13th Floor Elevators Biography

Formed in Austin, Texas, USA in 1965, this influential psychedelic rock band evolved from the nucleus of the Lingsmen, a popular local attraction. The original line-up included Stacey Sutherland (guitar), Benny Thurman (bass), John Ike Walton (drums) and Max Rainey (vocals), but the latter was replaced by Roky Erickson (Roger Kynard Erickson, 15 July 1947, Dallas, Texas, USA; vocals, guitar). The quartet retained their anachronistic name until adding lyricist and jug player Tommy Hall (b. 21 September 1943, USA), whose wife Clementine, suggested their more intriguing appellation. They were signed to the International Artists label run by producer Lelan Rogers (b. 1928, USA, d. 22 July 2002, Nashville, Tennessee, USA), the brother of country star Kenny Rogers. The 13th Floor Elevators made their recording debut with ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’. Erickson had recorded this acerbic composition with an earlier outfit, the Spades, but his new colleagues added an emphatic enthusiasm missing from the original version. Hall’s quivering jug interjections, unlikely in a rock setting, suggested a taste for the unusual enhanced by the band’s mystical air. Their 1966 debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators, combined this offbeat spiritualism with crude R&B to create some of the era’s most compulsive music. However, the band’s overt drug culture proselytization led to inevitable confrontations with the conservative Texan authorities. Several arrests ensued, the band’s live appearances were monitored by the state police, while a management dispute led to the departure of Walton and new bass player Ronnie Leatherman (who had replaced Thurman after the release of ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’).

The 13th Floor Elevators broke up briefly during the summer of 1967, but Hall, Erickson and Sutherland regrouped around a new rhythm section of Dan Galindo (b. San Antonio, Texas, USA, d. May 2001, Austin, Texas, USA) and Danny Thomas. A second album, Easter Everywhere, maintained the high quality of its predecessor, but external pressures proved too strong to repel. Studio outtakes were overdubbed with fake applause to create the implausible Live, and the band finally disintegrated in late 1968 when Erickson and Sutherland were both busted for drug offences. To avoid being sent to prison, Erickson claimed to be a Martian and was committed to Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane. Sutherland was not so lucky and was imprisoned in Huntsville, the Texas state prison. A final collection, Bull Of The Woods, coupled partially completed performances with older, unissued masters.

Erickson was released from Rusk State in 1972, and made an abortive attempt to re-form the 13th Floor Elevators with Walton and other musicians. His solo career and numerous reissues and archive compilations have furthered this seminal band’s reputation, but their tragic history culminated in 1978 when Sutherland was shot dead by his wife.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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