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13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS - PSYCHEDELIC ROCK GROUP

Often considered the first psychedelic rock group as well as the first underground band to achieve commercial success, the 13th Floor Elevators were a Texas-based outfit that combined folk/rock, R&B, and hard-driving rock 'n' roll with mystical lyrics that espoused the virtues of drugs. Although many of their songs are based around the concept that ingesting LSD and other substances can take the user to a higher plane of consciousness, the Elevators' biggest, and only hit was "You're Gonna Miss Me," a song that has nothing to do with drugs. A forceful, pulsating rocker about the end of a relationship, it features the intense tenor vocals and blood-curdling screams of Roky Erickson and the percussive electric jug-playing of Tommy Hall. The tune reached number 56 on the national Billboard charts in 1966.

Although the Elevators have influenced punk and alternative rock bands for almost 40 years, as a group they lasted just over three. During this time, they released three studio albums. Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere, and Bull of the Woods, as well as a "live" album that was actually a collection of studio outtakes with tacked-on audience participation. The band's first two albums are considered classics of the garage and psychedelic rock genres; the third is considered a worthy addition to their canon. Their lead vocalist, Roky Erickson, an eccentric musical genius in the vein of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, is also a diagnosed schizophrenic known for legendary drug-taking exploits. He is regarded as an outstanding singer and gifted songwriter whose post-Elevators solo work includes moments of brilliance as well as disturbing, horror- and occult-tinged subject matter and imagery.

The 13th Floor Elevators were formed by Tommy Hall in late 1965. A student of philosophy, psychology, and chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Hall had begun to experiment with drugs such as peyote and mescaline that were local to Texas and that were legal at the time. After moving to illegal substances such as LSD, he began to believe that drugs could enhance his personal and spiritual growth. He began to write song lyrics, and decided to make a popular local skiffle band, the Lingsmen, the mouthpiece for his theories. The Lingsmen were made up of guitarist Stacy Sutherland, bassist/electric violinist Benny Thurman, drummer John Ike Walton, and vocalist Max Rainey. When Rainey left the group, Hall invited Roky Erickson, a 17-year-old wunderkind in the R&B band the Spades, to join as lead singer and rhythm guitarist.

Shortly before the formation of the Elevators, the Spades had released Erickson's song "You're Gonna Miss Me" on Zero Records, a local label. The Lingsmen decided to change their approach to reflect the tougher sounds of bands like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks as well as the mind-expanding experiences that they were having with acid, pot, and other drugs. Thurman dropped the electric violin to concentrate on bass, and Hall began to blow into a jug to which he had duct-taped a microphone, thus creating the electric jug, a new sound in pop music. The Lingsmen changed their name to the 13th Floor Elevators, named for the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, "M," which stood for marijuana, and for the missing floor in American high-rise buildings.

The Elevators developed a reputation for ferocious live shows, and they became hugely popular in Texas. Their rerecorded version of Erickson's punk anthem, released nationally by International Artists Records, a Houston-based label run by Lelan Rogers, the brother of pop singer Kenny Rogers, brought them popularity around the country. However, the Elevators were less than popular with the Texas Rangers and other local authorities, who were unhappy with the group's personal drug use and public support of getting high. In 1966 the band was arrested for possession of marijuana but was released on a technicality. Shortly thereafter they relocated to San Francisco without Thurman, who decided to stay in Texas; he was replaced by Ronnie Leatherman.

In San Francisco, the Elevators became influential figures on the nascent psychedelic scene; they helped create the "San Francisco sound," psychedelic music that would receive critical acclaim and commercial success. Allegedly the first group to go onstage under the influence of LSD, they played at the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom with bands such as the Byrds, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The lead singer of Big Brother, Janis Joplin, was asked to join Erickson as the Elevators' second vocalist. She declined, but always noted Erickson as a major influence.

In mid-1966, International Artists released Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, considered a groundbreaking debut. However, due to the fact that International Artists decided not to publicize the band in order to retain their "mystique," the album failed to reach a mainstream audience.

Shortly after the release of Psychedelic Sounds, the band's rhythm section left; they were replaced by Elevator fans Dan Galindo on bass and Danny Thomas on drums. The group returned to Texas in late 1966 but went back to San Francisco several times over the next two years. In 1967 the Elevators released their second album, Easter Everywhere. Thought to be more focused and even more lysergically enhanced than their first release, Easter Everywhere usually is considered the group's best record.

By this time, though, the band was starting to unravel. The crowning blow came on the occasion that Erickson decided to go home while high on acid. His mother, a former opera singer who had released a local 45-inch single, had him committed to the Austin State Hospital, where he underwent shock treatment. After this incident, Erickson's behavior became erratic and unpredictable; the rest of the band also showed signs that their drug use was catching up with them. Offered a chance to tour England with guitarist Jimi Hendrix, they refused so that they could stay at home, stoned. Hall and Erickson, wrecked on acid, were found waiting in line to buy tickets for one of their own shows in Austin.

Late in 1968, Erickson was busted for a single joint. In order to avoid being placed in the Texas state prison, he claimed to be a Martian. The authorities placed him in Rusk Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rusk, Texas, where he was subjected to treatment with Thorazine and other psychotropic drugs for three years. In the meantime, International Artists released the pseudo-live album and Bull of the Woods, a record that features songs by lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland and unreleased compositions from the band's first two albums; though praised for Sutherland's straight-ahead songwriting and musical prowess, the work generally is considered the least effective of the group's studio efforts. Like Erickson, Sutherland and lyricist/jug player Hall were busted for drugs, but each did jail time.

In 1969 the Elevators decided to disband. Hall, who wanted to write a treatise about his philosophies, moved to San Francisco with his wife Clementine, a lyricist and occasional vocalist for the group; the couple are now divorced. Most of the rest of the band remained in Texas, playing music semiprofessionally or not at all. After his release from Rusk in 1972, Erickson attempted to reform the Elevators with Sutherland, original drummer Walton, and second bassist Leatherman, but the band fell apart after a short time. A fan of horror and science fiction comics, films, and television programs as well as of arcane literature, Erickson began writing songs about demons, vampires, aliens, two-headed dogs, and other supernatural creatures. Doug Sahm of the Texas rock band the Sir Douglas Quintet took him into the studio as a solo artist, and Stu Cook, bassist of roots-rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, also produced several tracks.

In 1972 rock historian/guitarist Lenny Kaye featured the Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" on his garage/psych compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965/1968, a release that helped the Elevators become legends in the burgeoning punk movement. The New York band Television performed the Elevators' song "Fire Engine" in concert, and the group was cited by poet/songwriter Patti Smith and art rockers Pere Ubu. Copies of the band's albums began to fetch high prices among collectors. In 1978 Stacy Sutherland, a former heroin addict, was shot and killed by his estranged wife in a domestic dispute; his tombstone reads "The Lead Guitarist of the 13th Floor Elevators."

By the early 1990s, Erickson who, like the other Elevators, never had received royalties for his work with the band, was living at a subsistence level. He started to work with a variety of backing bands, such as Bleib Alien, the Explosives and the Resurrectionists, and to record solo albums on a semiregular basis; he also produced two books of poetry, the second of which was published by writer/punk musician Henry Rollins. In 1984 an Elevators' reunion concert featuring Erickson, Leatherman, and Walton was held in Houston. Five years later Erickson was arrested for mail fraud; apparently, he collected mail for an apartment complex and neglected to give it to the addressees. The judge presiding over the case failed to believe that he had a mental condition and sent him to Missouri for "testing." A year later the album Where the Pyramid Meets the Sky: A Tribute to Roky Erickson was issued by Sire Records; it contained songs by such groups as R.E.M., ZZ Top, the Butthole Surfers, and the Jesus and Mary Chain, all of whom cited Erickson and the Elevators as influences. An expanded version of Nuggets was released in 1998 by Rhino Records, a move that brought the Elevators to a new audience. In 1999 a case against International Artists was decided in Erickson's favor; he received master tapes and publishing rights to the songs he wrote for the Elevators. The following year "You're Gonna Miss Me" was featured in the film High Fidelity and appeared on its soundtrack.

Members included:

  • Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson (born on July 15, 1947, in Dallas, TX; son of an architect/engineer and Evelyn Erickson, an opera singer; married Dana Gaines; children: Spring, Jegar, Cydne), vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Dan Galindo (born in TX; joined group, 1967), bass
  • Tommy Hall (born on September 21, 1943; married Clementine Tausch; divorced), electric jug
  • Ronnie Leatherman (born in TX; joined group, 1966), bass
  • Stacy Sutherland (born in Kerrville, TX; died on August 24, 1978, in Houston, TX), lead guitar
  • Danny Thomas (born in SC; joined group, 1966), drums
  • Benny Thurman (born in Austin, TX), bass
  • John Ike Walton (born in Kerrville, TX), drums


1965

La Maison, Houston, TX

1966

February 9, 1966 New Orleans Club, Houston, TX February 22, 1966 New Orleans Club, Houston, TX March 16, 1966 New Orleans Club, Houston, TX March 25, 1966 Sump N Else TV show March 25, 1966 Market Hall, Dallas, TX (with Chaparrels, Gary Ferguson, Novas, Preachers, Sensations, Generation X & Sharon Liebow) May 10, 1966 Louanns, Dallas, TX August 26-27, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA (supported by (26th) Great Society & Sopwith Camel) September 2-3, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (supported by Sir Douglas Quintet) September 10, 1966 Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial, Santa Rosa, CA (with New Breed) September 23, 1966 Rollarena, San Leandro, CA (supported by Staton Bros & Elements Of Sound) September 30, 1966 National Guard Armory, San Bruno, CA (supported by The Inmates & Westminster V) September 30-October 1, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (supported by Quicksilver Messenger Service) October 15, 1966 San Mateo College, San Mateo, CA (with Baytovens, Harbinger Complex, Immediate Family & 4 more acts) October 22, 1966 Monterey Fairgrounds, Monterey, CA (with 37 Scence, English Leather, Color Us Sound, Beau Modes) November 10, 1966 The Armory, Santa Venetia, CA (supported by Niteriders) November 11-12, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (supported by Moby Grape) November 23, 1966 Maple Hall, San Pablo, CA

1967

1967 Rainbow Ballroom, Fresno, CA

January 7, 1967 Doris Miller Auditorium, Austin, TX (supported by Conqueroo) February 4, 1967 Bellaire City Gym, Bellaire, TX February 10, 1967 City Coliseum, Austin, TX (supported by Conqueroo) February 18, 1967 Houston Music Theatre, Houston, TX (supported by Conqueroo) June 3, 1967 Magic Mountain Music Festival, Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County, CA (The band did not play this gig) June 22-25, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (Cancelled, supporting Charlatans) October 14, 1967 Market Hall, Dallas, TX (supporting Mitch Ryder, With Uniques, Doug Clark & His Hot Nuts, Soul Society & 4 more acts) November 3-4, 1967 Vulcan Gas Company, Austin, TX (supported by (3rd) Conqueroo & (4th) Shivas Headband) November 22-23, 1967 Love Street Light Circus, Houston, TX December 8-10, 1967 Vulcan Gas Company, Austin, TX (supported by Swiss Movement, South Canadian Overflow & Shivas Headband) December 23, 1967 Santa Rosa Vet's Memorial, Santa Rosa, CA (supporting Them & Sir Douglas Quintet)

1968

February 2-4, 1968 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (supporting Electric Flag, Mad River & The Fugs) March 15-16, 1968 Love Street Light Circus, Houston, TX August 30-31, 1968 Vulcan Gas Company, Austin, TX (supported by New Atlantis) October 25-26, 1968 Love Street Light Circus, Houston, TX (supported by The Shayds)

1973

February 11, 1973 Mother Earth, Austin, TX (supported by Mateus) February 24, 1973 Courthouse Square, Palestine, TX March 18, 1973 Hill On The Moon, Austin, TX (supported by Conqueroo, Storm, Tanglefoot, Freda & The Firedogs & Others) March 23-24, 1973 Gertie's, Dallas, TX April 15, 1973 Sunken Gardens Amphitheater, San Antonio, TX

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