniques for certain words and phrasings. He was really a perfectionist. It was neat to brush up against that level of greatness."

Random Play

• The SIMS Foundation, a local nonprofit that offers low-cost mental health services to Austin musicians, received a $4,000 donation this week from Ashley Welch, the sister of the late songsmith Elliott Smith, via the sale of his used '99 Passat GLX. "He'd be happy to know that the sale of his car will help other musicians in need," Welch posted as part of the Craigslist ad.

Jon Bessent, the beloved vintage specialist and owner of Tonecraft Amp Repair, died on June 23 from a heart attack. He was 56. "He was a true craftsman," recalls Paul Minor. "I can't begin to quantify the value of all the free advice and quick repairs that got my ailing gear back up and running."

Music news

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Explosions in the Sky, Sky Saxon, Harlem, Whitewater on the Horseshoe, Joe King Carrasco, Michael Jackson, Erik Wofford, Gerard Cosloy, Ryan Bingham

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