The 13th Floor Elevators
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|The 13th Floor Elevators|
Roky Erickson in 2007 (photo: thetripwirenyc)
|Origin||Austin, Texas, US|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, garage rock|
|Years active||1965–1969, 1978, 1984|
|Labels||International Artists, Radar, Charly|
|Associated acts||Roky Erickson and the Aliens, The Spades, The Lingsmen|
|Past members||Roky Erickson
John Ike Walton
The 13th Floor Elevators was an American rock band from Austin, Texas, formed by guitarist and vocalist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, and guitarist Stacy Sutherland, which existed from 1965 to 1969. During their career, the band released four LP records and seven 45s for the International Artists record label.
They are often credited as one of the first psychedelic bands in the history of rock n' roll. According to the 2005 documentary You're Gonna Miss Me, Roky Erickson is credited with coining the term "psychedelic rock", although artists such as the Holy Modal Rounders and the Deep had used the term "psychedelic" to describe their music earlier. Their contemporary influence has been acknowledged by 1960s musicians such as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Peter Albin of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Chris Gerniottis of Zakary Thaks.
Their debut 45 "You're Gonna Miss Me", a national Billboard No. 55 hit in 1966, was featured on the 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, which is considered vital in the history of garage rock and the development of punk rock. Seminal punk band Television played their song "Fire Engine" live in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s-1990s, the 13th Floor Elevators influenced important bands such as Primal Scream, The Shamen and Spacemen 3, all of whom covered their songs, and 14 Iced Bears who use an electric jug on their single "Beautiful Child". In 2009 the International Artists released a ten CD box set entitled Sign of the 3-Eyed Men, which included the mono and new, alternate stereo mixes of the original albums together with two albums of previously unreleased material and a number of rare live recordings.
Rise to fame
The 13th Floor Elevators emerged on the local Austin music scene in December 1965, where they were contemporary to bands such as The Wig and The Babycakes, and later followed by Shiva's Headband and The Conqueroo. The band was formed when Roky Erickson left his group The Spades, and joined up with Stacy Sutherland, Benny Thurman, and John Ike Walton who had been playing Texas coastal towns as The Lingsmen. Tommy Hall was instrumental in bringing the band members together, and joined the group as lyricist and electric jug player.
The band's name was developed from a suggestion by drummer John Ike Walton to use the name "Elevators" and Clementine Hall added "13th Floor". In addition to an awareness that a number of tall buildings don't have a 13th floor, it has been noted that the letter "M" (for marijuana) is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. But there's another "level" of signification for the band's name. Indeed, it also refers to the 13th and very last floor of the pyramid of enlightenment, where stands the "all seeing eye" or "third eye", featured prominently in the band imagery, and which, according to Roky Erickson, defines the psychedelic music itself ("it's where the pyramid meets the eye"). The number 13 traditionally refers to the beyond, to the unknown, and symbolizes the gateway to the mysterious source of Creation, sometimes referred to as the "eye of the vortex", or "Eye of God". In the human brain, the third eye relates to the pineal gland, which is activated by yogic practices, but also by the proper use of psychedelic substances, such as L.S.D., mescaline, and magic mushrooms. So, in the mystical sense, the band's name signifies that the members of the band actually serve as elevators for the audience consciousness, which is led progressively by the music and the lyrics to a state of enlightenment.
In early January 1966, the band was brought to Houston by producer Gordon Bynum to record two songs to be released as a 45 on his newly formed Contact label. The songs were Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me", and Hall-Sutherland's "Tried to Hide". The 45 was a major success in Austin, and made an impression in other Texas cities. Some months later, the International Artists label picked it up and re-released it.
Throughout the Spring of 1966, the group toured extensively in Texas, playing clubs in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. They also played on live teen dance shows on TV, such as Sumpin Else, in Dallas, and The Larry Kane Show in Houston. During the Summer, the IA re-release of "You're Gonna Miss Me" became popular outside Texas, especially in Miami, Detroit, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In October 1966, it peaked on the national Billboard chart at the No. 55 position. Prompted by the success of the 45 the Elevators toured the west coast, made two nationally televised appearances for Dick Clark, and played several dates at the San Francisco ballrooms The Fillmore and The Avalon.
The International Artists record label in Houston, also home to contemporary Texas underground groups such as Red Krayola and Bubble Puppy, signed the Elevators to a record contract and released the album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators in November 1966, which became popular among the burgeoning counterculture. Tommy Hall's sleeve-notes for the album, which advocated chemical agents (such as LSD) as a gateway to a higher, 'non-Aristotelian' state of consciousness, has also contributed to the album's legendary status.
During their California tour the band shared bills with Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Great Society with Grace Slick, and Moby Grape. Upon returning to Texas in early 1967, they released a 45 "Levitation" and continued to play live in Austin, Houston and other Texan cities. November 1967 saw the release of the band's second album, the psychedelic masterwork Easter Everywhere. Highlighted by the opening track, the transcendental epic "Slip Inside This House", the album is rated by most critics and fans as their finest work. It also featured a cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", a version Dylan is rumored to have called his favorite. However, shortly before work began on Easter Everywhere, Walton and Leatherman left the band, due not only to disputes over mismanagement of the band's career by International Artists, but also due to a fundamental disagreement between Walton and Hall over the latter's overzealous advocacy of the use of LSD in the pursuit of achieving a higher state of human consciousness. As a result, they were not credited in the Easter Everywhere sleevenotes, despite having appeared on "(I've Got) Levitation" and "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)." Despite the lengthy studio work and resources utilized, and the album's later legendary status, Easter Everywhere was not the success the band and International Artists had hoped for. Lacking a hit 45 and released too late in the year, it sold out its original run but was never reprinted, suggesting somewhat disappointing sales. Record label paperwork indicate that the debut LP sold upwards 40.000 copies during its original run, while Easter Everywhere may have sold around 10.000 copies.
While the band were unable to repeat their national success, they were still a powerful presence on the Texas rock music scene. Chris Gerniottis, ex-lead singer of Zakary Thaks has spoken repeatedly of how the Elevators stood apart from all the other bands on the regional scene, and they continued to influence these bands during the late 1960s. Following the local popularity of the track "Slip Inside This House", an edited 45 was released in early '68 and saw plenty of rotation on Houston radio. Meanwhile, the Elevators had lost their bass player Dan Galindo, who went on to another International Artists band, the Rubiayat. Duke Davis was briefly brought in to replace Galindo, before the band's earlier bassist Ronnie Leatherman returned during the Summer of 1968. As documented in a lengthy interview/article in the Texas underground music magazine Mother No. 3, the band worked all Spring '68 on their new album, which at one point was to be called Beauty and the Beast. But an unstable member line-up, and the increasingly erratic behavior of the psychedelicized Tommy Hall and mentally fragile Roky Erickson, led to little of value coming out of these sessions. The live shows had lost their original energy, and often the band would perform without their lead singer Erickson, due to his recurring hospital treatments at the time. The last concert featuring the 'real' Elevators occurred in April 1968.
International Artists put out a Live LP c. August 1968, which was old demo tapes and outtakes dating back to 1966 for the most part, with some phony applause added. Around this time, the original 13th Floor Elevators disbanded, as the original nucleus of Erickson-Hall-Sutherland had been reduced to guitarist Stacy Sutherland only. Sutherland brought some of his own songs for a final set of studio sessions which led to the dark, intense posthumous album Bull of the Woods. Initially disliked by many Elevators fans, it has found a substantial fan-base today, with some even rating it the band's best LP. These final sessions consisted of Sutherland on guitar, Ronnie Leatherman on bass, and Danny Thomas on drums. A few live gigs were played around Texas during the second half of 1968, until an 'obituary' in Rolling Stone magazine in December 1968 declared the band gone. International Artists pulled together the various studio recordings from 1968 and with the assistance of drummer Danny Thomas added some horn arrangements, which became the Bull of the Woods album, released c. March 1969. The very last 13th Floor Elevators record released by International Artists was a reissue of the "You're Gonna Miss Me" 45, dating from c. mid-1969.
Singer Janis Joplin was a close associate of Clementine Hall and the band. She opened for the band at a benefit concert in Austin, and considered joining the group prior to heading to San Francisco and joining Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her style of singing has been described as having been influenced by Erickson's trademark screaming and yelping as showcased in "You're Gonna Miss Me."
Drug overuse and related legal problems left the band in a state of constant turmoil, which took its toll, both physically and mentally, on the members. In 1969, facing a felony marijuana possession charge, Roky Erickson chose to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital rather than serve a prison term, thus signaling the end of the band's career.
Bull of the Woods, released in 1969, was the 13th Floor Elevators' last released album on which they worked as a group and was largely the work of Stacy Sutherland. Erickson, due to health and legal problems, and Tommy Hall were only involved with a few tracks, including "Livin' On," "Never Another," "Dear Doctor Doom," and "May the Circle Remain Unbroken".
During the initial months of their existence as a band, the electric guitars used both by Roky Erickson and Stacy Sutherland were Gibson ES-335s. Sutherland's pioneering use of reverb and echo, and bluesy, acid-drenched guitar predates such bands as The Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top. According to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top in an article that originally appeared in Vintage Guitar magazine, the guitars were run through "Black-Face" Twin Reverbs with both guitarists using external Fender "tank" reverb units and Gibson "Maestro" Fuzz-tones as distortion devices.
A special aspect of The Elevators' sound came from Tommy Hall's innovative electric jug. The jug, a crock-jug with a microphone held up to it while it was being blown, sounded somewhat like a cross between a minimoog and cuica drum. In contrast to traditional musical jug technique, Hall did not blow into the jug to produce a tuba-like sound. Instead, he vocalized musical runs into the mouth of the jug, using the jug to create echo and distortion of his voice. When playing live, he held the microphone up to the mouth of the jug, but when recording the Easter Everywhere album, the recording engineer placed a microphone inside the jug to enhance the sound.
The band was unique, even in the 1960s, in that they (at Tommy Hall's urging) played most of their live shows and recorded their albums while under the influence of LSD, and built their lifestyle and music around the psychedelic experience. Intellectual and esoteric influences helped shape their work, which shows traces of Gurdjieff, the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski, the psychedelic philosophy of Timothy Leary, and Tantric meditation.
The original 13th Floor Elevators line-up was built around singer/guitarist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, and guitarist Stacy Sutherland. The rhythm section went through several changes, with drummer John Ike Walton and bass player Ronnie Leatherman being replaced in July 1967. Walton and Leatherman left the band; in their stead were new recruits Danny Thomas (drums, piano) and Dan Galindo (bass) which completed the "classic Elevators" line-up. Hall remained the band's primary lyricist and philosopher, with Sutherland and Erickson both contributing lyrics as well as writing music, and, later, working with the highly trained Danny Thomas to arrange the group's more challenging music. In addition to Erickson's powerful vocals, Hall's "electric jug" became the band's signature sound. Later, Ronnie Leatherman returned for the third and final studio album, Bull of the Woods along with Thomas, and Sutherland.
- Roky Erickson - guitar, lead vocals, songwriter
- Tommy Hall - electric jug, vocals, songwriter
- Stacy Sutherland - lead guitar, vocals, songwriter
- Danny Thomas - drums, vocals, arrangement; His stepson is filmmaker/author Jason V Brock
- John Ike Walton - drums
- Benny Thurman - bass, vocals
- Ronnie Leatherman - bass, vocals
- Danny Galindo - bass
- Duke Davis - bass
Other Collaborators and contributors
- Powell St. John - member of Mother Earth, songwriter ("Slide Machine", "You Don't Know", "Monkey Island", "Take That Girl", "Kingdom of Heaven", "Right Track Now")
- Clementine Hall - wife of Tommy Hall, vocals and songwriting collaborations with Erickson ("Splash 1", "I Had to Tell You")
After pleading insanity in response to drugs charges—he was arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint—Roky Erickson was committed to a mental hospital in 1969. Jason Ankeny of allmusic.com has written that the treatments Erickson received during his three-and-a-half-year confinement may have contributed to his subsequent mental troubles. At that point the Elevators had already dissolved, although local promoters, along with their record label, International Artists, made some attempts to keep the band's name alive. Erickson attempted a sporadic solo career, burdened by management who exploited his instability and involved him in contracts that left him no control or profit from his music. After staying mostly out of sight in the 1980s, Erickson gradually returned to music in the 1990s, especially when the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye—featuring players from ZZ Top, The Jesus and Mary Chain and R.E.M., all of whom claimed Erickson's or the Elevators' influence—was released. He recorded All That May Do My Rhyme for the Trance Syndicate label, owned by the Butthole Surfers's King Coffey, who claimed Erickson told him it was the first time he'd ever been given a royalty check for his music. By 2001, Erickson's brother Sumner had been awarded custody of the troubled musician and helped him receive better psychological treatment, restore his physical health, and connect with a legal team that helped him untangle his complicated past contracts and begin receiving more royalties for his music. I Have Always Been Here Before, a 43-track compilation of his post-Elevators music, was released in 2005, and Erickson receives full royalties for the set.
Stacy Sutherland formed his own band, Ice, which performed only in Houston and never released any material. In 1969, after a battle with heroin addiction, he was imprisoned in Texas on drug charges, the culmination of several years of drug-related trouble with the law. After his release Sutherland began to drink heavily. He continued to sporadically play music throughout the 1970s, occasionally with former members of the Elevators. Sutherland was accidentally shot and killed by his wife Bunny on August 24, 1978 during a domestic dispute, and is buried in Center Point, Kerr County, Texas.
Danny Thomas left the 13th Floor Elevators in 1968 and was hired to perform with blues guitarist Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins. After leaving Texas and returning to North Carolina, he played from 1970-1997 with: Lou Curry Band, Dogmeat, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, and Bessie Mae's Dream. During this time, he owned his own delivery company called Gophers, Inc. Prior to that he worked in accounting at Carolinas Medical Center (formerly Charlotte Memorial Hospital). He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife, Juanette, and they have two daughters, Christina Juanette Thomas, and Tiffany Joan Thomas Johnson, and son Jason V Brock.
Tommy Hall currently lives in downtown San Francisco. In the 1980s he was rumored to be the true identity of Texas outsider musician Jandek, but this has since been disproven. He became a devout follower of Scientology in the 1970s.
Various Elevators tribute/related bands exist, such as "The John Ike Walton Revival" featuring namesake John Ike Walton (formerly known as The Tommy Hall Schedule), and Acid Tomb, featuring members of The Alice Rose. Erickson's youngest brother Sumner Erickson covers many Elevators songs with his band The Texcentrics.
Today, the 13th Floor Elevators continue to influence new generations of musicians. In 1990, 21 contemporary bands—including R.E.M., ZZ Top, Richard Lloyd, David Leonard, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Primal Scream—recorded covers of Elevators songs on Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, one of the first tribute albums, in what would become a fad. In 2005, a panel at the SXSW music festival discussed the music of the Elevators and Powell St. John, one of the Elevators' songwriters.
Seminal 1980s drone/space-rock band Spacemen 3 were hugely influenced by the 13th Floor Elevators, covering "Roller Coaster" twice, for debut album Sound of Confusion and as a 17-minute version for debut EP "Walkin' With Jesus". Vocalist/guitarist Pete Kember also covered "Thru the Rhythm" with his post-Spacemen 3 project Spectrum.
Other notable covers are "You're Gonna Miss Me" by the Psychotic Pineapple, "(I've Got) Levitation" by Julian Cope, and "Reverberation (Doubt)" by the Jesus and Mary Chain. ZZ Top also covered "Reverberation (Doubt)" for the Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye tribute album in 1990 and re-released it again on their Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box compilation in 2008.
In 2009, "You're Gonna Miss Me" was used at length during a scene in episode 21 of Alan Ball's HBO series True Blood, culminating in a frantic, ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Lafayette Reynolds and Lettie Mae Thornton to remove Tara Thornton from the demonic influence of maenad Maryann Forrester.
Noted Hollywood actor Johnny Depp praised the Elevators in a 2005 interview with Esquire magazine: "Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, a band out of Texas. They were basically the first psychedelic-rock band. 1965. And if you listen to old 13th Floor Elevators stuff—Roky Erickson especially, his voice—and then go back and listen to early Led Zeppelin, you know that Robert Plant absolutely copped everything from Roky Erickson. And it's amazing. And Roky Erickson is sitting in Austin, Texas; he's just there. And Robert Plant had a huge hit. It always goes back to those guys, you know? I love those fucking guys."
Texas recording artist Ray Wylie Hubbard notes "no band was cooler than the 13th Floor Elevators" in his song "Screw You, We're from Texas" from his 2003 album Growl.
In 2011, garage rock preservationists Thee Dirtybeats acknowledged the influence of Elevators on NC garage bands past and present with a recording of "Fire Engine".
- Charting singles
- "You're Gonna Miss Me" / "Tried to Hide" (January/May 1966) - No. 55 Billboard, No. 50 Cash Box in October 1966
- "Reverberation (Doubt)" / "Fire Engine" (October 1966) - No. 129 on Billboard's Bubbling Under in November 1966
- Uncharted singles
- "I've Got Levitation" / "Before You Accuse Me" (February 1967)
- "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own" / Baby Blue (Late 1967)
- "Slip Inside This House" / "Splash 1" (February 1968)
- "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" / "I'm Gonna Love You Too" (Fall 1968)
- "Livin' On" / Scarlet and Gold" (Early 1969)
- The 13th Floor Elevators (August 1966)
- Easter Everywhere (November 1967) - No. 122 on Billboard's Bubbling Under
- Live (August 1968)
- Bull of the Woods (1969)
- CD box sets
- The Psychedelic World of the 13th Floor Elevators (2002)
- The Complete Elevators IA Singles Collection
- Sign of the Three Eyed Men (2009)
- Vinyl box sets
- Music of the Spheres (2011)
- The Very Best of the 13th Floor Elevators Going Up (2004)
- Best of the 13th Floor Elevators: Manicure Your Mind (1997, 1998)
- The 13th Floor Elevators: His Eye is on the Pyramid (1999)
- 13th Floor Elevators - The Complete Reference File by Patrick Lundborg, 2002
- The International Artists Record label by Patrick Lundborg, 2008
- Drummond, Paul (Dec 2007). Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators. Process Media. ISBN 978-0-9760822-6-2.
- Moser, Margaret (August 20, 2004). "John Ike Walton". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
- Vorda, Allen (1994). Psychedelic Psounds: Interviews from A to Z with 60s Psychedelic and Garage Bands. Borderline Productions. ISBN 0-9512875-9-1.
- "Music: High Baptismal Flow: Part 2: The 13th Floor Elevators' ground floors: Where are they now?". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- Trybyszewski, Joe (August 13, 2004). "Where the Pyramid Meets the High". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
- Thee Dirtybeats: Fire Engine, at Bandcamp
- Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators by Paul Drummond, foreword by Julian Cope (Process Media, December 2007)
- A QUEST FOR PURE SANITY - THE PSYCHEDELIC POETRY OF TOMMY HALL
- 13th Floor Elevators history interview
- 13th Floor Elevators discography at MusicBrainz
- Life In The Elevators (Recollections of Danny Thomas of The 13th Floor Elevators)
- Official 13th Floor Elevators MySpace page
- The 13th Floor Elevators official website from John Ike Walton, founding band member and Percussionist 100000103150480