13th Floor Elevators – 60’s Band of the Week #1

2 Jun

13th Floor Elevators Band: 13th Floor Elevators

 Origin: Austin, Texas

 Genre: Psychedelic Rock

 Founded: 1965 – Disbanded: 1969

thirteenth floor elevators Most Famous Line-Up:

 –          Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter (primary): Roky Erickson  

–          Electric Jug Player/Songwriter (primary): Tommy Hall

–          Guitarist: Stacy Sutherland

–          Drummer: John Ike Walton

–          Bass Player: Ronnie Leatherman

 

Name: The band’s name is based on the superstition of large buildings not having a 13th floor because of bad luck. Also the 13th letter in the alphabet is M (obviously for marijuana).

 History: What a perfect way to begin our 60’s band of the week section. 13th Floor Elevators emerged from the psychedelic scene in Austin, Texas. While in California, especially San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other surrounding areas like Monterey, psychedelic rock was supposedly most prevalent, it was in Texas that arguably the first Psychedelic Rock band sprouted.

            13th Floor Elevators were a few years ahead of their time. They were practically the inventors of this new type of rock that would find its way to somewhat infamous fame among all of the United States in a few years. They were certainly among the first to play this rock. Yet, they also were one of the first bands to face the law and succumb to consequences due to drug abuse.

            13th Floor Elevators rose from two bands known as The Spades (which included Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall) and The Lingsmen. The original five person line-up toured Texas in the spring of 1966 and found a record deal with International Artists in Houston; the same record label that also signed bands like Red Krayola and Bubble Puppy. Bubble Puppy who had a huge hit with their single “Hot Smoke & Sassafras,” in 1969 and has definitely gone down as having one of the more interesting acid-induced band names in the entire 60’s counterculture. This counterculture found 13th Floor Elevator’s album debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, particularly enticing. While it remains one of the most interesting trips into psychedelic music it did not help their cause that in the album’s sleeve notes they practically thanked LSD for helping them write the album. Yes, I would like to thank my parents, Jesus, and dropping acid.

    After the release of this album, 13th Floor Elevators continued to tour and they spread their wings to San Francisco where they performed with such groups like The Byrds. In 1967, they released a concept album entitled Easter Everywhere which while achieving some success also led to the walking of the bassist Ronnie Leatherman and the drummer John Ike Walton who left due to managerial disagreements with the label. This was the beginning of the end. Drug problems continued and after marijuana possession charges were lifted on Erickson he chose to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital due to his supposed schizophrenia instead of taking a prison sentence. This all but symbolized the true end in 1969. Mental problems, managerial issues, drugs. Sound familiar. 13th Floor Elevators fell in four years to the same problems that would take down many other bands that were enticed by LSD and Mary Jane.

Aren't old concert posters amazing. Yes, this is Grace Slick with her old band The Great Society before she hit fame with Jefferson Airplane.

Aren't old concert posters amazing. Yes, this is Grace Slick with her old band The Great Society before she hit fame with Jefferson Airplane.

Discography:

            The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

            Easter Everywhere (1967)

            Live (1968)

            Bull of the Woods (1968)

 Best Album:

           Easily, 13th Floor Elevators best release was their very first in 1966. The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, not only was one of the very first psychedelic albums ever to be released, but, it also takes listeners on a fascinating exploration of acid ballads in their larvae state. The album is an extraordinary mix of odd sound effects, an electric jug (which was the band’s trademark sound), and screaming, guttural vocals from Erickson who on this album may have mastered one of rock’s first real screams.

            While checking out the album you must listen to “Reverberation,” which plays with an eccentric harmony and a wave of haunting sound effects which wash your ears with swirling sound. “Splash,” sounds like The Animals mixed with ghostly echoes. The end of “Kingdom of Heaven,” which is psychedelic blues at its best, features Erickson’s rock scream.

            The album is completely underrated like the band. While they may have been the first they most certainly were not the most famous. This could be due to their problems with drugs and their relatively short life but, besides a cult following, they lack the respect they deserve among fans but not musicians. Musicians tend to cite the 13th Floor Elevators as huge inspirations. Bands like ZZ Top and REM.

 Best Song:

            Straight off of The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators is “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which is the band’s most famous song. It is immediately noticeable for the opening riff sounds exactly like, “For Your Love,” which was written by Graham Gouldman for The Yardbirds, a revolutionary British band which brought such musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page into the spotlight. It was written in 1965 when Roky Erickson was performing his “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” with the similar riff, with his band The Spades. Well, “For Your Love” was released in February of 1965 and was written when Gouldman was 19. Okay this is trivial. What is most important is that the song is a catchy, rhythmic boogie with a swinging harmonica, hints of southern soul, crazy vocals, and an awesome tone-setting electric jug mixed with Tex-Mex influences.

 Fun Facts:

Did You Know…

–  On Easter Everywhere 13th Floor Elevators did a cover of Bob Dylan’s, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”  Better yet, it is rumored that it is his personal favorite cover

 – Janis Joplin, before she joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, sang a few songs with the band and considered becoming their singer back in Austin before she left for San Francisco and joined Big Brother. You can only imagine what would have happened if Roky and Janis teamed up. Those concerts must have been incredible and that band would have been insane.

 – In 2006 Dell Computers used “You’re Gonna Miss Me” in one of their ads for their XPS laptop. Proving that if you use an XPS laptop you are obviously dropping acid.

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