Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Shiva’s Headband
Now this is a real psychedelic relic – Take Me To The Mountains by the Austin-based Shiva’s Headband. If you thought the Haight-Ashbury was America’s only psychedelic hotbed in the late 1960s, think again: Texas had a pretty groovy scene too, with Conqueroo and the 13th Floor Elevators from Austin, Bubble Puppy out of San Antonio, the Red Krayola, the Moving Sidewalks and Fever Tree from Houston and good ol’ Johnny Winter from Beaumont/Port Arthur. (Note to wiseguys: Port Arthur’s Janis Joplin made her earliest music in Austin, but didn’t become well-known until she moved to San Francisco.)
Shiva’s Headband was a six-piece group that formed in 1967 around musical prodigy Spencer Perskin and his wife Susan. The band started its own label – Armadillo Records – to release singles but Capitol “discovered” and signed the group in 1970. Perskin mainly produced Take Me To The Mountains and it was recorded at the Grateful Dead’s studio in San Jose. When it was released later in 1970, it was the first appearance by an Austin-based rock band on a major label.
Listening to the album now, with 21st century ears, you can certainly identify the DNA of what would later become “cosmic cowboy” music in Texas. Even though the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers were traveling down a country-rock road (more country than rock, actually) Shiva’s Headband sported a back-to-the-earth sound that incorporated fiddle and harmonica as well as traditional rock instrumentation. The title track could very well be a Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen song – with its down-home fiddlin’ and drawling vocals, it turns Haight-Ashbury into the corner of Hippie and Redneck. Likewise with the bluesy “Homesick Armadillo Blues,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Doug Sahm-Sir Douglas Quintet setlist of the era.
“Kaleidoscoptic” sounds like it could have been It’s A Beautiful Day, “Come With Me” could have been a Moby Grape tune and the harpsichord plunking of “Good Time” closely mirrors the Stones’ “Lady Jane.” Not sayin’ Shiva’s Headband were derivative – but this was a group’s first effort that certainly reflected the era in which it was released. Take Me To The Mountains is good fun, and a great throwback to the beginnings of a lot of great music from Austin.
One historical footnote: The hot spot for psychedelic music in Austin around 1970 was the Vulcan Gas Company, where Shiva’s Headband were the house band. But that place closed, and one fateful night Eddie Wilson, who was Shiva’s Headband’s manager at the time, noticed an abandoned National Guard armory near Riverside and Barton Springs Road. Wilson, Perskin and others used some of the advance money from the Shiva’s Headband Capitol deal and in August 1970 opened their new venture – the Armadillo World Headquarters. The Armadillo became a world-famous venue that eventually closed in 1980.
Perskin still lives in Austin and plays today as part of the Shiva’s Headband Experience. If you go to the corner of Riverside and Barton Springs in Austin today you can have a fine meal at Threadgill’s Restaurant, run by Eddie Wilson. And if you poke around outside the Threadgill’s parking lot you may stumble upon a really cool marker paying tribute to the late, great Armadillo.
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Shiva’s Headband Experience official website (Free downloads)