Roger Kynard “Roky
” (pronounced “rocky”) Erickson, lead vocals
Stacy Keith Sutherland, guitar
Benny Thurman, bass
John Ike Walton, drums
James Thomas “Tommy
” Hall, jug; also co-wrote most of the songs with Roky.
Dan Galindo, Bass on Easter Everywhere
Danny Thomas, Drums on Easter Everywhere
"What does the name mean?"
There is no real consensus on where the name came from. I think it has several possible allusions: The "13" could refer to the 13th letter of the alphabet, "M," for marijuana
; "13" is a longtime code for marijuana, and persists in biker
circles. There are also several blues songs with lyrical reference to having to walk up 13 flights of stairs to "visit my baby" because the elevator is broken. For what it's worth, there are traditionally 13 steps up the hangman's gallows, and 13 steps on the pyramid
on the back side of the dollar bill (which fits with the album cover motif of their first LP). One final explanation is simply that, in hotels and office buildings, there is no 13th floor; the 13th therefore represents some other plane, and the "elevators" are the means to get there.
The 13th Floor Elevators sound can be (inadequately) described as follows: Based in rhythm and blues, but with a heavier throbbing, driving guitar sound that is simultaneously hypnotic and exhilirating. The jug sound adds a difficult-to-describe "boop-booping" sound that wanders up and down the scale. Most of the lyrics are concerned with the "psychedelic experience". They may be the first rock group to attempt to create music that creates an atmosphere evocative of a psychedelic drug high, with some success. (Here I am describing the music of their first, and probably most important, album; later work is somewhat more subdued and folky, though still with a definite psychedelic edge.)
The Elevators are almost certainly responsible for the term "psychedelic rock" and are one of the first popular musical groups to combine music with transcendental philosophy based on the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and peyote. After re-locating to San Francisco in late 1966, Jerry Garcia actually asked their permission to use the term to describe his own group, The Grateful Dead! The Elevators also presaged the Dead in their policy of encouraging bootleg taping at all of their live performances.
The group was formed in Austin, Texas in 1965 by Tommy Hall, who saw it as the next logical step after already establishing himself locally as an "acid guru" and host to weekly pot-and-cough-syrup parties. Tommy was described by some as a manipulator rather than a benevolent para-spiritual guide. He had his own personal philosophy based in the writings of Timothy Leary, Friedrich Nietzsche and other philosophers, eastern religions, Christianity, and his own frequent experiences with LSD and peyote, which was still legal in Texas until the late 1960s and was popular with UT-Austin bohemians as early as 1961.
Though Tommy got the group together, he didn't play an instrument himself, so he played the jug, previously only heard in rural folk music. Listeners to the band's first LP wrote hundreds of letters to the label asking "what is that sound?" Though Hall didn't play an instrument, he did contribute to writing the music and the lyrics as well as providing messianic leadership. Not all of the band members were necessarily thoroughly enraptured with his spiritual guidance, but Roky was thoroughly under his spell, taking large doses of LSD on a regular basis, which perhaps contributed to lifetime psychological problems.
As outspoken advocates of drug usage for spiritual purposes, the Elevators were prone to police harassment, on several occasions having performances delayed while the police took their equipment apart to search for contraband.
Timeline of The 13th Floor Elevators Career:
, Jan.: Release of first single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” b/w “Tried to Hide” on Hanna-Barbera
Records. ( ! ) It is a minor hit locally, leading to the Elevators’ television appearances on such Texas music programs as Sump'n Else
1966, June: Janis Joplin opens for the Elevators. She meets the band and there is discussion of her joining, but she opts instead to go to San Francisco to join Big Brother and the Holding Company. At the time, Janis avoided drug users, and as the Elevators philosophy was centred in LSD use, joining the group would probably have been impossible in any case.
1966, Aug.: The Elevators move to San Francisco, where, over the next few months, they play at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium with such notables as the Sopwith Camel, The Great Society (featuring Grace Slick before she joined The Jefferson Airplane), Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
1966, Oct.: They appear on American Bandstand.
1966, Nov.: Release of the first LP: The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators, on the Independent Artists label. The album is released on vinyl; mono and stereo, and reel-to-reel tape. The cover art, reminiscent both of the eye-in-the-pyramid motif found on the back of the one-dollar bill and of the Egyptian Eye of Horus, is done by Austin artist John Cleveland. Tommy Hall writes the liner notes, which sum up the Elevators’ ethos:
Since Aristotle, man has organized his knowledge vertically in separate and unrelated groups -- Science, Religion, Sex, Relaxation, Work etc. The main emphasis in his language, his system of storing knowledge, has been on the identification of objects rather than on the relationships between objects. He is now forced to use his tools of reasoning separately and for one situation at a time. Had man been able to see past this hypnotic way of thinking, to distrust it (as did Einstein), and to resystematize his knowledge so that it would all be related horizontally, he would now enjoy the perfect sanity which comes from being able to deal with his life in its entirety.
Recently, it has become possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view (that is, his own basic relation with the outside world which determines how he stores his information). He can restructure his thinking and change his language so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely.
It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs on this album.
1967: Benny Thurman and John Ike Walton leave the group and are replaced by Dan Galindo and Danny Thomas. Roky is arrested for marijuana possession, a felony in Texas. He pleads insanity, claiming to be a Martian (Roky never entirely disavowed his Martian heritage). He is committed first to Austin State Hospital, and later to higher security Rusk State Hospital, where he remains until his release in 1971. Release of Easter Everywhere LP, followed by the release of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators Live, which is not a live album at all (see notes in discography below). Tommy Hall leaves the group, who are now living in Texas, to return to San Francisco. With the key original members absent or hospitalised, the Elevators are virtually disbanded and material released in subsequent years is composed of studio out-takes or previously unreleased material.
“You're Gonna Miss Me” / “We Sell Soul” 7" (Contact, 1965)
Single by Roky’s band The Spades, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” later to be a hit for The Elevators
"You're Gonna Miss Me" / "Tried to Hide" 7" (Hanna-Barbera, 1966)
“Reverberation” / “Fire Engine” 7" (International Artists, 1966)
Psychedelic Sounds of: The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1966)
You're Gonna Miss Me
Thru The Rhythm
You Don't Know
Kingdom Of Heaven
Don't Fall Down
Tried To Hide
“She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)” / “Baby Blue” 7" (International Artists, 1967)
“Slip Inside This House” / “Splash 1” 7" (International Artists, 1967)
Easter Everywhere (International Artists, 1967)
Slip Inside This House
She Lives(In A Time Of Her Own)
Nobody To Love
I Had To Tell You
Thirteenth Floor Elevators Live (International Artists, 1968)
Not an actual live album, rather studio out-takes with overdubbed crowd sounds.
“May the Circle Remain Unbroken” / “I'm Gonna Love You Too” 7" (International Artists, 1968)
Bull of the Woods (International Artists, 1969)
Previously unreleased tracks from earlier sessions.
Scarlet And Gold
Rose And The Thorn
May The Circle Remain Unbroken
Down By The River
13th Floor Elevators Reunion Concert (THBO, CD, 1984)
Clear Night For Love
Don't Shake Me Lucifer
Don't Slander Me
You're Gonna Miss Me
S.F. '66 (Lysergic, 1980)
Fire in My Bones (Texas Archives, 1985)
Elevator Tracks (Texas Archives, 1987)
Flivver (World Productions, 1988)
Original Sound of the 13th Floor Elevators (13th Hour, 1988)
Out of Order - Live at the Avalon Ballroom (Magnum Music, 1993)
1966-1967 Unreleased Masters Collection (Collectables, 1994)
Best of 13th Floor Elevators (Eva WMD, 1994)
Levitation - Live in Concert (Magnum Music, 1994)