See the source image

Born out of a union of club bands on the burgeoning Austin, Texas bohemian scene and a pronounced taste for hallucinogens, the 13th Floor Elevators were formed in late 1965 when lyricist Tommy Hall asked a local singer named Roky Erickson to join up with his new rock outfit along with guitarist Stacy Sutherland. Four years, three official albums and countless acid trips later, it was over: the Elevators‘ pioneering first run ended in a dizzying jumble of professional mismanagement, internal arguments, drug busts and forced psychiatric imprisonments. In their short existence, however, the group succeeded in blowing the lid off the budding musical underground, logging early salvos in the countercultural struggle against state authorities, and turning their deeply hallucinogenic take on jug-band garage rock into a new American institution called psychedelic music.

Before the hippies, before the punks, there were the 13th Floor Elevators: an unlikely crew of outcast weirdo geniuses who changed culture. Paul Drummond has spent years documenting every aspect of the history of this amazing band and amassing an unprecedented archive of primary materials, resulting in this comprehensive visual history. The book recounts the story not just of the Elevators as a band–wild and remarkable though it is–but that of the American counterculture itself: the hallucinogens, the rebellion and the truly profound music that resulted. The 13th Floor Elevators: A Visual History places the band finally and undeniably in the pantheon of innovators of American rock music to which they have always belonged. The band was together from 1965 to 1969, and during that period released four albums and seven singles for the International Artists record label who 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 cult status.

See the source image

In November 1967, the band released a second album, “Easter Everywhere”. The album featured a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. However, shortly before work began on Easter Everywhere, Walton and Leatherman left the band and were replaced by Danny Thomas on drums and Dan Galindo on bass, because of disputes over mismanagement of the band’s career by International Artists and a fundamental disagreement between Walton and Hall over the latter’s 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 sleeve-notes, 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, Easter Everywhere was not the success the band and International Artists had hoped for. Lacking a hit single 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 band’s debut album sold upwards of 40,000 copies during its original run, while Easter Everywhere may have sold around 10,000 copies. As documented in a lengthy interview and article in the Texas underground music magazine Mother No. 3, the band worked all Spring of 1968 on their new album, which at one point was to be called Beauty and the Beast. However, because of an unstable member line-up and the increasingly erratic behaviour of the psychedelicized Tommy Hall and mentally fragile Roky Erickson, little of value came 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.

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.

See the source image

At Tommy Hall’s urging, the band often played 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,

Around this time, the original 13th Floor Elevators disbanded, as the 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.

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 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.

A few live gigs were played around Texas during the second half of 1968, until an article 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 in March 1969. 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.

See the source image

Bull of the Woods, was 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”.

Today, the 13th Floor Elevators continue to influence new generations of musicians. In 1990, 21 contemporary bands—including R.E.M., Richard Lloyd, David Leonard, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Primal Scream who all recorded covers of Elevators songs “Slip Inside This House” was covered by Scottish alternative rock band on their album Screamadelica album. 1980s drone/space-rock band Spacemen 3 were influenced by the 13th Floor Elevators, covering “Roller Coaster” twice, for their debut album, Sound of Confusion, and as a 17-minute version for their debut EP Walkin’ With Jesus. Vocalist/guitarist Pete Kember also covered “Thru the Rhythm” with his post-Spacemen 3 project Spectrum. Radio Birdman, features a song titled “Lunatics at the Edge of the World”, which Tek described as “An ode to Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson.”

Studio albums
The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, (October 1966)
Easter Everywhere, (November 1967)
Bull of the Woods, (March 1969)

Noted Hollywood actor/Musician Johnny Depp praised the Elevators in a 2005 magazine interview “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 guys.”

See the source image

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.