Reinvented old instruments, or new bizarre inventions. The sonic helpers that made psychedelic visions sound unmistakable.
Enjoy the first part of this investigation on quirky sound-makers and feel free to suggest other instruments you’d like to read about in the next episodes.
- THE ELECTRIC JUG
Take a bluegrass staple, a quiet champion of homely rusticity, and turn it into a lash of psychedelic eccentricity. There’s plenty of strangeness in 1966 “The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators” – one of the first three LPs in history to use the word ‘psychedelic’ in their title -, but Tommy Hall’s electric jug is probably its strangest, most memorable oddity. Made electric by a microphone kept close to its opening, the reborn jug trembles evoking soundscapes inspired by none other than John Coltrane. Its hypnotic bubbling represents the merging of the instrument with the human voice, Hall’s distorted vocalizations dominating the sound. The electric jug – also featured in The 13th Floor Elevators’ live shows – would be back in the studio one year later, captured in the band’s second album “Easter Everywhere”.
The idea of taking such a specific (and traditional, within genre boundaries) instrument, removing it from its usual context, modifying it and re-contextualizing it in a new, visionary form certainly echoes what was simultaneously happening with psychedelic poster art. The electric jug, too, contributes to a dare against old and normalized meanings, and an inspired creation of new ones.
“You’re looking at the world from brand new eyes, and no one can ever spoil the view” sings Roky Erickson in “Roller Coaster” over a surge of electric jug, greeting the cut-and-paste universe of psychedelia.
- Hear the electric jug – The 13th Floor Elevators, “Roller Coaster”: https://open.spotify.com/track/6OqpELwu3wKYSocDGvMyEl
2. THE VIOLIN BOW
Eddie Phillips is one of the great unsung guitar heroes of the 1960s. If you think about feedback pioneers, fierce mad experimenters of rock, you’re probably thinking about them: Mr. Hendrix and Mr. Phillips. The lead guitarist for The Creation took his Gibson ES-335 to places never before explored, and to do so he found an unexpected aide: the violin bow.
Yes, rock history has bequeathed us the image of Jimmy Page as the first violin bow wizard – eternalized in Led Zeppelin’s most psychedelic song, “Dazed and Confused”. But Eddie Phillips had been creating trippy sonic textures with his violin bows since the mid ’60s. The plural is no coincidence, since Phillips would have a roadie buy new bows every night. He would consume a couple of bows for every live performance, twitching them as riding whips in long improvisations before throwing them to an ecstatic audience. The violin bow was actually the East London-born guitarist’s second choice, as he recently told Uncut magazine: “I tried a hacksaw blade first. It sort of worked but it destroyed the guitar a bit. The violin bow was the next step… The trouble was, it messed up the strings. But our sound wasn’t the type that relied on new guitar strings, like country music”.
With its origins tracing back to more than a thousand years ago, the bow would thus replace a hacksaw blade in the impertinent age of psychedelic rock, facing the world as a reborn astounding instrument of its own.
- Watch Eddie Phillips and his violin bow – The Creation, “Making Time”: https://youtu.be/jVU7M36Jxyo
– DeRogatis, Jim. Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 2008. Print.
– Hicks, Michael. Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2000. Print.