The 13th Floor Elevators
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The 13th Floor Elevators
The 13th Floor Elevators
Origin Austin, Texas, United States
Genres Psychedelic rock,[1][2]garage rock,[3]acid rock,[4]garage punk[5]
1965-1969, 1973, 1984, 2015
Labels International Artists, Radar, Charly
Roky Erickson and the Aliens, The Spades, The Lingsmen
Roky Erickson
Tommy Hall
Stacy Sutherland
John Ike Walton
Benny Thurman
Ronnie Leatherman
Danny Thomas
Danny Galindo
Duke Davis

The 13th Floor Elevators were an American rock band from Austin, Texas, formed by guitarist and vocalist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, and guitarist Stacy Sutherland. The band existed from 1965 to 1969.[6] During their career, the band released four LP records and seven 45s for the International Artists record label.[7]

The Elevators were one of the first psychedelic bands. The 2005 documentary You're Gonna Miss Me credits Tommy Hall with coining the term psychedelic rock, though artists such as the Holy Modal Rounders and the Deep had described their music as "psychedelic" earlier. Their contemporary influence has been acknowledged by 1960's musicians such as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Peter Albin of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Chris Gerniottis of Zakary Thaks.

The 13th Floor Elevators debut 45 You're Gonna Miss Me, a national Billboard No. 55 hit in 1966, was featured on the 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, which is considered vital in the history of garage rock and the development of punk rock. Seminal punk band Television played the Elevator's song Fire Engine live in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s-1990s, the 13th Floor Elevators influenced important bands such as Primal Scream, the Shamen, and Spacemen 3, all of whom covered their songs, and 14 Iced Bears who use an electric jug on their single Beautiful Child. In 2009, the International Artists released a ten CD box set entitled Sign of the 3-Eyed Men, which included the mono and new, alternate stereo mixes of the original albums together with two albums of previously unreleased material and a number of rare live recordings.


Rise to fame

The 13th Floor Elevators emerged on the local Austin music scene in December 1965, where they were contemporary to bands such as The Wig and The Babycakes, and later followed by Shiva's Headband and The Conqueroo. The band formed when Roky Erickson left his group the Spades, and joined up with Stacy Sutherland, Benny Thurman, and John Ike Walton who had been playing Texas coastal towns as The Lingsmen.[8] Tommy Hall was instrumental in bringing the band members together, and joined the group as lyricist and electric jug player. The band's name developed from a suggestion by drummer John Ike Walton to use the name Elevators. Clementine Hall added 13th Floor.[9] In addition to an awareness that a number of tall buildings in the US lack a designated 13th floor, it has been noted that the letter "M" (for marijuana) is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet.[8]

In early January 1966, producer Gordon Bynum brought the band to Houston to record two songs to release as a 45 on his newly formed Contact label. The songs were Erickson's You're Gonna Miss Me, and Hall-Sutherland's Tried to Hide. The 45 was a big success in Austin, and made an impression in other Texas cities. Some months later, the International Artists label picked it up and re-released it.

Throughout the Spring of 1966, the group toured extensively in Texas, playing clubs in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. They also played on live teen dance shows on TV, such as Sumpin Else, in Dallas, and The Larry Kane Show in Houston. During the Summer, the IA re-release of You're Gonna Miss Me became popular outside Texas, especially in Miami, Detroit, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In October 1966, it peaked on the national Billboard chart at the No. 55 position. Prompted by the success of the 45 the Elevators toured the west coast, made two nationally televised appearances for Dick Clark, and played several dates at the San Francisco ballrooms The Fillmore and The Avalon.

The International Artists record label in Houston, also home to contemporary Texas underground groups such as Red Krayola and Bubble Puppy, signed the Elevators to a record contract and released the album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators in November 1966, which became popular among the burgeoning counterculture.[8] Tommy Hall's sleeve-notes for the album, which advocated chemical agents (such as LSD) as a gateway to a higher, 'non-Aristotelian' state of consciousness, has also contributed to the album's legendary status.

During their California tour, the band shared bills with Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Great Society with Grace Slick, and Moby Grape.[10] On returning to Texas in early 1967, they released a 45, Levitation, and continued to play live in Austin, Houston and other Texas cities. In November 1967, the band released a second album, Easter Everywhere. Highlighted by the opening track, Slip Inside This House, many critics and fans consider the album their finest work. It also featured a cover of Bob Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.[8] However, shortly before work began on Easter Everywhere, Walton and Leatherman left the band and were replaced by Danny Thomas on drums and Dan Galindo on bass because of disputes over mismanagement of the band's career by International Artists and a fundamental disagreement between Walton and Hall over the latter's overzealous advocacy of the use of LSD in the pursuit of achieving a higher state of human consciousness.[9] As a result, they were not credited in the Easter Everywhere sleevenotes, despite having appeared on (I've Got) Levitation and She Lives (In a Time of Her Own). Despite the lengthy studio work and resources utilized, and the album's later legendary status, Easter Everywhere was not the success the band and International Artists had hoped for. Lacking a hit 45 and released too late in the year, it sold out its original run but was never reprinted, suggesting somewhat disappointing sales. Record label paperwork indicate that the debut LP sold upwards of 40,000 copies during its original run, while Easter Everywhere may have sold around 10,000 copies.

Falling apart

While the band were unable to repeat their national success, they were still a powerful presence on the Texas rock music scene. Chris Gerniottis, ex-lead singer of Zakary Thaks has spoken repeatedly of how the Elevators stood apart from all the other bands on the regional scene, and they continued to influence these bands during the late 1960s. Following the local popularity of the track Slip Inside This House, an edited 45 was released in early '68 and saw plenty of rotation on Houston radio. Meanwhile, the Elevators had lost their bass player Dan Galindo, who went on to another International Artists band, the Rubiayat. Duke Davis briefly replaced Galindo, before the band's earlier bassist Ronnie Leatherman returned in the Summer of 1968. As documented in a lengthy interview and article in the Texas underground music magazine Mother No. 3, the band worked all Spring of 1968 on their new album, which at one point was to be called Beauty and the Beast. However, because of an unstable member line-up and the increasingly erratic behavior of the psychedelicized Tommy Hall and mentally fragile Roky Erickson, little of value came out of these sessions. The live shows had lost their original energy, and often the band would perform without their lead singer Erickson, due to his recurring hospital treatments at the time. The last concert featuring the "real" Elevators occurred in April 1968.

International Artists put out a Live LP c. August 1968, which was composed of old demo tapes and outtakes dating back to 1966 for the most part, with some phony applause added. Around this time, the original 13th Floor Elevators disbanded, as the original nucleus of Erickson-Hall-Sutherland had been reduced to guitarist Stacy Sutherland only. Sutherland brought some of his own songs for a final set of studio sessions, which led to the dark, intense posthumous album Bull of the Woods. Initially disliked by many Elevators fans, it has found a substantial fan-base today, with some even rating it the band's best LP. These final sessions consisted of Sutherland on guitar, Ronnie Leatherman on bass, and Danny Thomas on drums. A few live gigs were played around Texas during the second half of 1968, until an 'obituary' in Rolling Stone magazine in December 1968 declared the band gone. International Artists pulled together the various studio recordings from 1968 and with the assistance of drummer Danny Thomas added some horn arrangements, which became the Bull of the Woods album, released c. March 1969. The very last 13th Floor Elevators record released by International Artists was a reissue of the You're Gonna Miss Me 45, dating from c. mid-1969.

Singer Janis Joplin was a close associate of Clementine Hall and the band. She opened for the band at a benefit concert in Austin, and considered joining the group[11] prior to heading to San Francisco and joining Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her style of singing has been described as having been influenced by Erickson's trademark screaming and yelping as showcased in You're Gonna Miss Me.

Drug overuse and related legal problems left the band in a state of constant turmoil, which took its toll, both physically and mentally, on the members. In 1969, facing a felony marijuana possession charge, Roky Erickson chose to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital rather than serve a prison term, thus signaling the end of the band's career.[8]

Bull of the Woods, released in 1969, was the 13th Floor Elevators' last released album on which they worked as a group, and was largely the work of Stacy Sutherland. Erickson, due to health and legal problems, and Tommy Hall were only involved with a few tracks, including Livin' On, Never Another, Dear Doctor Doom, and May the Circle Remain Unbroken.


During the initial months of their existence as a band, the electric guitars used both by Roky Erickson and Stacy Sutherland were Gibson ES-330s. Sutherland's pioneering use of reverb and echo, and bluesy, acid-drenched guitar predates such bands as ZZ Top, Butthole Surfers, and The Black Angels. According to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top in the documentary You're Gonna Miss Me, the guitars were run through Fender Blackface Twin Reverbs, Fender Reverb Units (referred to as a "tube reverb" or "reverb tank"), and Gibson Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tones.[12]

A special aspect of The Elevators' sound came from Tommy Hall's innovative electric jug. The jug, a crock-jug with a microphone held up to it while it was being blown, sounded somewhat like a cross between a minimoog and cuica drum. In contrast to traditional musical jug technique, Hall did not blow into the jug to produce a tuba-like sound. Instead, he vocalized musical runs into the mouth of the jug, using the jug to create echo and distortion of his voice. When playing live, he held the microphone up to the mouth of the jug, but when recording the Easter Everywhere album, the recording engineer placed a microphone inside the jug to enhance the sound.

The band was unique, even in the 1960s, in that they (at Tommy Hall's urging) played most of their live shows and recorded their albums while under the influence of LSD, and built their lifestyle and music around the psychedelic experience.[] Intellectual and esoteric influences helped shape their work, which shows traces of Gurdjieff, the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski, the psychedelic philosophy of Timothy Leary, and Tantric meditation.


The original 13th Floor Elevators line-up was built around singer/guitarist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, and guitarist Stacy Sutherland. The rhythm section went through several changes, with drummer John Ike Walton and bass player Ronnie Leatherman being replaced in July 1967. Walton and Leatherman left the band; in their stead were new recruits Danny Thomas (drums, piano) and Dan Galindo (bass) which completed the "classic Elevators" line-up. Hall remained the band's primary lyricist and philosopher, with Sutherland and Erickson both contributing lyrics as well as writing music, and, later, working with the highly trained Danny Thomas to arrange the group's more challenging music. In addition to Erickson's powerful vocals, Hall's "electric jug" became the band's signature sound. Later, Ronnie Leatherman returned for the third and final studio album, Bull of the Woods along with Thomas, and Sutherland.

  • Roky Erickson - guitar, lead vocals, songwriter (1965-1969)
  • Tommy Hall - electric jug, vocals, songwriter (1965-1969)
  • Stacy Sutherland - lead guitar, vocals, songwriter (1965-1969) (died 1978)
  • Danny Thomas - drums, vocals, arrangement; His stepson is filmmaker/author Jason V Brock (1967-1969)
  • John Ike Walton - drums (1965-1967)
  • Benny Thurman - bass, vocals (1965-1966)
  • Ronnie Leatherman - bass, vocals (1965-1966, 1967-1968)
  • Danny Galindo - bass (1966-1968, 1968-1969)
  • Duke Davis - bass (1968)
  • Fred Mitchim - Guitar, vocals (2015)
  • Eli Southard - Guitar (2015)

Other Collaborators and contributors

  • Powell St. John - member of Mother Earth, songwriter (Slide Machine, You Don't Know, Monkey Island, Take That Girl, Kingdom of Heaven, Right Track Now)
  • Clementine Hall - wife of Tommy Hall, vocals and songwriting collaborations with Erickson (Splash 1, I Had to Tell You)

Post-Elevators careers and reunions

After pleading insanity in response to drugs charges--he was arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint--Roky Erickson was committed to a mental hospital in 1969. Jason Ankeny of has written that the treatments Erickson received during his three-and-a-half-year confinement may have contributed to his subsequent mental troubles. At that point the Elevators had already dissolved, although local promoters, along with their record label, International Artists, made some attempts to keep the band's name alive. Erickson attempted a sporadic solo career, burdened by management who exploited his instability and involved him in contracts that left him no control or profit from his music. After staying mostly out of sight in the 1980s, Erickson gradually returned to music in the 1990s, especially when the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye--featuring players from ZZ Top, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and R.E.M., all of whom claimed Erickson's or the Elevators' influence--was released. He recorded All That May Do My Rhyme for the Trance Syndicate label, owned by the Butthole Surfers's King Coffey, who claimed Erickson told him it was the first time he'd ever been given a royalty check for his music. By 2001, Erickson's brother Sumner had been awarded custody of the troubled musician and helped him receive better psychological treatment, restore his physical health, and connect with a legal team that helped him untangle his complicated past contracts and begin receiving more royalties for his music.[]I Have Always Been Here Before, a 43-track compilation of his post-Elevators music, was released in 2005, and Erickson receives full royalties for the set. In 2010, he released True Love Cast Out All Evil, a full-length collaboration with indie rock band Okkervil River.[13]

Stacy Sutherland formed his own band, Ice, which performed only in Houston and never released any material. In 1969, after a battle with heroin addiction, he was imprisoned in Texas on drug charges, the culmination of several years of drug-related trouble with the law. After his release Sutherland began to drink heavily. He continued to sporadically play music throughout the 1970s, occasionally with former members of the Elevators. Sutherland was accidentally shot and killed by his wife Bunny on August 24, 1978 during a domestic dispute, and is buried in Center Point, Kerr County, Texas.[14]

Danny Galindo played bass with Jimmie Vaughan's (Stevie Ray's older brother) band Storm in Austin, Texas, during the 1970s. He died in 2001 from complications of hepatitis C.

Danny Thomas left the 13th Floor Elevators in 1968 and was hired to perform with blues guitarist Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins. After leaving Texas and returning to North Carolina, he played from 1970 to 1997 with: Lou Curry Band, Dogmeat, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, and Bessie Mae's Dream. During this time, he owned his own delivery company called Gophers, Inc. Prior to that he worked in accounting at Carolinas Medical Center (formerly Charlotte Memorial Hospital). He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife, Juanette, and they have two daughters, Christina Juanette Thomas Davis, and Tiffany Joan Thomas Johnson, and son Jason V Brock.

Benny Thurman joined a string of other bands, most notably Mother Earth, with Powell St. John, and played with Plum Nelly in the 1970s.

Tommy Hall currently lives in downtown San Francisco.[15] In the 1980s he was rumored to be the true identity of Texas outsider musician Jandek, but this has since been disproven. He became a devout follower of Scientology in the 1970s.

Various Elevators tribute/related bands exist, such as The John Ike Walton Revival, featuring namesake John Ike Walton and Fred Mitchim, The Tommy Hall Schedule featuring Fred Mitchim, and Acid Tomb, featuring members of the Alice Rose. Erickson's youngest brother Sumner Erickson covers many Elevators songs with his band the Texcentrics.

A partial 13th Floor Elevators reunion took place at Liberty Lunch in Austin in 1984, with Roky alongside John Ike Walton on drums and Ronnie Leatherman on bass, with Sutherland's place taken by guitarist Greg Forest. Tommy Hall did not participate.

On May 10, 2015 members of the band (Erickson, Hall, Leatherman, and Walton) joined for a 50th Anniversary reunion concert appearance at the psychedelic music festival Austin Psych Fest (Levitation 2015). Stacy Sutherland's guitar duties were covered by Fred Mitchim and Eli Southard.


Today, the 13th Floor Elevators continue to influence new generations of musicians. In 1990, 21 contemporary bands--including R.E.M., ZZ Top, Richard Lloyd, David Leonard, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Primal Scream--recorded covers of Elevators songs on Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, one of the first tribute albums, in what would become a fad. In 2005, a panel at the SXSW music festival discussed the music of the Elevators and Powell St. John, one of the Elevators' songwriters.

The song You're Gonna Miss Me was covered by influential Australian group Radio Birdman on the 1978 release of their album Radios Appear.

The song Reverberation was covered by Echo and the Bunnymen in 1990 with singer Noel Burke.

Seminal 1980s drone/space-rock band Spacemen 3 were influenced by the 13th Floor Elevators, covering Roller Coaster twice, for their debut album, Sound of Confusion and as a 17-minute version for their debut EP Walkin' With Jesus. Vocalist/guitarist Pete Kember also covered Thru the Rhythm with his post-Spacemen 3 project Spectrum.

Slip Inside This House was covered by Scottish alternative rock band Primal Scream on their album Screamadelica, by Norwegian band Madrugada, by New York noise rock band Oneida on their 2000 album Come on Everybody Let's Rock, and by electronic band The Shamen on their 1992 promo Make It Mine.

Other notable covers are You're Gonna Miss Me by the Psychotic Pineapple, (I've Got) Levitation by Julian Cope, and Reverberation (Doubt) by the Jesus and Mary Chain. ZZ Top also covered Reverberation (Doubt) for the Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye tribute album in 1990[16] and re-released it again on their Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box compilation in 2008.[17]

Le Bonne Route, a 1996 album by Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman, features a song titled Lunatics at the Edge of the World, which Tek described as An ode to Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson.

In the 2000 movie High Fidelity, You're Gonna Miss Me played in the opening scene, and is the first song on the movie soundtrack.

In 2006, Dell Computers used You're Gonna Miss Me in a television ad for their XPS laptop.

On April 24, 2007, during a radio promotion/interview before a concert, Jesse Lacey of Brand New credited the inspiration and a few lyrics for the song Degausser to Roky Erickson.

In 2009, You're Gonna Miss Me was used at length during a scene in episode 21 of Alan Ball's HBO series True Blood, culminating in a frantic, ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Lafayette Reynolds and Lettie Mae Thornton to remove Tara Thornton from the demonic influence of maenad Maryann Forrester.

The band has also been an influence on the "stoner rock" scene. Bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Nebula, and Names and Faces regard them as an important influence.

Noted Hollywood actor Johnny Depp praised the Elevators in a 2005 interview with Esquire magazine: "Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, a band out of Texas. They were basically the first psychedelic-rock band. 1965. And if you listen to old 13th Floor Elevators stuff--Roky Erickson especially, his voice--and then go back and listen to early Led Zeppelin, you know that Robert Plant absolutely copped everything from Roky Erickson. And it's amazing. And Roky Erickson is sitting in Austin, Texas; he's just there. And Robert Plant had a huge hit. It always goes back to those guys, you know? I love those fucking guys."

Texas recording artist Ray Wylie Hubbard says, "No band was cooler than the 13th Floor Elevators," in his song Screw You, We're from Texas from his 2003 album Growl.

On January 19, 2014, the song The Kingdom of Heaven (Is Within You) was featured at the end of episode 2 of True Detective.


Charting singles
  • You're Gonna Miss Me / Tried to Hide (January/May 1966) - No. 55 Billboard, No. 50 Cash Box in October 1966
  • Reverberation (Doubt) / Fire Engine (October 1966) - No. 129 on Billboard's Bubbling Under in November 1966
Uncharted singles
  • I've Got Levitation / Before You Accuse Me (February 1967)
  • She Lives (In a Time of Her Own) / Baby Blue (Late 1967)
  • Slip Inside This House / Splash 1 (February 1968)
  • May the Circle Remain Unbroken / I'm Gonna Love You Too (Fall 1968)
  • Livin' On / Scarlet and Gold (Early 1969)
CD box sets
Vinyl box sets
  • Music of the Spheres (2011)

See also


  1. ^ "Okkervil River Are Roky Erickson's New Backing Band". Chart Attack. 12 January 2010. Retrieved 2016. 
  2. ^ Needs, Kris (October 2014). "The 13th Floor Elevators - Live Evolution Lost". Record Collector. No. 432. Retrieved 2016. 
  3. ^ Knowles, Christopher (2010). The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll. Cleis Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-57344-405-7. 
  4. ^ Nagelberg, Kenneth M. (2001). "Acid Rock". In Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat. The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. p. 8. 
  5. ^ White, Timothy (June 1986). Reviews. SPIN Media LLC. p. 34. ISSN 0886-3032. 
  6. ^ 13th Floor Elevators - The Complete Reference File by Patrick Lundborg, 2002
  7. ^ The International Artists Record label by Patrick Lundborg, 2008
  8. ^ a b c d e Drummond, Paul (Dec 2007). Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators. Process Media. ISBN 978-0-9760822-6-2. 
  9. ^ a b Moser, Margaret (August 20, 2004). "John Ike Walton". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2007. 
  10. ^ "Powell St. John". Terrascope Online. 2009. Retrieved . 
  11. ^ Vorda, Allen (1994). Psychedelic Psounds: Interviews from A to Z with 60s Psychedelic and Garage Bands. Borderline Productions. ISBN 0-9512875-9-1. 
  12. ^!page50
  13. ^ " True Love Cast Out All Evil by Roky Erickson and Okkervil River". Retrieved . 
  14. ^ "Music: High Baptismal Flow: Part 2: The 13th Floor Elevators' ground floors: Where are they now?". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved . 
  15. ^ Trybyszewski, Joe (August 13, 2004). "Where the Pyramid Meets the High". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2007. 
  16. ^ Original versions of Reverberation (Doubt) by ZZ Top. SecondHandSongs (1990-10-19). Retrieved on 2014-04-23.
  17. ^ Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box: ZZ Top: MP3 Downloads. Retrieved on 2014-04-23.


  • Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators by Paul Drummond, foreword by Julian Cope (Process Media, December 2007)

External links

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