Rock and Reprise.net
LOST IN SPACE
The Epic Saga of Fort Worth's Space Opera
“I'm at the club one evening and three guys show up, and we're talking gawky, zit-faced teenagers... they wanted me to come to Fort Worth and make an album with them. They say, let us play for you so I said okay, after we close the club tonight, you guys can set up and play for me... they started playing and in less than ten minutes I'm saying, what the f**k am I doing? I'm getting ready to move to Fort Worth with a bunch of gawky, zit-faced teenagers. These guys were just brilliant!
While the members of The Mods were barely beginning to make noise, John Carrick had already established himself in the large and vibrant folk music scene of Houston.
“I was in what started out to be a Peter, Paul & Mary/Kingston Trio/Limeliters kind of folk group called The Balladeers,” he said. “We were lucky enough to discover where the successful commercial groups' music was coming from. We found the old Jewish Community Center in Houston, where they had a folklore society which included a couple of cats who had been blacklisted, some old beatniks and labor activists. It was there that we discovered old blues and English ballads and Appalachian music and bluegrass in its real traditional form, or second-generation traditional, and we started doing that. We recorded and won some awards, but we were just high school kids, playing every weekend and making some money.”
While the money was good, the deterioration of the folk scene and the end of high school forced some changes.
“I went into the Marines right out of high school,” Carrick continued. “Before I'd gone in, around 1965, my mom and I started the Sand Mountain Coffeehouse. The Beatles had hit and the folk music thing was on the wane, but folk music was what I knew how to do and it was a very important part of my young life. My mom looked at it and said, well, there are still enough people who want to hear this, so we opened the coffeehouse.
“We hired the people I'd grown up playing with like Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, B.W. Stevenson, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin. I mean, the number of people who played there who later became famous is enormous. Partly because the same thing was happening all over the country, coffeehouses closing down and folk musicians having nowhere to play. People would pass through and stay for three, four, five months because we had kind of a scene here. Long before Austin.”
David Bullock, in Houston during that time, found the place and practically moved in.
“My parents divorced when I was fourteen,” he said, “and my mother remarried and moved to Houston while I remained in Fort Worth with my dad. At the end of the ninth grade, however, having played guitar for about a year, I wanted to explore greener pastures. I knew Houston had a big folk scene and there was more opportunity there for me to improve and explore. Plus, I was tired of playing the 'commercial' folk music we'd been doing. By then, I was listening to Dylan, Leadbelly, Snaker Ray and the more interesting melodic groups like Ian & Sylvia. My first year of high school, I lived in Houston and teamed up with a classmate named Joe Johnson. We auditioned for Carrick at Sand Mountain and he gave us a chance to play.”
“This kid showed up one night,” said Carrick, “who was substantially younger than me--- or it seemed substantial at the time--- somewhere around three to five years. David Bullock. David was a good guitar player, had a real touch on the harmonica and had an incredibly unique voice, a voice so pleasing that it would grab you. He started coming around and playing mostly open mike nights and support spots.”
“I pretty much spent every weekend down there for a year and a half,” added Bullock, “either playing or listening to others. In addition to playing with Joe, I also played solo and played in a great jug band.
“When Jerry Jeff Walker arrived on the scene, I sometimes backed him on harmonica, or on spoons for a new song he'd written called 'Mr. Bojangles'. Jerry Jeff and Gary White formed a rock group around that time called The Lost Sea Dreamers, later known as Circus Maximus when they moved to New York. They recorded an album for Vanguard Records.
“It was a time when musicians of all different stripes--- folk, blues, bluegrass--- would get together informally and just play for fun. I remember drinking wine and playing blues all night with Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark at Guy's house.
“There was a very interesting character named Frank Davis,” he mused, “a musician and recording engineer at Walt Andrus' studio, Andrus Sound, a nice studio co-owned by Andrus and Leland Rogers (Kenny Rogers' brother). Frank engineered the second 13th Floor Elevators record, among others, and also created an amazing musique concrete album called Metamorphosis. He had a house in the Montrose area in Houston, a neighborhood where most of the folkies, beats, SDS radicals and, later, hippies lived. He recorded the first session I ever played on, in March of 1966, with the Garden of Joy Jug Band. We recorded a cool version of Leadbelly's 'Death of Jean Harlow' (Scott, Phil and I later did a Byrdsy version of that at Sound City with T-Bone). Joe Johnson, Carolyn Terry and I, all members of Garden of Joy, hung out a lot at Frank's house. As I said, Joe Johnson played in the duo with me at Sand Mountain, and Carolyn Terry was a University of Houston student, a folksinger and a radio show host. After hearing our jug band, Frank decided we should do a side project, a folk-rock Lovin' Spoonful kind of thing. We rehearsed in his living room. The band was myself, Carolyn Terry, Joe Johnson, Frank, and Johnny Winter, who later became deservedly famous for his blues singing and guitar playing. We never got to the performing stage for some reason, but it was fun exploring together in rehearsals.
“As I was by far the youngest member of the Houston folk scene, I was kind of taken under the wings of the older guys and had a chance to hear established musicians play around Houston, such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb and Doc Watson.”
Bullock returned to Fort Worth the Fall of '66 and immediately tied up with Fraser and Lively who, still as The Mods, were laying down tracks for Cass Edwards at Sound City. During Spring Break of that school year, he took a trip to Houston with Phil White and introduced him to Carrick. White liked what he saw. When the school year ended, White, Fraser and Lively moved to Houston, independent of Bullock, who had also returned there for the summer.
While White said they quit school, the others denied it going that far for themselves. Bullock does remember them re-enrolling when school started again that next Fall.
“We put that band together because we quit school,” White argued. “At that time, you didn't quit high school unless you were a minority or a pregnant chick. The whole thing was that if you didn't finish school, you would simply, like, explode. But, in fact, we quit high school. We left the same day, in my car, and made a pilgrimage to Houston where we hooked up with Carrick.”
“I'm at the club one evening,” Carrick laughed, “and three guys show up, and we're talking gawky, zit-faced teenagers. They came in and introduced themselves and said that David had told them to come in and talk to me, that they had a recording deal and they wanted me to come to Fort Worth to make an album with them. Supposedly, they had gotten something going with T-Bone Burnett up at Sound City Studio and they didn't have what they really felt was a lead vocalist. David told them to come get me, though I don't know why, exactly. I'm going yeah, yeah, sure. And they're saying, aw, c'mon, but I'm not buying it. Finally they say, okay, let's do this. Let us play for you. We have all of our stuff out in the car and you have a P.A. I said, okay, after we close the club tonight, you guys can set up and play for me, and I'm just kind of doing this because I'm doing it, you know.
“I remember they were traveling in wheels wired together--- a '55 four-door Chevy, but wired together. They come in and set up their stuff and the club is closed and they start playing and in less than ten minutes, I'm saying what the f**k am I doing? I'm getting ready to move to Fort Worth with a bunch of gawky, zit-faced teenagers! These guys were just brilliant! It wasn't like you could see the potential. It was already there! They had incredible musical skill, every one of them. And the songs were great. Way beyond their years.”
Fraser remembered that summer fondly. “I met John for the first time at John's apartment at the Sand Mountain Coffeehouse,” he said. “Phil, Edd and I arrived, we exchanged pleasantries and repaired downstairs to the club where John was to perform. He was absolutely great. Sand Mountain was home to Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, but the wonderful summer I spent there, the two best sets I heard were by Messrs. Carrick and Bullock (who had returned there to play solo).
“At first, we lived upstairs at Sand Mountain, playing at night and rehearsing and sleeping during the day. Later, we moved into a stunning house we called The Castle. I went to school on folk music that summer and it was an invaluable education. I really enjoyed working with John.”
“I remember being at that house,” said Bullock, “this odd little Victorian house. They played me a tape they had recorded of 'House of Collection' and 'Day of Childhood'. At that time, Carrick suggested that I rejoin them. He said, 'Your voice and mine together would sound like silver honey.' I was flattered and the music was so good that I thought I might join them. I spent the rest of the summer playing on my own, but did rejoin the band when we were all back in Fort Worth.”
Those gawky teenagers spent that summer in Houston and formed a band with Carrick and whatever drummer they could find at the moment. For John Carrick, a traditional folkie, it was pure spiritual enlightenment.
“They were just as pure teenagers as they could be,” he said, “and they happened to be f**king geniuses, okay? When we went out to play, we played Byrds songs. The Byrds were our gods. I had followed Roger McGuinn from the folk scene into rock & roll and they had just discovered The Byrds and thought they were the most brilliant band in the world. So our life was scheduled around the occasional appearance of The Byrds on the Johnny Carson Show or the Ed Sullivan Show or whatever, and the new Byrds single or album. We played a lot of Beatles' stuff too. I was just the singer, but those guys played the scratches on the records!
“Anyway, we're playing around Houston and of course it's that time in the '60s and we're all getting way too much acid and way too much weed and whatnot. These guys were the first rock & roll punks I ever knew of. Every one of them was incredibly usurous, meaning to avoid work and to get what they wanted.”
To be fair, Lively, Fraser and White were just short of destitute at that time and lived their music as much as played it. Like most teens in similar situations, they grabbed anything they could just to survive (especially food).
“Scott told me they had very little money,” said Bullock. “They used hand soap to wash their hair and sometimes had to resort to stealing food. This is another area where Phil came in handy, because he was a skilled and audacious food store shoplifter.”
“I considered myself a part of the band and I fell in love with all of that s**t,” admitted Carrick. “Then, it came time to go to Fort Worth. I can't recall exactly why. Maybe T-Bone called or something, but it was time to head to Fort Worth and I had the GI Bill, so I went up there and started school.”
According to Fraser, summer was over and they had to return to school, which explains the sudden move. Regardless, the return to Fort Worth marked a real turning point: the beginning of the Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill project.
MR. BURNETT, MEET MR. WHISTLER, ETC...
Before the trip to Houston, Lively, White, Bullock and Fraser had met with T-Bone and had discussed what would eventually become Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill. While Bullock's praise of Carrick's voice led to that trip, the goal was nebulous, to say the least.
“T-Bone had had an idea to have an ever-shifting group of writers and players,” explained Fraser. “It was a great idea aesthetically, but probably a bad idea, commercially.”
“To me,” said Bullock, “WCD&G was always a recording project. I'm not sure there was even a specific goal for what we would do with the songs we were recording. It was more of an artistic adventure, writing the best songs we could, then seeing what we could do with them in the studio.”
Those songs came mainly from the pens of Bullock, Fraser and Burnett. White, who was to become a major writer in Space Opera, stayed off to the side.
“At the time,” he explained, “I was suffering from the getting-kicked-out-of-the-band syndrome. I felt like I didn't have that much to bring to the table. They were such incredible talents and the whole thing was so amazing it just blew my mind. I considered myself the weak sister of the whole thing.”
“Essentially,” remembered Carrick, “most of our waking hours were spent at Sound City. At first, it was just the three guys and myself with the occasional drummer thrown in the mix here and there. Just whoever we could get. From the day we got there, we're living in the studio. Recording, recording, recording. What we had, by the standards of the late '60s, were two Ampex four-tracks and this weird old patch base, so if you wanted to do a bunch of tracks, you would record onto four tracks, mix it down to one on the other machine, then start recording more stuff on four and mix that down to one. The process of doing that and keeping any sound quality was difficult, but T-Bone, who was younger than myself but older than the other guys, he just learned. He'd say, with what I have to work with, I do it this way, and though I have no idea how long he'd been doing it, he sure knew his way around. How T-Bone came to be a part of it, I don't know. It never even occurred to me. You walked in and there was T-Bone and that was that.” (For a rundown on the recording equipment actually used, click here.
“T-Bone, at age 19, was part owner of Sound City,” noted Bullock. “Scott, Edd, Phil and I were indeed back in high school and although some of us had to make up classes, we cut class regularly. We were not model students and spent more time at the studio than at school. T-Bone provided a secure, open-ended atmosphere where we were free to experiment and exchange ideas. Sometimes we would just sit in the control room or his office and listen to records, absorbing styles and techniques. Through the exploration of multi-track recording, we not only learned production techniques, but since it was a 'layering' process, it laid the foundation for a later self-education in arranging and orchestration.”
The music itself was a given, according to Carrick.
“These guys just had music pouring out of them like you've never seen. I mean, it was just try to stop them from coming up with good songs. It was unbelievable. Eddie (Lively), in retrospect, I think was the most brilliant writer. He could write songs all day long. He'd read a history book and find some interesting character and he'd write a whole song about that character.. All in few hours.”
Of course, it wasn't all Lively. “It turns out,” Carrick went on, “at Scott's house, there was a set of the classics of literature. What they would do was sit around, get the classics and open them up and find some great line--- some beautiful, poetic line. They would pull that line out and go through and find another one and pull that out. Some of the music was just strung together, whether directly plagiarized or lightly paraphrased, from lines from the classics.”
Of course, Fraser's mother, Virginia, gave the band encouragement at every turn, becoming the young musicians' biggest supporter.
“She taught music and had a Steinway in her house and was our biggest fan,” Lively said. “Most parents were always saying get your ass in school or get a job or you'll never make it or have something to fall back on and all that crap. V.A. never said that. She was always in our corner saying do it, do it, do it!”
At the studio, “to sort of 'pay our way',” said Bullock, “we also served as studio sidemen for many sessions, mainly local people. One unforgettable character we worked with was The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, aka Norm Odom. He was this eccentric dude who wore cowboy attire and carried a briefcase full of star maps. He recorded several sides, including his hit 'Paralyzed', on which T-Bone played drums.”
Carrick remembered the 'sidemen' sessions, too.
“You know who Major Bill Smith is?” he asked. “He had Bruce Channel and 'Hey Baby'? We got hired as a band to cut tracks for him, demos and stuff. What was amazing was how many different styles we did 'Hey Baby' in. I mean, if you can imagine The Byrds doing 'Hey Baby', we did it. The Butterfield Blues Band doing 'Hey Baby', we did it. The Beatles at Sgt. Pepper time doing 'Hey Baby', we did that. I don't know how many times or how many different styles we did that song. It was just a piece of work and we'd have fun with it, you know? I think oftentimes the humor would come when it was first suggested. Everybody standing around laughing, saying yeah, The Byrds doing 'Hey Baby', but you know, we'd somehow come up with something appallingly good. Smith was making the suggestions because he owned it and was probably thinking, if I could only get it on the charts again...”
“I recall the first time I laid eyes on Major Bill Smith,” said Bullock. “He was sitting at T-Bone's desk in the Sound City office working the phone, hyping a record to some deejay. He looked like a cross between the Wizard of Oz and L. Ron Hubbard. The sales pitch was all about getting a record some airplay. He finished his spiel with what I later learned was his signature line... 'This record is a cotton-pickin' smash!'
“Major Bill was the ultimate small-time regional song monger. He produced 'Hey Baby' and 'Hey Paula' which were both national hits, then spent the rest of his career trying to duplicate that early success while recording gimmicky stuff on the cheap to make a quick buck. He came from the time of the hit single but by the late '60s, the LP was king. I've met quite a few hustlers and slick A&R guys, or 'lizards' as we called them back then, but never anyone else like Major Bill.
“He was somehow instrumental in helping T-Bone get us the deal with UNI. After we landed the record deal, he tried to pressure us, myself and Scott, into one of his brilliant schemes. He wanted us to record a song by Mark Lindsay of The Raiders! My jaw dropped when I heard that absurd idea. Scott didn't hesitate in telling him in no uncertain terms that there was no way in hell we were recording that song. Bill said, 'You have to do what I say. I got you that deal.' Scott came back with 'You're just another man. We don't have to do anything we don't want to.' I don't think Major Bill was used to being told no, but he had to take it. I was really proud of Scott, standing up to this buffoon, this authority figure. From then on, we never took s**t from anyone.”
Day after day in the studio took its toll, but there were diversions. Carrick remembered (very fondly), “One of the things we did was shut down what we were doing and watch the Saturday afternoon teen dance show out of Dallas ('Sump'n Else' on WFAA-TV, Channel 8). We'd ridicule the music and all those nerds, but they had some go-go girls on that show and the Master of Brilliance--- the mastery, even at that young age--- T-Bone contacted them and got them to stop by the studio and record some stuff with us playing, just so we could be in the presence of their pulchritude. It seems to me that one time, T-Bone even convinced them to come over in their Saturday afternoon white vinyl go-go boots and dress things. I don't think any of us entertained any notion that we were likely to score, but we were in their presence. I think that was the magic of the deal. I'm not sure it was ever intended that we would do anything other than get them there, and it worked!”
“True story,” according to Bullock. “We cut a track on the Traffic song 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' for two of the girls to sing on. It was actually pressed on one of Major Bill's indy labels, so he as well was part of the deal. I think I still have a copy of it somewhere. You can see the girls dancing on this TV clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZaEfiv0BM8. They were dolls.”
The sessions themselves were loose, musicians moving in and out of the studios as they were needed or as it happened.
“What was going on,” Carrick said, “was a lot of weird stuff. This guy, Rick Nation, may have played some washboard on parts of the album or sang on some of the tracks. I know that Dave and I were on some of the tracks that Nation's jug band recorded during that time. But we did things like bounce golf balls in the bathroom in time to the music which may have gone way back on a track.”
Actually, Carrick and Bullock produced sessions for the jug band, which also featured Roy Robinson (now playing under the name Amos Staggs).
“Rick showed up at the studio,” said Bullock, “and T-Bone agreed to record his jug band and asked John and I to produce. Rick never played on our sessions, but John and I did on theirs.”
Looking back, Carrick had a hard time remembering who played what on most tracks. “I might have played guitar on some of the stuff,” he said. “It's very likely that I did play some acoustic guitar, some background guitar, as well as some percussion. But when you had Scott Fraser and Edd Lively there to play guitar... Son, they sure didn't need what I had to offer.”
The truth is, it is hard to say what was used and what was discarded. At some point, it all started to run together.
“We spent so much time in the studio and our world was really, really small,” explained Carrick. “Outside the studio, we occasionally went over to the jug band's house, but there just wasn't a whole lot going on that wasn't about music and that studio. If somebody else was recording, we'd go over and just hang out. I was up there, to the best of my recollection, for about a year, and David came back somewhere about seven or eight months into the deal.”
Bullock actually came back from Houston the same time as did the others, to return to school. “The others had been recording for a couple of months during the summer,” he said, “so I got back into the group, at their request, in September of that year.”
Fraser disputed that claim, as did Bullock. “We never replaced any of Edd's guitar tracks,” Fraser stated. “David re-recorded the lead vocals on a few songs, but Carrick's voice is still present as both lead and harmony.” As for Lively leaving, Fraser wrote it off to a personality conflict between T-Bone and Lively.
“It was a rough breakup,” Bullock admitted, “and honestly all I can remember is that everyone went their separate ways. Like a marriage among six people, there is bound to be strife and, eventually, a shakeout.”
“Of the Fraser/Lively songs on the album,” he recalled, “'Day of Childhood' and 'House of Collection' were recorded before my involvement. 'Just Me and Her' was the third Fraser/Lively song, and we worked as hard on that as on the others. Edd's songs were never slighted.”
Still, the split was not as amicable as remembered. Lively remembers that Fraser and he “canceled each other out.” And there was pressure. “They had Bullock and he was a voice from Heaven, and Fraser could play anything. There was just too much talent for four walls. You needed a castle. So they kind of wedged me out because I was the weakest link and, at the same time, the thorn in everyone's ass. I was Neil Young to their Crosby and Stills, you know? It broke my heart, but not from a business standpoint. It was mostly between myself and Fraser, and Fraser just kind of turned his back on me. He went with the crowd. Of course, it was great for me, though I couldn't see it at the time. It made me go out and stand on my own feet. I became a leader instead of a semi-leader. I think it was my destiny.”
Carrick also claims the pecking extended to Burnett.
“I always say 'the guys',” he said, “because I don't want to include myself in that petty s**t (implying that he played his part), but they tried to put the blood spot on T-Bone and he wouldn't have it. He had the ability to move on. He'd go, oh, they're doing that thing today... okay... let's record this track. And that was part of T-Bone's brilliance. No matter what mood, no matter how stoned anybody was, no matter how hormonal, T-Bone would get the job done. That may be his greatest gift, besides a depth of knowledge and skill. That ability to get a really diverse bunch of people to work together as smoothly as they possibly can.”
Of course, as Bullock stated earlier, no band alive lives in perfect harmony and Carrick was an outsider, of sorts. Older and more experienced, he had a different view of things. Still, the years have shown that he had an appreciation of the situation, as his take on Phil White shows.
“Phil came from, by Fort Worth standards, a fairly well-off family,” he said. “His dad owned a bunch of Dairy Queens. For some reason, from an early age, Phil was kind of a rebel. He was big enough where he could be a bit pushy and get away with it and always seemed to get in a lot of fights and liked to press his luck. At some time, he got into martial arts and became a no-s**t badass. He has always had a big drinking and drug problem, too. He's never had a job as far as I know and I've heard people talk about having to move because Phil wouldn't get off the couch.
“The other side of that is that Phil is brilliant. He could have made an easy living as a standup comic. He's quick, he's funny, he's insightful. But it's like he was insecure or something. I've always really, really enjoyed Phil.
“See, I was fresh out of the Marines. I ran into Phil years later and Phil implied that back in those days I always wanted to kick his ass. Physically. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I would get frustrated with him because of his amazing ability to f**k things up and laugh about it while it was happening, but kick his ass? I'm just not an ass-kicking kind of guy.”
THE UNWRITTEN WORKS, ETC.
By the summer of 1968, there was enough for an album.
According to Carrick, “When this thing came to where it was essentially finished and we were having preliminary mixes--- edits pretty much done--- what we had was kind of unmastered to stereo, but mixed down to stereo. T-Bone, boy genius, went out and presented it to UNI Records. They liked it and made an offer. I don't know exactly what the offer was, but evidently by the standards of the time it was a good offer--- some good guarantees for whatever guarantees are worth. Distribution, promises--- those kinds of things. Understand, the way this deal was structured, Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill was a concept and not necessarily a specific group of individuals. So T-Bone comes back and says, if this is what they are willing to offer right off the bat, I should push for more.
“Well, as it turns out, what they wanted was a Texas band because Texas guys were hot at that time. Janis is happening, Johnny Winter is happening. A lot of the San Francisco cats were out of Texas. So T-Bone goes back with a counter-proposition, asking for more, and UNI took what they originally offered T-Bone and gave it to the next band that they wanted, that band was the Fever Tree, and Fever Tree took it. Well, when T-Bone went back, what we finally got was kind of a cut-out bin deal. We'll do this and that and we'll mail a hundred copies to deejays and we'll print so many copies.”
While the negotiations had resulted in less than a dream deal, UNI did give the go-ahead to ready the album for release. WCD&G (and assumedly, T-Bone) turned to Guy Clark for the cover art.
“At that time,” said Bullock, “Guy Clark was an accomplished musician but was just starting to write original songs and hadn't recorded yet. He was a friend from the Houston folk scene and was a luthier as well as an artist and a musician. He had, however, done some album cover art, so we asked him to do the design and photography. I don't know whose idea it was to include him in the photos, but since the mythical group had four names and there were only three remaining musicians, it made sense to add a fourth face. It was a spontaneous decision. Guy set up the shot, set the timer on his camera and placed himself in the shots.
“The front cover was done by the garden wall of an old mansion in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston. In the back cover shot, we were looking out the back windows of Guy's house on Fannin Street.”
Carrick felt the sting of exclusion. He found out about the shoot from Clark himself.
“Guy called me up and started talking to me about the photograph and I said, what photograph? He said, well, for the album cover. All the guys were in town and were going to get Guy to do the cover art. They'd come to Houston to do it, for some reason. So I called them up and they said they didn't want me in the picture.”
When asked who he talked with, Carrick said “I don't remember. Probably Phil. Phil was generally the one who would mouthpiece things. Scott was very quiet and was the most reticent. Dave would (more than likely) fall into line behind Phil. Anyway, since they had four names on it, rather than have me in it, they had Guy in it. It would have been more pleasing to me to have T-Bone on there. But it struck me that that was how petty things had gotten.”
Not really pettiness, at least in Bullock's recollection. “The group had splintered and it was down to the three of us at that point, and T-Bone had no interest in being on the cover. He had already moved on.”
The Unwritten Works Etc. was released in October of 1968 and promptly tanked. It received little promotion, even in Texas, and basically was tossed beneath a moving train. The seed had already taken hold, though, and Fraser, Bullock and White vowed to move forward together. They continued to write and rehearse, grabbing fill-in drummers in the hope of finding a match. They finally booked their own gig at a brand new facility in Fort Worth.
“That was the 'coming out' after the album was released,” said Bullock. “It was March of 1969 that we booked a concert at the W.E. Scott Theater. Scott Theater was built for community theater and dance performances and we were the first musical group to play there. Bear in mind, we were (mainly) a studio group at this time and Scott and T-Bone had played drums. So we hired a drummer named Tony Lee, invited our friend John Harris to play piano and sold out the 500-seat theater for our first real concert. The emcee for that show was the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
“John Harris has been a friend of ours since we were teenagers. He played with us some in the post-Mods days and then after the WCD&G album, he played piano and banjo with us at Scott Theater. John had a pure, high voice and played on some of our original songs as well as soloing on a traditional folk song called 'John Hardy'.
“We turned the album title around and billed ourselves as The Unwritten Works for that show. By the time the album had been released, we had moved beyond it musically, so we didn't carry the Whistler, Chaucer (or Unwritten Works) flag for long. In fact, that was the only concert ever billed under either of those names.”
A member of Space Opera's extended family opened the show. Julie Smith, a young and beautiful high school folkie, had caught the eye of manager Michael Mann (and dragged him 20 yards, as comedian Emo Phillips would say). She had previously performed as a duo with Susan Allen (now Susan Colegrove and playing with husband Jim Colegrove in the group Lost Country) under the name Glycerine and Rosewater, playing venues such as the prestigious Rubaiyat in Dallas, headlining over the likes of B.W. Stevenson and others. (“That was THE place,” laughed Julie Smith-Johnson. “Once you hit The Rubaiyat, you hit the big time. We were really too young to be playing there, but I like to think that we were just really talented.”) At the time, Glycerine had just split with Rosewater, so Mann set up an audition with Fraser, who consented to listen.
“I lived in the back bedroom of my grandmother's house,” Julie said, “and Mike had brought over The Unwritten Works album. I played it and really liked it. I had been playing since I was eleven and until recently had performed with Susan. The band had rented this big house on 6th Avenue and had played several gigs by then, so they were officially a working band. When Mike mentioned this opportunity to do this big concert, I thought it wonderful but couldn't even imagine it being true. The only thing is, he said, you have to let Scott hear some of your songs. I wrote a lot of my own stuff and playing for Scott was downright frightening for me. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. I played him two of my songs and he gave me the okay.”
“Yeah, Julie and Mary Rhoads were part of the story before Space Opera ever played their first live performance under that name,” said Mann. “They were best friends in high school, which is where I met them. Julie was my first great love and an American Beauty. She was a talented singer and as funny as Lucille Ball. She auditioned for us and Scott gave the thumbs up.”
The night of the concert is still a vivid memory for Julie Smith-Johnson, as she is now known. “I came up through the orchestra pit to a stool,” she said, “and sang all of my original songs. I might have done two old Negro folk tunes, but the rest were mine. If I had it to do again, I would have let the guys direct me more, or asked them to, and tried to learn what they wanted me to sing. Still, the audience was very kind and received me very well.”
The concert, a sellout, was successful to say the very least, but the band knew it was only one night, an anomaly at that point in their existence.
“Until we found Brett and formed Space Opera,” said Bullock, “the three of us would just show up and play clubs with no billing, while our music evolved.”
Those club gigs involved anyone they thought could fit within the framework of the band. Besides drummer Tony Lee, “there was a guy named Doyle Breshears,” said Bullock, “who sang and played guitar with a fantastic Fort Worth band called The Cellar Dwellers. Doyle played drums with us for a few gigs, just before we found Brett. Dean Parks, a studio musician who played guitar on just about every studio album the past 40 years it seems, played drums for us on some studio sessions. As for Scott, he never played drums onstage again once he made the change to guitar.”
They also continued to work at Sound City. Fraser remembered recording several other songs there. “I played guitar tracks on everything,” he said, “and keyboards wherever they were needed. And drums. But at the time, I didn't sing.”
Scott did begin singing shortly thereafter, according to Bullock. “He began to sing publicly in 1969. It was one of his many hidden talents that he decided to develop about the same time that he surfaced as a monster guitar player.”
ALAS, POOR CARRICK (I knew him well, Horatio...)
After removing himself from Sound City and clearing up personal business, John Carrick returned to Houston to what he hoped would be a new direction. Ready to play, he looked around and found a few people heading in the same direction... in more ways than one.
“I came back to Houston and started my heroin career,” he said. “I had a friend--- the one who'd introduced me to David--- who wanted me to try an electric band, so we got some guys together. As a matter of fact, one was the old drummer from the Fever Tree. I think he was the one who told me the story about how they got their deal with UNI. Anyway, we started this band called the Texas Rangers and achieved some notoriety, but it was four young heroin addicts and a meth freak. We did a short tour with Creedence Clearwater and John Fogerty called us up and wanted us to record. It suddenly occurred to me, gosh, I am liable to still be under contract to UNI. Anyway, Fogerty checked it out and it turned out I was still under contract to UNI, who said they'd release me for an absurd amount of money. That was just because it was Fogerty. That was like a year and a half after Whistler, three years after I left Fort Worth.
“You see, even in the midst of the good music, the drugs kept the Texas Rangers apart. There was a big club in Austin called The Vulcan Gas Company and we probably played there as much as Johnny Winter or any of the bands out of Houston. We were wildly accepted, but we were just too f**ked up and, eventually, we fell apart.”
Carrick spent the next 18 or 19 years a drug addict. Today, he brokers guitars for musicians and collectors and makes a living. He still plays, but more for fun than for survival.
As many years as it has been, though, there remains one burr under Carrick's saddle. “It has always annoyed me that T-Bone doesn't include the Whistler, Chaucer album on his discography,” he said. “I've been told that he doesn't like to talk about it. It's almost like, to him, this album never really happened, for some reason.”
“It's not unusual for musicians or artists of any kind to feel ambivalent about work they did when they were starting out,” countered Bullock. “Maybe that's how T-Bone sees it, and I understand. We were all still kids, learning how to write and record.”
WCD&G: An Addendum...
Regardless, the time with the band was a magical time for John Carrick. While finding information about the songs on the album has been difficult, Carrick, struggling to remember, had this to say:
“The Viper”--- That one I sang originally and after I was completely gone, they redid the vocal and David sang it. He didn't do nearly a good a job as me, by the way. He was too sweet for that song. It had a real sweet, intriguing quality to it.
“Just Me and Her”--- I can't remember exactly how that ended up. I know I sang it originally. An interesting side note is that the five-string banjo in the background was supplied by Northeast Texas banjo stud Steve Bruton.
“Tribute to Sundance”--- David wrote that song. That's a tribute to Little Sundance which is (whispers) LSD. It was a steal from a guy in Austin who had written a song called “Little Sundance”. A guy named Wally. I can't remember his name, but if you follow Austin, there's a cartoon character out of Austin known as Oat Willie and that character was patterned after Wally. (“The guy's name was Wally Stopher,” explained Bullock, “a fixture on the mid-'60s Austin scene, when Austin was still cool. I had heard the recording of 'Little Sundance' at Andrus Sound in Houston and loved the song, so I wrote a tribute to it. Kind of odd, but there you have it. My song was not intended as a tribute to LSD, nor was it a steal. It was a completely different song.”)
“As Pure as the Freshly Driven Snow”--- That's David. See, that's what I mean. That's the kind of stuff where David's voice really shines. Not just ballads, but on anything that's sweet and compelling. I have more of a bulldozer effect.
Carrick admits that his memories regarding the tracks may be faulty. And he admitted to not having recently heard the album.
Bullock, though, took notes. Here is his track-by-track rundown, incomplete though it may be, for the Unwritten Works Etc. album, as it appears in his journals.
“I enjoyed playing the harmonica solo in this song of T-Bone's,” Bullock said. “I still thinks it fits and sounds pretty good. This was also the song where John Carrick and I made good on the 'silver honey' vocal blend, John singing the melody and myself on parallel harmony. We recorded the vocals side-by-side on one Neumann microphone. Lots of fun. Dave Ferguson played his iconoclastic violin parts on this song and on a few of T-Bone's others. Ferguson really added a lot to the album. He was a brilliant player and T-Bone apparently knew just how to use his talents.”
of Childhood” (Fraser/Lively)
BULLOCK: “'Upon Waking From the Nap' is the first song I ever wrote. When I played it for T-Bone, he said it sounded like a John Phillips song and he wasn't sure if it would fit with what we were doing. As it turned out, we were doing everything, so no problem. The recording was basically my voice and acoustic guitar with Phil's bass part. Then, T-Bone put his magic to it. At several points in the song, T-Bone plucked the strings of the studio piano like a harp gliss. He then brought out the master tape of a song he had recorded some time earlier, I think at Robin Hood Bryan's studio. It was a T-Bone original and it had a string quartet on it. He isolated the string tracks, ran them backwards and that became the string section of my song. Serendipity plays a huge role in recording, as does skill. It was a combination of those elements that made the strings work so well on that track. I also owe the title to T-Bone. The song was untitled and he suggested it. I wasn't knocked out by the title but took his suggestion, so there it is.”
'Til I Die” (Bullock)
On this one, Bullock took a phrase from an old blues song and built his song around it. “I wrote the lyrics while riding on a Santa Fe train between Houston and Fort Worth,” he explained. “The song I had in mind for a model was 'Leavin' Trunk' by Taj Mahal. We used to listen to his record a lot at the studio. My command of the blues vocal has improved from my teenage years, I am happy to say. Space Opera played that tune right up to the end of the band, at our last gig.”
in Paris” (Burnett)
Pure As the Freshly Driven Snow” (Burnett)
to Sundance” (Bullock)
BULLOCK: “I had heard a recording of a song called 'Little Sundance' at Andrus' Studio in Houston, I think it was by Wally Stopher and the Conqueroo. It was a really beautiful song and I liked it so much that I wrote a tribute to the actual song. The only resemblance to 'Little Sundance' was in its instrumentation, as well as I can remember from having heard it only once. We used acoustic guitar, bass, sand blocks, and an harmonica called a 'whisper harp'. T-Bone added accordion (which was right in the pocket) and I sang two voice tracks and we were done. This was, incidentally, only the second song I had written.”
of Collection” (Fraser/Lively)
Me and Her” (Fraser/Lively)
Lusty Gentlemen” (Burnett)
To Move” (Bullock)
BULLOCK: “When I wrote this, I consciously used a few notes from the hymn 'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing'. If you know the hymn, you can hear it in there. One of the words we always used to describe The Byrds' music was 'churchy'. Listen to 5D and you can hear its majestic, stoic quality. On 'Ready To Move', I was thinking of 'Change Is Now' as a model and I think we came close to that spirit in the recording. It has kind of a Celtic, droning feel and is probably the heaviest song on the album. That, by the way, is the last song we recorded for the album and we were pleased to end it that way.”
It should be noted here that The Unwritten Works Etc. was included on a list of Mojo's “The Greatest Albums of All-Time” and was a feature item on an episode of TV's “The Gilmore Girls”. Historically, the album stands out, but it was not until the band found Brett Owen Wilson, cheerleader and jazz drummer, that the story of Space Opera, the band, begins.
ONE: The Beginning...