The 13th Floor Elevators - Godfathers of Texas rock.
The year is 1966. You've just turned 18 years-old and live in the capitol of Texas, Austin. The city has only a handful of people that have tuned in and turned on, some of your friends have even dropped out. LSD is not illegal - in fact men of prominence around the world are experimenting with it. You're still living with your parents, but all they want you to do is sign up for the military and go fight in Vietnam. All you ever hear from them is to "turn the music down", or "get a haircut".
Austin is no friendly place for a hippie, so you and your friends travel in packs for safety. A local band has been rocking the downtown music scene. A friend invites you to see this new band, you decide that it's better than listening to AM radio. In a smokey little club, the 13th Floor Elevators are playing music like you've never heard before, it sounds like a revolution. The Elevators weren't in far away San Francisco or London. This revolution was made up of all native Texans.
The 13FE was formed by UT student & psychology major Tommy Hall, after experimenting with LSD. Hall realized that music had a more significant impact when a person was "tripping." He went about recruiting musicians from area bands.
Janis Joplin nearly joined the group, but Family Dog's Chet Helms pursued her to move to San Francisco instead. The gossip around Austin was that Helms was afraid Tommy was going to get his girl, Joplin. Janis turned out to be nobody's girl.
The original line-up consisted of Rock Erickson (vocals), Benny Thurman (bass), Stacy Sutherland (guitar), John Ike Walton (drums), and Tommy Hall (electric jug). Originally, Hall wanted only to be a songwriter and spiritual guru to the band, but after some discussion they made him the "Electric Jug" player.
Reportedly, their name came from the 13th letter in the alphabet, "M", which stood for Marijuana. Playing locally they were under constant harassment from police, society, and rednecks. "The man" was everywhere in 1966, and you weren't supposed to let him "get you down". The band survived the most severe harassment ever inflicted on a homegrown Texas entertainer, to release their debut "Psychedelic Sounds". This was the first album ever to have "psychedelic" in the title or have their music described in that manner. The music was a little bit much for some folks, and the only song that ever charted in the US was released as a single from that album, "You're Gonna Miss Me". Their follow-up, "Easter Everywhere", widely considered one of the greatest albums of the sixties. The album contained the epic "Slip Inside This House".
The scene in San Francisco soon caught on to psychedelic and the mainstream turned to accommodate the growing numbers of youth culture. 13FE was poised to rise from regional hits and become a national act,` when Erickson was arrested for Possession of a Controlled Substance. He was offered to languish in a Texas prison for several years or go into a state mental hospital for rehabilitation.
In the state mental hospital he was forced to undergo electro-shock and drug treatment for his behavior. When he was finally released he had developed several lifelong mental illnesses. Musically and ironically, he is most commonly compared to Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd). Erickson was released in 1972. After spending four years for possession of one joint, $1 worth of marijuana.
In 1968 the band released their final album "Bull of the Woods". The band recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Baby Blue". Dylan was so struck by their version that he called it the greatest recording ever made of the song.
The band broke up in late 1969, when the hippie movement was also failing. Roky Erickson went on to form Blieb Alien, Blieb is an anagram for the Bible. Erickson faced criticism because his new band strayed from the psychedelic sounds of the Elevators and played hard rock. Some songs were featured in 1970 horror films. Erickson formed another band with Stu Cook (CCR) called Roky Erickson and the Aliens in 1979, but only released one album. In 1990, an album of Erickson songs were recorded by REM, ZZ Top, John Wesley Harding, and others as a tribute.
John Ike Walton now builds instruments in west Texas hill country. Walton left the band after disputes over the money. Walton and Ronnie Leatherman, and Tommy Hall still play together.
The influence of these Texas musicians is heard loud even today. Not a month has gone by that I have not received a fax, phone call, e-mail, about them.
The "Reverend" Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) was so inspired by the Elevators that his first group in the late sixties, The Moving Sidewalks recorded the "99th Floor" as a tribute to the band.
The 13th Floor Elevators introduced a revolution that influenced ZZ Top, Led Zepplin, REM, CCR, and numerous others over the past 35 years. Today, we can look back and see a regional band that never met national success, but in their own way they achieved a greater success. They started off broke, they wound up broke, but the riches they contributed to our Texas musical heritage live on, and rock onů.
(J. Charles Miller)