Sunday, February 27, 2011

13th floor elevators

13th floor elevators biography

Often considered the first psychedelic rock group as well as the first underground band to achieve commercial success, the 13th Floor Elevators were a Texas-based outfit that combined folk/rock, R&B, and hard-driving rock 'n' roll with mystical lyrics that espoused the virtues of drugs. Although many of their songs are based around the concept that ingesting LSD and other substances can take the user to a higher plane of consciousness, the Elevators' biggest—and only—hit was "You're Gonna Miss Me," a song that has nothing to do with drugs. A forceful, pulsating rocker about the end of a relationship, it features the intense tenor vocals and blood-curdling screams of Roky Erickson and the percussive electric jug-playing of Tommy Hall. The tune reached number 56 on the national Billboard charts in 1966.

Although the Elevators have influenced punk and alternative rock bands for almost 40 years, as a group they lasted just over three. During this time, they released three studio albums—Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere, and Bull of the Woods—as well as a "live" album that actually was a collection of studio outtakes with tacked-on audience participation. The band's first two albums are considered classics of the garage and psychedelic rock genres; the third is considered a worthy addition to their canon. Their lead vocalist, Roky Erickson, an eccentric musical genius in the vein of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, is also a diagnosed schizophrenic known for legendary drug-taking exploits. He is regarded as an outstanding singer and gifted songwriter whose post-Elevators solo work includes moments of brilliance as well as disturbing, horror- and occult-tinged subject matter and imagery.
Elevators Up

The 13th Floor Elevators were formed by Tommy Hall in late 1965. A student of philosophy, psychology, and chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, Hall had begun to experiment with drugs such as peyote and mescaline that were local to Texas and that were legal at the time. After moving to illegal substances such as LSD, he began to believe that drugs could enhance his personal and spiritual growth. He began to write song lyrics, and decided to make a popular local skiffle band, the Lingsmen, the mouthpiece for his theories. The Lingsmen were made up of guitarist Stacy Sutherland, bassist/electric violinist Benny Thurman, drummer John Ike Walton, and vocalist Max Rainey. When Rainey left the group, Hall invited Erickson, a 17-year-old wunderkind in the R&B band the Spades, to join as lead singer and rhythm guitarist.

Shortly before the formation of the Elevators, the Spades had released Erickson's song "You're Gonna Miss Me" on Zero Records, a local label. The Lingsmen decided to change their approach to reflect the tougher sounds of bands like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks as well as the mind-expanding experiences that they were having with acid, pot, and other drugs. Thurman dropped the electric violin to concentrate on bass, and Hall began to blow into a jug to which he had duct-taped a microphone, thus creating the electric jug, a new sound in pop music. The Lingsmen changed their name to the 13th Floor Elevators, named for the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, "M," which stood for marijuana, and for the missing floor in American high-rise buildings.

The Elevators developed a reputation for ferocious live shows, and they became hugely popular in Texas. Their rerecorded version of Erickson's punk anthem—released nationally by International Artists Records, a Houston-based label run by Lelan Rogers, the brother of pop singer Kenny Rogers—brought them popularity around the country. However, the Elevators were less than popular with the Texas Rangers and other local authorities, who were unhappy with the group's personal drug use and public support of getting high. In 1966 the band was arrested for possession of marijuana but was released on a technicality. Shortly thereafter they relocated to San Francisco without Thurman, who decided to stay in Texas; he was replaced by Ronnie Leatherman.
Elevators Down

In San Francisco, the Elevators became influential figures on the nascent psychedelic scene; they helped create the "San Francisco sound," psychedelic music that would receive critical acclaim and commercial success. Allegedly the first group to go onstage under the influence of LSD, they played at the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom with bands such as the Byrds, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The lead singer of Big Brother, Janis Joplin, was asked to join Erickson as the Elevators' second vocalist. She declined, but always noted Erickson as a major influence.

In mid-1966, International Artists released Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, considered a groundbreaking debut. Writing on the Vinyl Junkie website, collector Karl Ikola stated, "[T]he depths of soul evident in the debut are still so richly filled with an hypnotic 'n' spine-tingling-blast-off life-odyssey paradox that I'd like to be buried with an original white-label promo copy right across my chest." However, due to the fact that International Artists decided not to publicize the band in order to retain their "mystique," the album failed to reach a mainstream audience.

Shortly after the release of Psychedelic Sounds, the band's rhythm section left; they were replaced by Elevator fans Dan Galindo on bass and Danny Thomas on drums. The group returned to Texas in late 1966 but went back to San Francisco several times over the next two years. In 1967 the Elevators released their second album, Easter Everywhere. Thought to be more focused and even more lysergically enhanced than their first release, Easter Everywhere usually is considered the group's best record. Cub Koda of All Music Guide to Rock suggested, "Anyone wanting a real psychedelic album from the '60s should head right to the counter and grab this one."

By this time, though, the band was starting to unravel. The crowning blow came on the occasion that Erickson decided to go home while high on acid. His mother, a former opera singer who had released a local 45-inch single, had him committed to the Austin State Hospital, where he underwent shock treatment. After this incident, Erickson's behavior became erratic and unpredictable; the rest of the band also showed signs that their drug use was catching up with them. Offered a chance to tour England with guitarist Jimi Hendrix, they refused so that they could stay at home, stoned. Hall and Erickson, wrecked on acid, were found waiting in line to buy tickets for one of their own shows in Austin.


  1. interesting, never heard of them. Thanks!

  2. I hadn't heard of them but i'm glad i have! =D

  3. didnt know this group, thx for the share, the song is great!!

  4. Very interesting. And even cooler that I've never heard of them. I love hearing new sounds. And that jug player is a winner.

  5. Interestingly, lifts/buildings don't have 13th floors, and go straight from 12 to 14. Of course I can only assume this is the reason they're called that, sorry to point out the obvious! =P

  6. great write up as always, keep up the good work

  7. Sounds great! Thanks for the info aswell.

  8. cool band bro, never heard of these guys, will bend my ear a bit and take a listen!