13th Floor Elevators

From: Austin, TX, USA 13th Floor Elevators Live

The 13th Floor Elevators were 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.

The 13th Floor Elevators found some commercial and artistic success in 1966-67, before dissolving amid legal troubles and drug use in late 1968. As one of the first psychedelic bands, 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 #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 and Spacemen 3, both 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.

History: 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.

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 #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, suggestion 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.

History: Falling apart

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 I A 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 #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 I A 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”.

Music

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.
Members

The classic 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 the longest permanent members. Hall was the band’s primary lyricist and philosopher, with Sutherland and Erickson both contributing lyrics as well as writing and arranging the group’s music. Along with Erickson’s powerful vocals, Hall’s “electric jug” became the band’s signature sound in the early days. In July 1967, Walton and Leatherman left the band and were replaced by Danny Thomas (drums) and Dan Galindo (bass). Ronnie Leatherman later returned for the third and final studio album, Bull of the Woods.

  • Roky Erickson – guitar, lead vocals, songwriter
  • Tommy Hall – electric jug, vocals, songwriter
  • Stacy Sutherland (May 28, 1946 – August 24, 1978) – lead guitar, vocals, songwriter
  • John Ike Walton – drums (November 1965 – July 1967)
  • Benny Thurman (February 20, 1943 – June 22, 2008) – bass, vocals (November 1965 – July 1966)
  • Ronnie Leatherman – bass, vocals (July 1966 – July 1967; July 1968 – August 1968)
  • Danny Thomas – drums, vocals (July 1967 – October 1969)
  • Danny Galindo (June 29, 1949 – May 17, 2001) – bass (July 1967 – January 1968)
  • Duke Davis – bass (January 1968 – April 1968)

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”)

~ from Wikipedia

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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1966 album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
13th Floor Elevators

  • Don’t Fall Down
  • Fire Engine
  • Kingdom Of Heaven
  • Monkey Island
  • Reverberation
  • Roller Coaster
  • Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)
  • Thru The Rhythm
  • Tried To Hide
  • You Don’t Know (How Young You Are)
  • You’re Gonna Miss Me

From the 1967 album Easter Everywhere
Easter Everywhere

  • Earthquake
  • I Had To Tell You
  • I’ve Got Levitation
  • It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  • Nobody To Love
  • Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)
  • She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own)
  • Slip Inside This House

From the 1968 album Bull of the Woods
Bull of the Woods

  • Barnyard Blues
  • Dear Dr. Doom
  • Livin’ On
  • May The Circle Remain Unbroken
  • Rose And The Thorn
  • Scarlet And Gold
  • Street Song
  • With You

From the album Psychedelic Sounds (Alternate Mix)

  • Monkey Island
  • Thru The Rhythm