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13th Floor Elevators

The 13th Floor Elevators were one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic music; many have cited them as the first true psychedelic rock band, and if they weren't, they certainly predated most of the San Francisco bands that gave the sound a global audience. The Elevators played a bracing fusion of garage rock and genre-defying musical exploration powered by Roky Erickson's feral vocals and rhythm guitar, Stacy Sutherland's concise but agile lead guitar work, and Tommy Hall's amplified jug playing, the latter of which gave them a sound unlike any other in rock. The Elevators were also exploring the outer limits of both consciousness and rock & roll in Texas in the early to mid-'60s, a time and place that wasn't quite ready for them, leading to the myriad problems that at once fueled their legend and cut down the band before their time.

The 13th Floor Elevators story began in Kerrville, TX, where in 1963, Stacy Sutherland (born 1946) was hanging out in the parking lot of a diner and met John Ike Walton (born 1942). Walton was a banjo picker who was playing for anyone who cared to listen, and Sutherland, already an accomplished guitarist, struck up a conversation. The two became friends, and when they met Benny Thurman (born 1943), a classically trained violinist who could also play bass, they formed a band. The Lingsmen featured Sutherland and Max Range on guitars, Thurman on bass, and Walton on drums, and soon landed a steady gig in the resort town of Port Aransas, TX. Meanwhile, Tommy Hall (born 1942) was a student at the University of Texas, studying chemical engineering and psychology. Hall was keenly intelligent and had a philosophical bent, and he fell in with a group of Austin bohemians who were experimenting with peyote. In 1964, Hall claims to have been part of LSD experiments which took place at UT; no records exist which confirm such experiments, but however he became interested in the drug, Hall was a quick convert, and believed it was a tool to reaching the next level in psychological and spiritual evolution. As pop music grew more sophisticated with the emergence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Hall believed that rock & roll could be used as a medium to advance his ideas about psychedelics and philosophy. Sutherland, who had developed a powerful taste for marijuana and downers, began hanging out in Austin, and through mutual acquaintances met Hall; after seeing the Lingsmen play, Hall recruited Sutherland, Walton, and Thurman for the new band he hoped to form.

Hall was a gifted lyricist but no singer, so the group needed a lead vocalist. Roger Kynard Erickson (born 1947), known to his friend as Roky, was the frontman with a popular Austin band called the Spades, who had scored a local hit with "You're Gonna Miss Me." Hall and Sutherland believed Erickson's raw, powerful voice was just what their band needed, and in late 1965 they lured him away from the Spades to join the newly formed 13th Floor Elevators (the name a reference to the floor on a skyscraper that usually goes unnamed). In early 1966, the Elevators re-recorded "You're Gonna Miss Me" for a local label, Contact Records; the new version was in every respect more powerful than the original, and it looked to have the makings of a hit. By the spring, the record had been snapped up by an upstart label in Houston, International Artists Records, and IA was able to turn "You're Gonna Miss Me" into a small nationwide success.

While on the surface the Elevators rise to fame seemed ordinary, underneath things were anything but. Under Hall's leadership, the Elevators did every rehearsal, performance, and recording session under the influence of LSD (except for Walton, who after a bad trip refused to have anything to do with the drug), and while their single was climbing the charts on AM radio, the bandmembers were becoming the heroes of a Texas community that had not yet become known as hippies. When the band released their debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, in the fall of 1966, Hall insisted on including bizarre liner notes charting man's efforts to alter his consciousness. And while LSD was not yet illegal when the group began using it, the marijuana they habitually smoked certainly was, and around the time "You're Gonna Miss Me" was released, Erickson, Hall, Sutherland, and Walton were busted for possession. While the group attempted to keep up a busy schedule of performances, they did so knowing they could end up in jail at any time. Despite this, the Elevators went out on tour and even appeared on American Bandstand, where Dick Clark innocently asked Hall, who was the head man of the group, to which he replied, "Well, we're all heads."

After an extended stay in San Francisco, where they made a strong impression on the budding local rock scene (and reconnected with an old Austin friend, Janis Joplin, who was beginning to make a name for herself in California), the Elevators ended up back in Texas in 1967 as they began work on their second album, Easter Everywhere. While the album was a masterpiece, it didn't spawn a hit like "You're Gonna Miss Me," and it was recorded as the band was beginning to splinter; Walton, unhappy with the band's business affairs and their relationship with International Artists, left the group, and Thurman followed. Danny Galindo became their new bassist, and Danny Thomas signed on as drummer. The band's fragile legal situation prevented them from touring and they played only limited local shows in support of the album. When an attempt to record a live album at a concert in Houston went awry after Sutherland sunk into a bad trip on-stage in 1968, International Artists released The 13th Floor Elevators Live, a ludicrous LP in which old studio demos were overdubbed with crowd noises taken from a boxing match.

The Elevators' use of drugs was beginning to catch up with most of them, and Erickson in particular began to buckle under his constant use of LSD and speed, ending up in a hospital for a while. At the same time, Hall grew tired of his role as the band's overseer, so Sutherland became the de facto leader of the group for the recording of their third and final album, Bull of the Woods. With Erickson and Hall making only token appearances on the album, and Galindo replaced by Ronnie Leatherman, it was the most stripped-down and elemental Elevators album, despite IA's insistence on adding horn overdubs to several songs. When Erickson was busted for marijuana again in 1969, it spelled the end of the group for all practical purposes, especially when Erickson, pleading insanity on the advice of a lawyer, ended up in an Austin mental hospital. Hall and some friends attempted to liberate Roky, who had tried to escape several times on his own, and eventually he was sentenced to the Rusk Prison for the Criminally Insane, where he was subjected to repeated shock treatments and powerful psychoactive drugs.

Various handfuls of Elevators alumni played periodic reunion shows during the '70s after Erickson was finally released from Rusk, but those came to an end in 1978, after Sutherland was shot to death by his wife during a domestic dispute. Since then, only Erickson has continued to make music on a regular basis, finally overcoming frequent bouts of physical and mental illness to make a comeback album in 2010. With time, the legend of the Elevators grew, and in 2007, author Paul Drummond published a richly detailed biography of the group, Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound. In 2009, Drummond helped compile Sign of the Three Eyed Men, a ten-disc box set that finally brought together the Elevators' recorded legacy in its definitive form. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

grubbspaul
These guys were spaced aliens tripping time and leaving only love and a few wet spots along the way.
Love this music
amye45
true warriors
thrashercat
... a time and place that wasn't quite ready for them There's an understateme n t if ever there was one.
Interesting arrangements . Pure psychedelia! ! Is that a word? LOL!!
Love Rocky's singing !
Great 60s punk band!!!
@James.Wilso n . 4 9 how is pet sounds remotely like this. Not all psych music is the same. And it said IF THEYRE NOT they pre date most psych rock that was made popular by late 60s San Fran scene... And to those that say this is too "improved" they were dropping in godly amounts of acid. It was about conciousness , mind expansion. Not perfected studio cuts. Like all the bs now...
veronicawarr e n 2 0
lcouch69 that was the moving sidewalks
The first nuggets compilation, best album ever, not a bad track on it.
Outstanding.
thank god mental health care and treatment has changed!! (no really)
bad a** band
did billy gibbons ever do a stint with the 13th floor elevators--- on a cut called Light My Fire?
1109269775
Trippy!
They sound like they didn't rehearse much before they headed into the studio. Might have been a hit if it didn't sound so...I dunno, improvised.
My elevator goes to 13, not 11.
kellythurman
Peyote is the best trip off all!!!
Boo this man named James.wilson 4 9
My mind goes to Floor 13.
They sure had some sweet-lookin g album covers. Good tunes, as well.
james.wilson 4 9
These guys released their first album a year after the Doors did, near as I can tell, not sure how this band is being called the original Psychedelic band. Pet Sounds was 1966 and had a much bigger effect than 13th story.
LONG LIVE THE EVIL ONE!!!!
Indeed! Roky is a treasure, a pure shock treatment survivor. The 13th Floor Elevators blew my mind back in the 80s when I picked up a Nuggets compilation somewhere.
Roky Erickson IS what Charles Manson dreamed he was.
hooked ever since
I first heard of the elevators in 89in' 91' I was gonna buy the pyramid meets the eye the record shop had 13th floor elevators live on decal for $$6.00!! so bought it instead.
jujubedo
My dad turned me on to these guys a few years ago, said they were pioneers of psychedelic rock from Austin in the 60's. Being a percussionis t from Dallas, Tx I felt like my dad had given me a rare gem or a secret to the universe. My dad was like that turning me on to some of the best damn music this side of jupiter from his life. I learned so much about my father through music. Hangin out drinkin beer sharing music and memories. Keep rockin from the 13th floor dad.
THEY WILL ALWAYS OCCUPY A DARK CORNER OF MY MIND.
I remember hearing them on KILT RADIO 610 slip inside this house that funky sound in the background to find out it was an old whiskey jug HAH!
whacemaon
Billy S, we probably tripped over one another, or with one another. I lived on Montrose in 1970. Went to LSLC dozens of times and saw 13th, Shiva's Head Band, Moving Sidewlks-no wait, that was ZZ, after they were the Sidewalks. Went to 9th grade with Billy and lived next door to him when he dropped out of HS to form the Sidewalks. Saw Joe Cocker at Of Our Own-freak out? Saw ZZ at Catacombs( set the stage on fire Sat night) before is was OOO. Steely Dan at Cont Showcase, Dead Boys at UH.
billystewart 2 0 1 0
saw these guys live in small venues constantly as a crazed houston kid in the mid 60's...an old church called la maison was great...love street light circus...the living eye, a block from my first apartment...
bevbevan
If there is one band that best personifies the brief psychedelic period, it is The 13th Floor Elevators with Roky Ericcson. Great music!!
lafemmeclich e
you're gunna miss me, is one of my FAVORITE documentarie s ! I highly recommend watching it! gives you a great idea of what roky grew up with, his mom was nuts, his dad was never there, and alot of sibling rivalry
johnnyohania n
Love the album cover art...like, trippy, man. Makes me want to grow my hair long again, but then I'd lose my day job. Man, I just gotta be me!
phyojugband! ! ! !
Before the Grateful Dead, before Jefferson Airplane, before The Great Society, before Pink Floyd, the Elevators were the first Psychedelic Band in the world!!!
katenthinh
This band is f**king cool
wenberep
"You're going to miss me" is a great documentary about Roky Erickson and the Elevators music, it's on instant netflix, check it out if you have a chance, really classy band.
A GREAT GUY! WE ALMOST LOST HIM AND DIDNT EVEN KNOW!DONT DO ACID AND DRIVE!WHAT? STOP IT MAN, I DONT KNOW YOU!I HAVE TO GO SOME GUY JUST TOOK OFF WITH MY MAIL!
Pyramid Meets the Eye is a must have! It is the best tribute album I've heard to date. It was my intro to the band while'st in Germany in '92. Yes, a good Texan introduced me...Also saw Roky a while back on Austin City Limits(PBS)- - he looked good! Acid can be a preservative ya know.
psych out album isn't really live its just overdubbed with aplusses and stuff to make it sound live its produced in austailia in 2001
I'm so excited to see the Elevators on Pandora!! My dad, Ronnie Leatherman, was the bass player for the band, and I always love to hear what people think of them!! Check out the book by Paul Drummond "Eye Mind", and the new INCREDIBLE Boxed set out now!! Only a limited number for sell...but, well worth the price!!
splmlacri
Skip the LSD are u nuts??? LSD is 1000x better and way more chilled out of a trip. Too much of anything is bad
Roky Erikson is a martyr.
After being arrested for posession of a single joint, he was given the choice of enlistment in the Army or commitment to an insane asylum!
Unfortunatly , Roky chose the loony bin, where they gave him shock treatments.
The state had their way with him, and the damage was permanent.
andreamtoth
yyyeeesss!!!
comfortat
skip the LSD, hold out for 'shrooms! not many people overcome the psycosis...
rlhofer
While I owned "Easter Everywhere" also and heard "Bull o' the Woods", it was "The Psychedelic Sounds...." album that defined them(as far as I'm concerned). I saw them only once, at the Bellaire Gym(suburb of Houston)... must have been the summer of '66. Along with The Beatles, The Elevators music molded my young 14-year old psyche and set me on my path to who I am today. I heard it said once(on a cartoon show of all things) that "The 60's are over, we lost!". I beg to differ; I'm still here.
Fans of The Elevators - check out the all-star tribute album from the early '90's - Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye. It's one of those albums you could be stuck on a deserted island with.
Read the book. Highly recommended.

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