by John W. Wilson
Houston Chronicle, 1971
When Spencer Perskin stands on stage, he looks like a cross between a South Texas farmer and an Old Testament prophet. When he sings he leans into the microphone. His left arm swings rhythmically back and forth, while the right hand holds his violin close in front of his stomach. His voice grates at first, but it grows in your ear until the words come across.
Perskin is Shiva’s Headband and Shiva’s Headband is Perskin; both come from Austin, where they have synthesized a back-to-the-country music in a place called Armadillo World Headquarters. Occasionaly they all make it down to Houston and when they do, their most frequent place to play has been Of Our Own.
Perskin, 28, is a quiet man grown used to having his way and building a band to prove it. With the breakup of the first Headband in 1970, he merely went out, picked up three people to fill the gaps and carried on. Perskin dominates the group. Even Shawn Siegel’s excellent piano is no match for the terrifying wizardry of Perskin’s violin.
It is odd talking to Spencer. The just-folks approach he uses in the band is nothing like his business mind (that one clicks and whirrs). “My whole motivation for being in this (music) is to make money and buy a little land so I won’t have to do anything. But you have to pay attention to how you make it. Otherwise you might as well rob a store.”
Perskin’s voice rolls and it is so very soft. “We’d like to play forever and live off the record sales.” Statements like that are the sort of thing that has endeared the Headband to nearly everyone. But Spencer is more than just a country boy blessed with a knack for good music and saying “Oh shucks.” He is in there pitching, rounding up record contracts and trying to make sure his group stays alive.
He has some very definite ideas about what a man should and shouldn’t do when it comes to dealing with record companies. One of them is allowing yourself to be hyped in the style that has become popular ever since the record companies found out (with the Monkees) that a good press agent was the only thing needed to sell a group to the public. “It’s stupid to over-hype,” says Perskin, “Those characters in the business suits, all they know how to do is hype.”
Perskin is also planning an Austin recording company where he says Texas music groups can work without the fear of losing their soul and whatever money they have.
“It looks like there is going to be a stucio scene in West Texas, but it’s a matter of getting a studio. What we need is a place where nobody is afraid to work.”
“I’m glad to get out of our contract with Capitol, but it’s like everything else, you’ve got to go through it to learn. The next time we make an album, it won’t be primarily for technical quality. Technical quality is something that should follow from the emotional content.”
Spencer also felt that Capitol hadn’t done right by them. “When the album came out it wasn’t pushed correctly. Now, when we’re out of our contract, it’s starting to move.”
Looking at Perskin and his group through the eyes of their manager, Ed Wilson, gives a rosier picture. Speaking of the influences on Perskin: “Ledbelly (blues guitarist Huddie Ledbetter) was the major influence on Spencer’s music and still is. However, about the same time as Ledbelly, he is finding Ravi Shankar. Later, when he picked up his classical violin, it was something to behold.”
Wilson also carries a business mind around with him. “Equipment has been one of Shiva’s major problems. That and getting from place to place. however it looks like we’re going to get to travel for real money fairly soon.”
You have to remind yourself that Shiva’s Headband says it is only trying to make it good so they can buy some land. “The band,” says Wilson, “is about and into the country. Everyone says you have to spend a lot more time on the coasts to make your money, but we’re not going to do it. This is an Austin-based operation.”
There’s a line in “Take Me to the Mountains” that says “Take me by the hand, take me to the land/It’s the only thing I really understand.” Spencer Perskin and Ed Wilson understand a lot more than the land; It’s just a matter of priorities.