|13th Floor Elevators|
However, as the underground became trendy, it also brought with it new places to see bands. The area by Buffalo Bayou was being redeveloped into Allen’s Landing. It became a hippie entertainment district with Love Street and other clubs, head shops and clothing boutiques, and large crowds of people. Other places, their names are lost to me, opened closer to downtown.
One name that I do remember is The Cellar. I kept hearing about a band playing there called American Blues. They were supposed to be really good and the guys had blue hair. I finally got to see them a couple of times. Their music was good but not memorable. Plus, I was really disappointed that they no longer had blue hair. I really wanted to see the guys with blue hair. Someone told that they quit dyeing their hair because it was too hard on it.
Another band that played there was Red Crayola. They were a hardcore hippie band with a style that was the future of the movement. Their clothing wasn’t the flamboyant mod/victorian style that was popular, but more down to earth, simpler really. Mayo Thompson, with super long hair and a big full beard, wore bib overalls while leading a pack of hippies making cerebral, visionary music. Their music was freestyle and adventurous while making a statement, much like Zappa. It was all part of the movement gaining popularity.
As I look back now, I can’t remember a particular timeline to 1966. Much is a jumble of memories that I am unable to untangle. I went to so many different places and met a lot of people. There was no need to plan. Every night was a new adventure. I could go anywhere and run into someone to hang out with.
Houston was a great place to be, with something to do every night. Sometimes, it would be a gathering out in the woods near southwest Houston. People would park by the bayou and then just wander through the trees. One never knew just what adventure could be found. Sometimes you would find a group sharing a bottle or a bowl. Sometimes a group would be playing a silly made-up game. Always kind and generous, at least, until the parties became well known.
That summer, a number of big music acts came to Houston. The highlights were probably the Beatles and, the following week, the Stones. My problem was that I could only afford one show. I thought the Beatles were kinda lame and I knew that the Stones were really good, so I picked The Stones.
Little did I know that I would get to see the Stones several more times, while 1966 was the Beatles last tour. It really doesn’t bother me much, I still think the Beatles are kinda lame, and I got to see the Stones with Brian Jones. I can still visualize him sitting cross-legged playing the sitar, while the band did “Paint It Black”. It is still my favorite Stones song.
The audience at both shows was mainly young girls, whose constant screaming drowned out any hope of appreciating the music. Thankfully, as the music business became bigger, shows became more about the music and the screaming went away. Sadly, as the music scene grew, it brought with it the excesses and egos of the seventies that have carried on to this day.
One of highlights of that summer, La Maison reopened in the old church. The church was a small, white, slightly rectangular building. The only floor was ground level. The side walls had a series of evenly spaced windows. It was just like many other small churches across the country. One entered through the front door into a small foyer, then into a large open room where the pews had been removed. On the far side was where the altar and choir had been, about four feet higher than the floor. This was where the bands set up. On weekends the place would be packed, the streets were jammed with parked cars for blocks around. On the radio, “Summer in the City” was the song of the summer and described the summer perfectly.
I was pretty lucky. Through the week, I would get off work and blast down to La Maison to catch the bands. The huge crowds were missing and the music fans could appreciate the show. I seem to remember The Misfits played there regularly. They carried the Texas psychedelic flag proudly, and improved every time that I saw them. However, Euphoria was the band that made the summer. They were a hard rockin’ three piece from SoCal. They were loud, tight, and fast, hammering out the songs. They were the first band that I remember doing “Hey Joe”. It wasn’t done slow like Hendrix but fast and hard with screaming vocals and a thundering, driving, bass. It vibrated the whole place. They are probably the best band that no one has ever heard.
Of all the distant memories of people, bands, and places, my memories of the Elevators stand out. In my foggy memory, it seems that the Elevators made two trips to California. The first lasted a short time, the second, seemed like forever. We were all thrilled when the Elevators returned. They were still playing the teen clubs. I saw them numerous times at The Living Eye. I can’t remember the time line, or, much about the club except that there was seating in front of a low stage. I sat in the middle, right up front.
The Elevators were even better than when they had left. They had gotten a new sound system with reverb that added tremendously to their psychedelic sound. They also lengthened the instrumental breaks with more improvisation, an even more spacy feeling, without being excessive. I went to see them every chance I got, mesmerized by the experience. The place would be packed and everyone would be focused on the performance, tapping our feet and nodding our heads in time to the gift of music that captured our complete attention. The gift the Elevators provided. Their performances were magic. It seemed as though they were sharing a vision, a higher inspiration and focus of thought that transferred to the audience. It was an experience that I’ve never seen with another band.
An unusual gig for The Elevators was a show at a community center in Bellaire. The center was much like a high school gymnasium, wooden floor basketball court with bleachers, well-lit. I got there early to get a good spot. When I arrived, there was already a bunch of younger kids there, junior high probably. They were dressed all preppy-like and it was obvious that they were regulars and we were on their turf. I knew one of the guys running the lightshow, and talked with them and watched them setup, while waiting for the show. The lightshow was a new development and was very primitive by today’s standards. There was a strobe light or two, and an overhead projector, like used for presentations. On the bed of the projector was two pieces of glass. In between the glass was a mixture of oil and water. The operator would manually manipulate the glass to project dancing amoeba-like shapes on the wall behind the band.
As the show grew closer, more and more followers of the band started showing up. People with long hair, beads, granny glasses, sandals or boots, bell bottoms, and loose, flowing shirts with puffy sleeves. They were people with a cheerful, gracious attitude. I could feel the excitement grow as the younger kids saw these strange looking people invade” their” space.
The lights were dimmed, then the Elevators took the stage and it was electric. These strange and scruffy guys ripped through some songs from “Psychedelic Sounds” and the young kids were blown away, just like I had been at my first trip to La Maison. Then, Tommy stepped up to the microphone and said “This is a song we just wrote”. They tore into “Levitation” and it soared up a notch. It shook the place, it was incredible. Roky wailed, “Heading for the Ceiling, High up off the floor”. Man, I can’t think of the words to adequately describe it, they were on fire and soaring higher. They were speeding to new heights. With that song, the Elevators showed what they were becoming, and the young kids understood what it was all about. I’m sure that many became hippies that night.
Early in 1967, all of the heads in Houston were excited about a huge show that was coming up. The Elevators would be playing The Music Theatre. It was going to be big. Conqueroo, the Elevators, and a Psychedelic Light Show. It was incredible. We all thought that The Elevators would finally take their place alongside the other big music acts of the time. They would show the world that they were every bit as good as The Stones or The Beatles.
Sadly, the big show was a big letdown, a disappointment. The sound that was so loud and driving in a small venue was overwhelmed by the size of the auditorium. In all fairness, the Beatles and the Stones had the same problem. When the band came out, they seemed bewildered. When they started to play, the sharpness, the drive, was off. When the lightshow started, they were distracted, and stopped, before beginning the disjointed music again. They continued for a while but were never able to actually get a groove going. They stumbled through a number of songs, stopped, and it looked like nobody knew what to do next. Tommy stepped up to the microphone, said “So Long”, and that was it. We were as confused as the band. It seemed that nobody knew what had happened.
Another huge new event was at a Love-in in Hermann Park. There had been a number of love-ins in California, and Texas was going to put their spin on it. It was warm and sunny. A beautiful, spring day in Houston, and Hermann Park was full of hippies. It was a huge turnout of people, like I had never seen before. It was a happy day. It was thrilling to see so many people who were turned on to the scene. It looked to be a start to a bright new future, and it was. The new scene was blossoming. The Summer of Love was coming and it seemed as though the whole world was joining in. There was no stopping it. The music, fashion and attitude of the counterculture would grow, evolve, and, in many ways, change the world.
The Elevators were giving a free show as a gift to the new society that had gathered there, the society that they had helped create. After the Elevators set, I stopped Tommy and spoke with him about philosophy for a while before leaving. Shortly after leaving, a guy with us began complaining about his heart racing. It turned out that he had been popping uppers all day. We rushed him to a hospital where they pumped his stomach. That was a first for me, an overdose. It was also a last for me. It was the last time that I saw The Elevators perform with Roky. Shortly after that, I had to leave Texas.
I wound up in Kansas City, where the scene was a lot different from Texas. I would tell people about the Elevators and play their records, but they were unable to grasp the magic. I told them that in Texas, the Elevators were as popular as the Beatles and the Stones. I tried to describe the live music scene. They thought that I was crazy. They couldn’t get past what they were accustomed to. Fortunately, I managed to keep in touch with a couple of friends who would write and tell me what was going on in Texas. One sent me a copy of “Easter Everywhere” when it came out. I was impressed how their music had evolved and matured. I wore it out missing everything that I was missing. In 1969, one of my friends came to Kansas City and told me sad news. He was devastated, and I remember his words. “They took Roky away. It was bad. He couldn’t talk, he wouldn’t eat. I don’t know what is going to happen to him”. I later heard that Roky had been committed, but it was years before I knew just how bad it had been.
I went back to Texas to visit a couple of times. On one of my visits to Houston, I learned the Elevators would be playing Love Street. They were trying to go on without Roky. I asked a friend about it, expecting him to be as excited as I but he only said, “Well, it’s The Elevators”. He was right. It was The Elevators, but without Roky, the magic just wasn’t there. It was disappointing. The performance was good enough, but not special. It was not The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Things change and people move on. The Elevators became a legend, and, I came to realize that my place was no longer Texas.
My memories of my short time in Texas have never left me. I will always have a fondness for the people and places. In the days before the internet, I was elated to see the occasional mention of the Elevators, or anything about Texas, in Rolling Stone. It was there that I learned of Stacy’s death. Sometime in the eighties, I learned of a Roky tribute album and made the effort to order it. I was glad to see Roky finally getting some of the recognition that he deserved.
One Saturday at Love Garden Records in Lawrence, Kansas, I saw a box set of four Elevators albums in CD form. I was walking past a display case and it just caught my eye. I couldn’t believe it. I had to ask them to let me see it and touch it, just to be sure that I was really seeing what I thought. It was beyond belief that, twenty years later, an English-made box set of the Elevators music showed up at an independent record shop in Lawrence, Kansas. When the Elevators were performing, they were largely unknown outside of Texas and California. This box set and the tribute album introduced my son to The Elevators and I am proud to say that he is a fan. When his friends began talking of discovering Roky and the Elevators, he was able to say “I’ve heard them” and share the gift of the Elevator’s music.
It has been five decades since a group of young Texans came together with a vision. At the time, they had hopes and dreams for the future and what they wanted to accomplish. Today, their future has arrived and, with the gift of hindsight, we are able to see how much those young people were able to achieve. In their own way, they actually did change the world and, like many great artists, their true impact is only being fully appreciated years later. Soon, the remaining members of the Elevators will once again perform as a group. The world of today should rejoice. The world can once again appreciate a live performance of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.