Allan Vorda Interview - 13th Floor Elevators
13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS
Interview by Allan Vorda.
Webwork, slack that it is, by Duane Franklet. Coming Soon: Early interviews with Ted Nugent, Big Brother & More
Most pictures courtesy of Clementine Hall.
Similar material published in Psychedelic Psounds: Interviews from A to Z from Borderline Press, UK.
The 13th Floor Elevators formed as a band in Austin, Texas in late 1965. Tommy Hall, a University of Texas philosophy/psychology student, had been experimenting with psychedelics and playing the jug in a folk band. Hall came up with the unique idea of placing a microphone next to his jug which created a very unusual sound. He could see that combining his electric jug with psychedelic lyrics opened up a strange new territory, and Hall recruited several additional musicians from a Port Aransas-Rockport area group called the Lingsmen: Stacy Sutherland (lead guitar), Benny Thurman (bass), and John Ike Walton (drums). The final link was Roky Erickson.
Erickson was seventeen when he had written and released a local Top Ten single with The Spades (August 1965/zero Records) called "You're Gonna Miss Me." He was an accomplished rhythm guitar player with a powerful voice, and The Elevators signed with a Houston record company called International Artists. "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators" was released in August 1966, and the song "You're Gonna Miss Me" eventually reached #56. The album also included such psychedelic songs as "Roller Coaster," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Reverberation (Doubt)," and "Splash 1."
Before a second album had been attempted, internal friction and drug problems forced the departure of John Ike Walton and Benny Thurman. Replacements were found in Danny Thomas (drums) and Ronnie Leatherman (bass) although Leatherman only lasted until July 1967 to be replaced by Danny Galindo. This unit entered the studio for two months to cut the worthy follow- up album Easter Everywhere (Sept. 1967). It contained an eight minute poem "Slip Inside This House" as well as "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)" and a cover of Dylan's "Baby Blue."
The Elevators did a good deal of touring that included an appearance on the Dick Clark show. When the Elevators had finished their song, Dick Clark innocently asked Roky, "Who is the head of the band?" Roky's response was, "We're all heads."
The Elevators were having a rough time of it in Texas as they were constantly in trouble the police and the Texas Rangers. The penalty at that time for being caught with one joint was twenty years in jail. The first time the Elevators were busted they were not prosecuted due to a technicality, but a second bust occurred at a state university with Roky being ordered to stand trial. The defense attorney decided a plea of insanity (based on Roky's altered state) would be less harsh for his client, but the result was a five year sentence. Roky would spend the next three and a half years at a mental institution called Rusk State Hospital.
The Elevators, without Roky who was their figurehead and unofficial leader, were finished. International Artists tried to capitalize on what success the Elevators had by releasing The 13th Floor Elevators Live album (January 1968) which was essentially studio outtakes that were overdubbed with phony cheering and applause. The last Elevator album to appear was Bull of the Woods (December 1968) that was primarily the effort of Stacy Sutherland.
The Elevators tried to get back together several times after Roky's release, but an ongoing feud between Roky and Tommy never seemed to get resolved. The death of Stacy Sutherland (killed in a domestic squabble with his wife in 1978) confirmed the Elevators existence was officially over.
Except for a bizarre single called "Red Temple Prayer (Two-Headed Dog)" that was released in 1975, Roky's sabbatical would last thirteen years. Roky Erickson returned with the 1980 album based on B-grade horror movie material called Roky Erickson and the Aliens (August 198O/CBS-U.K.) It was produced by Stu Cook (ex-bass player for Creedence Clearwater Revival) and included such songs as "Creature with the Atom Brain," "Cold Night for Alligators," "Stand for the Fire Demon," and "I Walked with a Zombie."
Roky continued to make several more interesting albums throughout the 1980s, but his mental condition seemed to be deteriorating. Then in 1989 he was charged with the federal crime of tampering with the U.S. Mail---apparently he collected mail for an apartment complex and never gave it to the addressees. Consequently, he went to court where the judge did not believe that Roky had a mental condition and had him sent to Missouri for "testing." At some point in the process, Roky snapped.
Allan Vorda has interviewed Roky several times, and he describes Roky as gracious and coherent, except for the last interview (November 1991) which proved to be "an exercise in futility." The following are the initials used for the interviewees: Roky Erickson (RE); Danny Galindo (DG); Powell St. John (PS); Tary Owens (TO); and Clementine Hall (CH).
AV: How did you first become involved in music?
RE: My mother (Evelyn Erickson) was a singer who was with the University-of Texas Opera Workshop in 1954 and sang in the local church choir from 1947 to 1964. She won the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Content in Austin for singing the aria of Verdi's "La Traviata" in 1957. She then auditioned in Dallas, but Godfrey got cancer and the show was cancelled. Around 1958 I remember she cut a single "Oh, Holy Night"/"Silent Night" for a small label called Echo. She was a great influence as far as singing.
When I was four or five years old, before I could read, my mother had me take piano lessons from a neighbor called Alma Jean Ward. 1 also remember when I was about eight or ten years old that she took lessons on how to play the guitar. Then she would run home and teach my brothers and I how to play the two or three chords she had learned.
AV: Who were the musicians that influenced you?
RE: Little Richard and James Brown both influenced me. James Brown once played in Austin where he started playing his organ---this is meant as a compliment---and it just horrified me. I was scared to death listening to him because he was so involved with his organ playing. And the way he screamed, I couldn't believe it!
I've also been influenced by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and John MayaII and the Bluebreakers. If you get a chance listen to MayaIl because it has the hardest blues. I also like John Lee Hooker and Albert King.
PS: I was at that concert with Roky and Tommy. Roky was definitely blown away. I believe that they were in some kind of altered state at that show, but I can't say what they might have taken.
AV: Please discuss the formation and the members of The Spades. Was this your first group and how did you select the group's name?
RE: I can't remember too much about The Spades. John Kerney was the drummer. We used to practice at my mom's house. I think we first played at a high school talent show.
TO: Roky apparently either was kicked out or dropped out of high school (Travis High School in Austin, TX.) for having long hair.
I don't know how they got their name, but I heard Roky singing with The Spades around 1965. Roky formed The Spades with kids he went to school with and taught them all how to play. Roky basically taught himself how to play guitar.
AV: What were the circumstances behind The Spades' recording of Roky's "You're Gonna Miss Me" for Zero Records in 1966 and how we1l did it sell locally?
TO: "You're Gonna Miss Me" sold pretty well and made the local Top Ten. It also made Roky and The Spades very popular.
AV: The Lingsmen (who were from the Port Aransas-Rockport area) was a band that included Stacy Sutherland (lead guitar), Benny Thurman (electric violin and bass), John Ike Walton (drums) and Max Rainey (vocals). How did The Lingsmen get together with Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall?
PS: All I know is that the Lingsmen were in Rockport and Tommy and Clementine brought them together with Roky.
TO: One of the people I knew was Tommy Hall who was a psychology major at the University of Texas. Originally, we had a band called St. John and the Conqueroo Roots. The band members included Powell St. John on harmonica, Tommy Hall played jug, Charlie Pritchard played banjo, Ed Guinn was on clarinet, and I played rhythm guitar. Powell and I handled most of the singing. We were playing old time blues music, but when the electric thing came along it introduced Tommy to rock. Tommy was also taking a lot of acid at this time. I had given Tommy an old ceramic jug and he came up with the idea of doing it with electricity. He would hold the microphone next to the jug and blow into the microphone with a real high pitch. I believe Tommy knew the Lingsmen and decided immediately to form a band. Tommy brought Stacy and Benny and John Ike from the Lingsmen and introduced them to Roky. Within two weeks they had formed the Elevators and started writing songs and doing material.
AV: Did Tommy and Roky know each other before this?
RY: Yes. I previously had brought Tommy down to the Jade Room to see Roky sing when he was still with The Spades.
AV: Did the Conqueroo mind losing Tommy Hall?
RY: Tommy wasn't that big of a deal to lose sihce he didn't add much to it at the time. We weren't that close of a band and we were just playing for fun. 1 left the band right after Tommy did whereupon the band went electric and became one of the top psychedelic bands in the area. When Powell left to go to California they dropped St. John out of the name and it became just the Conqueroo. The Conqueroo also played a lot of gigs with the Elevators.
Incidentally, the band's name is a voodoo word used in Louisiana black magic. Conqueroo is a type of root plant used as a talisman or charm.
AV: The Austin American newspaper reported that Roky Erickson left The Spades on 12/1/1965 and later stated on 12/9/1965 that Roky had formed the 13th Floor Elevators. What do you remember about this?
TO: Jim Langdon was the local music writer for the Austin AmericanStatesmen and he wrote a column called "Nightbeat" which was about who was playing where. Langdon was a jazz musician who had a good ear. When he first heard Roky he had never heard of a white kid who could sing like James Brown and do that kind of screaming. Langdon was the first writer to announce Roky Erickson had left The Spades (on 12/1/1965) and the first to state (on 12/9/1965) that Roky's new band would be called the 13th Floor Elevators. The Elevators first gig was around the middle of December in a place called the Jade Room. Langdon invited me to come hear the 13th Floor Elevators play so we went down to hear this new band. They had already written several of their own songs including "Tried to Hide." I liked what I heard and started telling my friends about Roky and the Elevators.
AV: I have heard various stories about how the group chose its name. John Ike Walton told me that he originally suggested The Elevators one evening and the next day Tommy's wife Clementine came up with the 13th Floor Elevators. What is the correct story on how the group chose its name?
TO: Yeah, Clementine added 13th Floor after John Ike suggested the Elevators.
PS: I don't know how this occurred, but that there is a disagreement over how it happened comes as no surprise. The Waltons and the Halls were at loggerheads almost from the beginning.
CH: There has been a lot of confusion about who actually named the group the 13th Floor Elevators, but I clearly remember how it happened. I was sitting in our bedroom with Tommy when he asked me what they should call the band. I suggested the Elevators to Tommy, not only because the band was making psychedelic music, but because I thought it would sound like a black band who had names like the Miracles or the Temptations. We would always listen to R & B groups, especially at this one place where we always ate barbeque.
A few days later Tommy came back and said the rest of the band liked the suggestion of the Elevators, but they thought it wasn't long enough. It was then that I suggested the 13th Floor Elevators. Adding 13th Floor to the name E1evators provided various interpretations. The most obvious being the thirteenth floor was nonexistent in the older high rise buildings. "M" is also the thlrteenth letter in the alphabet and so "M" could stand for marijuana. Thirteen is, and always has been, my lucky number.AV: Tommy Hall's lyrics presented a different way of looking at the world through music. He provided a strange intellectual brew that combined drugs, philosophy, and religion which was stirred by the echoes from his electric jug. How would you describe his
philosophy? TO: Tommy was into people like Gurdjieff and Nietzsche and he espoused this philosophy to the rest of the Elevators. It was a manipulative philosophy that was right-wing, almost facist.
AV: Was it Tommy Hall who came up with the idea to use psychedelic 1yrics and put it to music?
PS: I would credit Tommy Hall with that idea. Of course Tommy was a big Bob Dylan fan so the idea may not have been completely original with him.
AV: Since Tommy Hall was older than Roky and the other guys in the band, did he have a Svengali-type influence? I've heard he may have pushed some of the band members into a direction that maybe they shouldn't have gone or perhaps a little bit too far.
CH: This was a problem of a more serious nature and has to do with the so called "on-going feud" between Roky and Tommy. Roky and Tommy were mad about each other and everybody loved one another in the beginning. Tommy was the adult sage; Roky was the child-like student. Sparks would fly because Tommy wanted Roky to be more adult-like while Roky wanted Tommy to be more father-like. Tommy could get very mature, very staid, almost cold in his approach to Roky.
TO: Tommy was a manipu1ator and frankly I never trusted him. I had second thoughts as soon as I introduced him to Roky that this might not be a good thing. Tommy used acid to manipulate the rest of that band, but it wasn't in a violent direction. Tommy wasn't a violent person and he thought he was doing the right thing. He thought drugs were the key to the universe. They were all into this acid-disillusional thing. It affected Roky the most, but there wasn't a single person in that band that wasn't physically and/or mentally damaged by what happened back then.
Our generation took a lot of drugs and to some extent we were damaged by the trips we took. We thought we were going to change the world for the better. We thought we found Better Living Through Chemistry. It turned out the drugs did open the door to spirituality for some of us, but it also opened the door to death and destruction. The drugs stopped being our friends and became our enemies.AV: What can you tell us about Tommy Hall and Roky Erickson in the early days?
CH: I was born in 1939 and was the daughter of a military family (Col. Egan Tausch) that traveled all over the world. I married at seventeen and had two children (Laura and Roland) by the time I was nineteen, but I knew very little of the world until l met Tommy Hall. It was around 1963 when I met Tommy. I was an English major and planned to do my thesis on the metaphysical poets such as John Donne. Yet it was Tommy who was the true poet.
Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of one of his lyrics which helps me face each day. For example, Tommy's lyrics from "Slip Inside This House" have always been uplifting and positive for me: "Everyday's another dawning/Give the morning wind a chance/Always catch your thunder yawning/Lift your mind into the dance/Sweep the shadows from your awning/Shrink the four-fold circumstance/That lies outside this house/Don't pass it by." Tommy was a brilliant poet whose creativity seemed almost unending and boundless. I think it was Mozart who said that his "tunes came straight from God." Tommy was just like that. He seemed to jump from mountain top to mountain top while the rest of us had to climb up and down to get to where he was.
Roky Erickson was the same way with melodies. Roky would come up with the music on an acoustic guitar which would be recorded on a very small tape. Roky would give Tommy the tape who would take the tape back to our place and he would write the lyrics around Roky's melodies. The songs were natural, even organic in the sense there was no formal structure. This is how we felt about making music and it was also a reflection of the band as a whole.
The Elevators were like one big happy family, at least in the beginning. I knew and loved all the guys intimately but never in the physical sense. The only person I truly loved in the band was my husband, but I dearly loved all the other members in the band, almost like a mother hen. 1 suppose this was partly due to our difference in age since I was about twenty-six, Tommy was twenty-four and Roky was eighteen when the Elevators started playing in 1965.
I adored Roky. He always had this child-like quality about him and girls used to throw themselves at him. I got to know Roky intimately from turning on with him. There were evenings when Tommy would fall asleep and Roky and I would stay up all night and talk about whatever topic came up. Quite often these sessions would include John Kerney (Roky's best friend and former drummer in The Spades) and his girlfriend Susan. John and Susan later married and were always great friends with us.
AV: Tommy Hall supposedly turned the Elevators onto LSD. Do you remember the first time you did LSD, Roky?
RE: No, I can't remember.
AV: Do you feel LSD expanded your consciousness in any way?
RE: It is what it is.
CH: There was a lot of drug use going on, but this was part of Tommy's philosophy of exploring our brave new world through music. Music was our diary to capture what we were experiencing. Yet Tommy never believed in any drugs that he considered destructive such as heroin or speed or any drug that required a needle. This was partly due to Tommy and the band's estrangement from Benny who had gotten heavily into speed.
Tommy believed that if the Indians had been doing natural drugs for 5OO years or so then there were no harmfu1 effects. This meant that drugs like peyote, mushrooms, marijuana, and hashish were acceptable with LSD being a natural extension.
AV: What was that "funny little sound" in the background of the 13th Floor Elevators' songs?
RE: It's an amplified jug. Have you ever neard of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band? They used a jug, but they didn't put a mike to it. Since you can't put an amplifier on it or a little pick-up, then Tommy thought about putting a microphone right next to it.
PS: Tommy Hall was a peripheral figure in the folk music scene at the University of~Texas. Folk music was the "in" thing on college campuses in the early 6Os and jug bands were a part of this. As the scene shifted toward electric music the electric jug was a logical step.
AV: There was an album released in 198O that was titled Epitaph of a Legend which was a collection of songs by groups that recorded for the International Artists label. It said the jug that Tommy used was full of some kind of herb.
RE: It might have been. It was a real hard to find antique pottery jug.
AV: I believe he held a microphone next to the jug that made the actual "chuga-chuga" sound and never actually blew into the jug as many assume.
TO: That's true. He could have done it without the jug. The jug was a prop. He could have done it with just the microphone, but it looked more like an instrument on stage and there was some resonance coming out of the jug.
AV: Do you recall how Tommy came up with that idea?
TO: He was a fan of jazz music and it was jazz scat, like Charlie Parker, taking it and running on top of the music.
AV: Benny Thurman played electric fiddle for the Lingsmen. What was the reason that he switched to bass and why didn't he play electric fiddle with the Elevators?
TO: Benny played regular fiddle when the Lingsmen played bluegrass while John Ike played banjo and Stacy played acoustic guitar. When the Lingsmen switched to rock and roll John Ike played drums and Benny played bass. Later on Benny played electric violin, but with the Elevators he played bass guitar.
AV: Do you remember what it was like the first time the Elevators jammed? Where did they practice?
TO: I think they practiced at Tommy's place. Tommy had an apartment at 9O9 West 22nd Street. My wife and I also lived in that same building although later Tommy moved out to 38 1/2 Street.
AV: Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has stated (Washington Post article by Richard Leiby on 6/23/1991) that "the Elevators sound was unititiated by outside sources. Essentially, a new sound was created like nothing heard before or since. How could these guys (who in 1965 were in the middle of Texas in an atmosphere that was conservative/country/redneck/Baptist) come up with this sound?
TO: One thing was that they were all incredibly talented muscians and the other thing was drugs. You can talk about the negative influence of acid, but there was a positive influence initially. The use of drugs made some magic happen to help make that music, but the Elevators were also incredibly talented musicians. Roky is probably the finest white rock and roll singer that has ever come out of Texas. Stacy Sutherland was raised in Kerrville and is one of the great guitar players of Texas---perhaps more so than Billy Gibbons---who is very much underappreciated. John Ike Walton was an excellent drummer and Benny Thurman was an excellent bass player. They were great musicians.
Stacy had this Duane Eddy-type guitar that had a high reverb and real strong bass lines, yet Stacy came up with his own sound. Stacy's guitar helped set up Roky's voice and the little weird noises that Tommy made through the jug. They wrote their own material, but they were also a great cover band. They could do covers better than the originals. Roky and Tommy have received most of the recognition for the success of the Elevators, but I also think Stacy has never received credit on how much he contributed to the musical sound of the band.
CH: In all honesty, Stacy was a musician's musician; he practically lived with his guitar. It must have been upsetting to him to take a backseat to Tommy's jug and was why Stacy felt the jug shouldn't be used as much, at least not on every song. Yet the direction of the band and most of the lyrics were primarily due to Tommy. It should be noted that when the mix was right between the jug and guitar (e.g., "Roller Coaster," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Postures") it was a perfect marriage.
AV: What was it like to play such venues as the Jade Room, the New Orleans Club, and (in Houston) Love Street Light Circus?
RE: Those places were so swank.
TO: The Elevators alternated between the New Orleans Club and the Jade Room which were the major places to play. Then they started to go down to Houston to Love Street. They also played at an auditorium in Houston with a revolving stage called Theatre of the Round.
Left to Right: Benny Thurman (back to camera), Roky Erickson, Tommy Hall, Stacy Sutherland
AV: Did the Elevators and Bubble Puppy, who were both signed to International Artists, share a commune house in Houston?
RE: I never really lived in Houston except to hang out.
AV: It has been rumored and even stated (Rock Movers & Shakers) that Janis Joplin either auditioned and/or sang with the Elevators in June of 1966 and that there was consideration given to her being co-vocalist with Roky Erickson.
TO: That's true. Janis and 1 grew up in Port Arthur and we were really good friends. Jim Langdon also wrote some articles about Janis in an attempt to get her singing career going again. Janis had been singing in California and she had a bout with drug addiction. She came back to Texas to get straightened out and after she did she wanted to sing again. Jim Langdon arranged for her to come back to Austin and play at a place called The 11th Door doing bluesy-folk stuff. It was a benefit show for Teodar Jackson who had been killed. The 11th Door was located where Symphony Square is now by 11th and Red River.
A number of musicians performed such as myself and Powell St. John, but of particular interest was that Janis sang and the Elevators closed the show. Roger Baker did a light show which was done at the Methodist Student Center. It was the first light show in Austin which was during June 1966 and it may have been the first light show in the country, possibly before anything in California.
Janis met the Elevators and there was talk of Janis joining the band, but she got an offer to go back to California and join Big Brother and the Holding Company. So she took that instead of staying with the Elevators.
CH: There were always people stopping by our place. One time Janis Joplin came over and went to our bedroom where we had a tape recorder. We stepped outside for a while and when we came back Janis told us she had taped herself singing. "We didn't know you could sing!" I said. But Janis was so insecure and wanted to be liked that she refused to have us play the tape while she was there.
"I'm going to walk around the block a couple of times," Janis said, "but please don't say anything if you think it's bad." Janis then left while we listened to the tape. When she returned we told her what a great singer she was. I think our compliments really helped her confidence. This was quite a while before she hooked up with Big Brother and the Holding Company in California and became a superstar. Most people who remember Janis with Big Brother probably think of this young woman who was so effusive and frenetic on stage, but the Janis we knew in Texas was the polar opposite---except that she could always sing.
PS: As far as the idea of Janis joining The Elevators is concerned, I doubt if that was ever a serious consideration on Janis' part for two reasons. Number one, Janis didn't like psychedelic drugs and, number two, she tended to avoid anyone who was too open in the use of any drug. She would have found the Elevators' whole raison d'etre to be "uncool."
AV: It seems unmistakeable that Janis Joplin borrowed part of her vocal style from Roky Erickson. This can be detected upon listening to the Big Brother and the Holding Company Live LP which was recorded live at California Hall in San Francisco on 7/28/1966 which was only a month after Janis Joplin left Texas and joined Big Brother. Janis' vocals on "Coo Coo" (which later used the same music but different lyrics to evolve into "Oh, Sweet Mary" on the Cheap Thrills LP) sounds like an exact copy of Roky's vocal style as far as vocal delivery and especially the screeching vocals. Do you agree with this assessment?
TO: I agree totally. Frankly, I think Janis got a lot of her rock and roll singing chops by listening to Roky. She had been listening to Jerry La Croix in Louisiana with the Boogie Kings and Jerry "Count" Jackson and the Counts and heard white people could sing the blues. Then she heard Roky.
AV: Please describe what the atmosphere was like in the mid 6Os playing psychedelic music and having long hair in the state of Texas which had a good number of longhairs and freaks, but which was essentially redneck and ultra-conservative.
RE: It was kind of scary, if you know what l mean.
CH: The tough times I mentioned included such things as the Elevators being blamed for turning young people on to drugs with our music. Men were also constantly harrassing the Elevators for their long hair. We were very isolated; yet we thought we were very whole- wholesome, very moral, and very ethical.
During these tough times we would often be saved or uplifted by Roky's miracle quality which we called "safety devices." He would see some bad vibes or a fight about to happen, but Roky would always come up with the words to make friends with anybody.
TO: In a way we all did change the world. It was pretty hard to have long hair in Texas at that time and there was a lot of harrasment by the police. I don't think a lot of people born after 197O realize what these guys went through in the 6Os. The Elevators were essentially the first psychedelic band in the country. San Francisco has gotten a lot of credit for the psychedelic movement, but a lot of it was replicated from the musicians and their ideas that started right here in Texas.
PS: On the contrary, there were not many long hairs and freaks in Texas prior to 1967, and it was open season on the few there were. For instance, Chet Helm was jailed in Laredo the evening of November 22, 1963 as a suspect in the JFK assassination simply because of the fact that he had shoulder length hair. As the decade wore on the various elements in society became more polarized: the political liberals against the political conservatives; the social liberals vs. the social conservatives; the hip vs. the square; the doves vs. the hawks; the freaks vs. the straights. I left Austin for San Francisco in the late summer of 1966 because the pervasive atmosphere of impending doom simply got to be more than l could wrestle with. Every week saw another rumor of the Big Bust. When the Elevators were busted it was rumored that it was only the beginning and that sooner or later the entire community would be rounded up.
AV: The group was busted at Tommy Hall's apartment in July of 1966. What happened and how did the band get out of incarceration when the state law of Texas at the time could put a person in jail for twenty years for one joint?
RE: They decided not to do it to us. We got let off on probation.
CH: The first time we were busted was at Tommy's house and included Roky, Stacy, John Ike, Tommy, and l. The arresting officer was well known to us for having the bad reputation of beating up his prisoners for "resisting arrest" on the way to jail. I asked to be arrested, but the police said they didn't want to arrest me. I knew Tommy would be beaten if I didn't go. I then demanded to be arrested whereupon I was taken with the rest of the guys to jail.
Judge Thurmond was the presiding judge and he had a hard-line reputation for putting drug offenders in prison; not just for twenty years, but at hard labor! When our case came up everybody (including Evelyn Erickson and the rest of our parents) was saying prayers and hoping for some sort of miracle.
It turned out that when we appeared in court that Judge Thurmond was sick. Even then we might have been sentenced to prison except that the alternate judge made an error while reading the evidence. The marijuana that was confiscated was a substantial amount, but the drug test for the analysis was worded that a "small amount was tested" which the new judge misconstrued as a "small amount." Consequently, my case was dismissed and the rest of the band received a one year's probation. The downside of our good fortune was that this incident turned John Ike's family against the band whereupon he eventually decided to quit just before Easter Everywhere was made.
AV: How did Powell St. John (who later played harp for the San Francisco band Mother Earth) become involved with the Elevators since he wrote a number of songs (e.g., "You Don't Know," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Monkey Island," "Slide Machine," and "You Gotta Take That Girl") for the group?
PS: By the time the group signed with International Artists and began to record I was out of the country and if any attempt was made to locate me to get my approval it failed. I can but assume that Lelan Rogers figured that I might turn up eventually and so I was listed as John St. Powell in an attempt to protect International Artists from liabil$ty in case I decided to sue. In the summer of 1967 Lelan and his partner showed up at the place I was staying in San Francisco. They had a check (I don't remember how much) which they said was payment for the use of my material. I declined and told them that I intended to use the songs myself and that they had been copyrighted by my own publishing company Mainspring Watchworks Music. I never heard from them again.
TO: Powell's name was written John St. Powell on the first album to avoid having to pay him for publishing fees. It was done intentionally by International Artists.
AV: International Artists didn't want to pay Powell for any songwriting credits since they wanted to keep it for the Elevators?
TO: The Elevators never received any royalties.
AV: All the songs from Psychedelic Sounds (with the possible exception of "You're Gonna Miss Me") have psychedelic connotations. Wasn't this commercial suicide and why did International Artists go along with it?
PS: People in Austin were experimenting with psychedelics (peyote) as early as 1961. In fact, there was an earlier generation of counter culture types who, I am sure, were experimenting with them even earlier than that. Tommy was familiar with Leary and Alpirt. We all read Huxley's Doors of Perception and Drugs and the Mind by Dr. Robert S. DeRoffs. This is what provided the philosophical underpinnings for the Elevators and their music.
TO: This was a brand new sound and everybody was into new sounds. Psychedelic music was the next new thing and they were the inventors of it. They weren't thinking of a chance to make a record. It wasn't that they were trying to make a commercial record. They wanted to make a record of their sound. AV: The album Psychedelic Sounds leads off with the hit single "You're Gonna Miss Me" (reached #56 on Billboard in 1966) which opens and closes with Roky's outrageous scream. This vocal mannerism has been described by Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Company as an "eldritch scream." Andrew states that "Roky's scream was kind of metallic and non-human." How did Roky develop this singing technique?
RE: I just did it.
PS: Roky had a kind of natural vocal talent which was evident the first time I ever heard him when he was still with The Spades. The antecedents for his style might be found in Little Richard perhaps, James Brown certainly, but a lot of it was Roky himself.
CH: My life with Tommy and the 13th Floor Elevators were wonderful, magical experiences. I remember when we came to California in 1966. Every station we turned to was playing "You're Gonna Miss Me." It was such a thrill.
AV: Roky, did you play harmonica for all the songs on the albums?
AV: "You're Gonna Miss Me" is credited to Roky Erickson although on the back cover it is spelled Rocky Erickson.
TO: International Artists never made an error they didn't want to make.
AV: Is the spelling of your first name an acronymous form of ROger KYnard Erickson?
RE: Yes. I've been called Roky most of my life and I've always spelled it as Roky.
TO: It was never Rocky.
AV: "Roller Coaster" is one of the greatest psychedelic songs ever recorded. Discuss the composition of this song (written by Tommy Hall/Roky Erickson) about an acid trip which is highlighted by Tommy's electric jug that sounds like the hallucinatory flight of a bumblebee.
RE: If you are going to talk about some kind of weird drug then it's something you want to know what it is. It's something you could come back to---like a wine in church where you could leave it in a container and it would turn into a drug.
AV: Do you recall how Tommy Hall wrote the lyrics to "Roller Coaster" which still ring true today: "After your trip, life opens up, you started doing what you want to do/And you find out that the world that you once knew/Gets what it has from you/No one can ever hurt you because you know more than you thought you knew/And you're looking at the world through brand new eyes/And no one can ever spoil the view/Come on. . .and let it happen to you (hey, hey, hey)/Come on. . .and let it happen to you/You've got to open up your mind and let everything come through."
PS: The lyrics are quintessential Tommy Hall. They are the embodiment of Tommy's idea that through the use of psychedelic drugs the human race could achieve a sort of chemically induced metamorphosis. In retrospect it all seems rather naive but basically that was the gist of it. I would agree it is one of the greatest psychedelic songs ever recorded.
AV: "Splash 1" is a great slow song written by Roky and Clementine Hall. Discuss the inspiration for this well-written acid-penned song as evidenced by the lyrics: "The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine/They're so familiar in a way I can't define." I heard you started to write the song, but couldn't finish it.
RE: What happened was that I was looking at Clementine and feeling like I've been here before. So I wrote the beginning, "I've seen your face before/I've known you all my life." Then I got so wrapped up into it that I couldn't write it and she wrote the rest of it.
CH: Tommy never pushed me to write, but Roky and Tommy wanted me to be involved. This is how I came to write "Splash l" with Roky for the Psychedelic Sounds album. He had written the first line ("I've seen your face before/I've known you all my life) and then Roky asked me, "Would you like to take a crack at it?" So I wrote the rest of the song which has psychedelic connotations in such lyrics as: "The neon from your eyes is splashing into mine/They're so familiar in a way I can't define."
I owe the title of "Splash l" to Roky because he always used the word "splash" in a lot of his conversations. Every song we did was going to be another "splash"---a surprising piece of news or something that was shocking. Every song was going to be a discovery.
AV: Have you ever noticed how other groups have copied the style of the Elevators? For example, the Rolling Stones' background vocals of "Gimmie Shelter" and the lyrics of "Monkey Man" seem to have been styled after the Elevators' "Reveberation" and "Monkey Island."
RE: It's like this. Communism writes the songs. "Street Fighting Man" and "Parachute Woman" and "Factory Girl." You'll hear communism in these songs. I wrote one called "Join the Marching," but instead of fighting you join the marching.
Keith, poor little Keith, does all the writing. He and the Rolling Stones try to write good songs, but if you "make friends with police," you can understand what's going on: "The stars are here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy, `cause where I live the game you play is to compromise solutions." That's communism. That's a commie song. They have an interpreter and sing to each other. "Street Fighting Man" is a song they play while people kill one another.
AV: What do you mean by "make friends with police"?
RE: "Make friends with police" is a line from a book called Meetings with Remarkable Men written by the devil and Gurdjieff. He also wrote All and Everything. These are books I love. I sold my soul to the devil.
AV: What did you think about the Clique's cover of "Splash 1" which appeared in the late 6Os and sold moderately well.
RE: I haven't ever heard of that group.
AV: "Reverberation (Doubt)" is another great song that wraps psychedelic music around lyrics of death: "You finally find your helpless mind is trapped inside your skin/You want to leave but you believe you won't get back again/You only know you have to go, but still you can't get out/You try and try, you die and die, you're stopped by your own doubt." What are your thoughts about death?
RE: It's like that song Arthur Brown sang called "Fire." When I first heard that song it scared me to death. I don't know why, but that song upset me. Another song that scares me is (Napoleon XIV) "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" where they want to take me back to the Good House.
AV: "Don't Fall Down" has alternating lyrics which seems to juxtapose psychedelic lyrics with the love for a girl. Great vocals at the end in a high-pitched voice that asks a double entendre question (i.e., chemically via LSD and/or physically with the girl): "Do you feel it, feel it, feel it?"
RE: That was intentional.
AV: "Fire Engine" has the following lyrics: "Let me take you to de empty place in my fire engine/It can drive you out of your mind/Climb the ladder of your own design in my fire engine/Don't tell it to go slow or stop/You're got to work it right up to the top/A piercing bolt of neon red/Explodes on fire inside my head."
TO: The song was about DMT ("de empty") which was the most powerful psychedelic ever made. If you smoke DMT it is like instant LSD magnified 5OO times. It lasts twenty minutes, but is much stronger than acid. Very scary. "Fire Engine" was written specifically about the drug DMT which was a fast acting psychedelic which you smoked with pot. You could feel the effect within five seconds of smoking it.
There was also DET which lasted a couple of hours. People here in Austin (I won't mention any names) made psychedelics available for free to a lot of us including the Elevators. "Fire Engine" describes how fast it comes on.
AV: "Thru the Rhythm" seems to challenge the way things are viewed by straight society compared to those who "educate" themselves with mind-expanding drugs as evidenced in the lyrics: "Thru the rhythm of darkened time/Painted black by knowledge crime/and repetitions pointless mine/Instilling values the sick define/That weaves the fabric that keeps you blind/That ties your hands and cloaks your mind/But on my stilts I'm above the slime/Come on up if you can make the climb." Please comment on the making of this song as well as the classic question at the end of that song about being high that asks, "Where are you?"
RE: I don't know.
AV: The Powell St. John tune, "You Don't Know" states "you don't know how young you are" which can be construed on several levels (e.g., a person experimenting with drugs for the first time or a person's naivete). How did this song evolve?
PS: Basically this song is about all the uninitiated youth that thinks it knows so much and yet still doesn't know itself. Listen to Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom Flashing," particularily the hook line, "Oh, but I was so much older then/I1m younger than that now."
AV: "Kingdom of Heaven" is another Powell St. John song which evokes the feeling (with its guitar and slowness of its vocals) of someone in the middle of an LSD trip and seems written around the religious metaphor that LSD is God (i.e., "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you"). The song is highlighted by the electric jug that has an ever-so-slow spaced-out "oooh" and the unbelieveable wail by Roky at the end of the song.
PS: I accept your interpretation except that LSD is not God but rather we all are God.
AV: "Monkey Island" seems to be another song the Rolling Stones ripped off under the revised title of "Monkey Man." Is Powell St. John's song about "pretending to be a monkey too" about someone who looks and thinks differently than those in straight society? Great vocal effect by Roky at the end where he sounds like a monkey before his voice trails off in that strange way.
PS: Here again you hit the nail on the head as to the meaning of the song. The part about the Stones is an interesting speculation and the thought has occurred to me too.
AV: The liner notes to "Tried to Hide" state it was written about those people who "for the sake of appearances take on the superficial aspects of the quest." Huh?
PS: As I understand it, it's about those who pretend to be hip, those that try to fake it. Not long after the Elevators formed an incident took place that Tommy said later was one of his inspirations for this song. One afternoon I was approached by a kid named Sally Mann who was around the scene. She is the same Sally Mann who later was featured in Rolling Stone magazine's famous groupie issue. At the time of that publication she was living with the Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco, but she was on the scene in Austin well before that. She knew that I knew Roky and that I knew where he lived. She asked me to take her there on the pretext of giving him something. I didn't ask what it was and so in the interest of helping two deserving young people I took her to Roky's apartment. Roky wasn't in as it happened so I left Sally and went on home. I heard later from a slightly irritated Tommy that he and Clementine had come in later bringing Roky home to his place from one of his first acid trips and who should they find in Roky's bed but Goldilocks herself: Sally Mann---bummer. Tommy was irritated because, as he saw it, this was a disruptive incident and it didn't fit the kind of LSD experience he was trying to provide for Roky. And so, according to Tommy, "Tried to Hide" was written with that incident in mind for all the Sally Mann's of the world. I know I left the girl at Roky's apartment; beyond that I don't know how much of the story is true. I was just following The Golden Rule.
AV: Why did Benny Thurman and John Ike Walton leave the Elevators?
PS: This is just speculation, but I have a feeling that in Benny's case he was getting a little too far out. Tommy didn't approve of speed and Benny was becoming more fond of it. For John Ike's part, his parents were both alarmed and concerned with Tommy's influence and the direction the band were taking. As the situation progressed Tommy began to have misgivings of his own. As he admitted to me once, "Well, you can't hip everybody." I imagine that John Ike and Benny fell into this category of unhippables.
AV: Why were John Ike Walton and Benny Thurman replaced with Danny Thomas and Danny Galindo on drums and bass for the Easter Everywhere album?
DG: Danny Thomas and I were off Riverside jamming at a house. Stacy showed up and we jammed together. Then about a month later Stacy called and asked if I was looking for a gig and if I could get in touch with that drummer. I said, "Sure." We happened to be in the right place at the right time.
AV: What were your influences as far as music?
DG: Danny Thomas was pretty much a soul and R&B drummer. If I had to pick one influence for me it would be Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane. I love their stuff. I was about twenty-one years old when I joined the Elevators. I had grown up in San Antonio until I moved to Austin in 1963.
AV: Where did you jam with the Elevators?
DG: We used to jam out in Kerrville at a place owned by a guy named Robert Eggers who had a ranch house out in the country.
AV: "Slip Inside This House" is an eight minute poem of exquisite beauty as shown in such lyrics as: "If your limbs begin dissolving/In the water that you tread/All surroundings are evolving/In the stream that clears your head." There is also that transitional stanza that states: "There's no season when you are grown/You are always risen from the seeds you have sewn/There is no reason to rise alone/ Other stories given have sages of their own." What was the background for the composition of this incredible song?
DG: The song was already written when Danny Thomas and I joined the group and we spent the summer (1967) learning the music. All the songs for Easter Everywhere had already been written. We just kept polishing up on the arrangements until it got into the can.
AV: What does "Slide Machine" refer to in Powell St. John's song?
PS: In a literal sense the slide machine is the road grader that is used to clear rock slides off the roadways in the mountains. In a figurative sense it carries an association of power: pushing at the forces of nature, danger, the threat of being wiped out, and so forth.
AV: "Nobody To Love" is a Stacy Sutherland composition/vocal which seems to be a prelude to the songs he wrote for Bull of the Woods. Why didn't Roky sing this song and why wasn't another song (e.g., "Fire in My Bones" or "I Don't Ever Want to Come Down") used since Sutherland's song is atypical and not up to par with the other Elevator songs?
DG: Because we wanted Stacy's song. Stacy had just gone through a busted relationship with his girlfriend and I'm pretty sure that's where the origin of that song came from.
AV: "Baby Blue" is a fantastic cover of Bob Dylan's song with Sutherland's guitar providing a perfect blend to Roky's vocal. How was this song chosen and re-arranged in the Elevators own inimitable style?
PS: This song was one of the first that the group chose to perform. I'm sure it was chosen because it is a great song and, unless I miss my guess, they tried it out and liked it and it all fell together from there.
DG: The Elevators were already playing "Baby Blue" when I joined the band, but it was pretty much Stacy's guitar arrangement that made it a great cover.
AV: What is the meaning behind the song "Earthquake1"?
DG: "Earthquake" is a song about making love.
AV: "Dust" is a reference to death and has effective guitar work by Stacy Sutherland. The last line is almost prophetic: "We still need attention to help us along."
DG: The Elevators could have used some direc-tion, but we were pretty stubborn. We wanted to do things our way.
AV: "Levitation" is definitely psychedelic as it states: "Heading for the ceiling/I'm up off the floor/I've broken my horizon out distancing my doors." And later: "I don't need these wings to guide me/They are hardly ever there/It's the clear I made in-side me/Makes me feel light as air." Any particular memories about this song?
DG: It's a kick ass song, but it was written before I joined the band.
AV: "I Had to Tell You" is a Clementine Hall-Roky Erickson composition which is a beautiful ballad whose lyrics are frightfully unprophetic: "Every doubt that bounds me/Every sound of riot/Everything is quiet/But the song that keeps me sane." And the song closes with the following: "If you fear I'll lose my spirit/Like a drunkard's wasted wine/Don't you even think about it/I'm feeling fine." Please discuss this song which has Clementine and Roky sharing vocals and has nice harmonica work by Roky.
CH: "I Had To Tell You" was the other song I wrote with Roky and it appeared on the Easter Everywhere album. Roky had already completed the melody and had it on tape. Tommy wasn t interested in it that much since he was working on something else, but Roky and Stacy were interested and suggested I work on it.
I took it home for the weekend and wrote the lyrics. Stacy loved the part about the "drunkard's wasted wine." We were going through some tough times so that's how I started the song: "Chaos all around me/With its fevered clinging/But I can hear you singing/In the corners of my brain." When we started to work on the song it needed some harmony so I started humming. Roky asked me to sing with him on the record and so I ended up singing with him. Roky also provided some beautiful harmonica work.
DG: I played the twelve string on that song listening to Roky cut it on playbacks.
AV: "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)" is an underrated song that grows on you with Roky's eerily slow vocals backed by Stacy's guitar and Tommy's jug. It has a strange almost uneven flowing beat and is a song you can get lost in, especially the subtle snatches of guitar by Sutherland around the lyrics "Only higher existence, consciousness, and bliss" and later around "The light strains through your near closed eyes/Like ribbons through your lashes." Excellent guitar work by Stacy.
DG: "Postures" is my personal favorite of the Elevators' songs. I remember telling Danny Thomas to give it a little soul, a little more R & B. I guess that's really where I was coming from on that tune since my early years were spent listening to soul music. I would listen to KAPE which is a black music station in San Antonio.
AV: The Elevators played extensively in California including the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Why didn't the Elevators relocate to California and sign with another label?
PS: I have often wondered about this. It all happened while I was in Mexico and they had returned to Texas by the time I arrived in San Francisco in December of 1966. They were better than the majority of bands working in the area at the time so it wasn't the competition. I don't know what it might have been.
DG: I didn't play in California, but we played a lot in Texas. The Love Street Light Circus in Houston was a blast! The Elevators were pretty much the house band there.
AV: Do you remember playing with any other groups like Bubble Puppy, Fever Tree, Josefus, or the Moving Sidewalks?
DG: Not off hand, but there was a group called Lost and Found that used to open for us a lot.
AV: The Elevators were constantly harrassed by the police including at least one occasion where all the musical equipment was destroyed by the authorities while looking for drugs. There is also a rumor that the second time Roky was busted was a set up. Apparently some kid who was busted for marijuana was told the charges would be dropped against him if he said the pot was Roky's. Do you know anything about this?
DG: I have no idea.
AV: There is also a story about Roky being committed to the Austin State Hospital, but then he was broken out by Tommy and some other people. Do you know anything abut this?
DG: You're asking me to presume a lot. To tell you the honest to goodness truth, I'm not going to discuss it. If you want to know, you're going to have to direct it to those people.
CH: Everybody has a different theory of what happened to Roky and his subsequent mental condition, but let me say what I believe. Roky was extremely sensible, intelligent, and level-headed. I would best describe his personality as ebullient. One day Tommy and Roky had dropped some LSD and it was getting late. We were near his mother's house and Roky asked if we could drop him off. Tommy and I suggested he crash at our place but Roky said, "No, it's my mom's place and it will be cool."
I don't know what happened after we dropped Roky off, but he either freaked out or his mother was appalled at the state he was in. Consequently, his mother had him committed to the Austin State Hospital where I believe he underwent shock treatment.
We began to hear, through our friends and inside sources, that Roky was in terrible condition. Some of the guys decided to break Roky out during his recreation period. One of the doors was broken and Tommy even left money to have it fixed.
The Roky we now saw before us was different. Whether it was the shock treatment by itse1f, or in conjunction with the fragile condition of Roky's mind from drug usage, I don't know if anyone can really say. He was never the same again. Roky's mother, who is very religious, must have decided it was best to have him sent away. (This decision may have, in part, been made since Roky had also recently been busted when the Elevators had played at Sam Houston State University.) Roky was then sent to northeast Texas to Rusk State Mental Hospital.
AV: Was there any effort made to get Roky out of jail on appeal after he was sent to Rusk State Hospital where he ended up staying three and a half years in a mental institution?
TO: I think an attorney named Jim Symons worked on the case, but that is about all I know.
AV: What was Roky's mental condition like before he went into the hospital and also discuss his subsequent treatment that included electric shock "treatment" and other "stabilizing" drugs?
PS: I don't know anything about Roky's state of mind at this time. Electro-shock therapy was a treatment of choice for any number of mental conditions at the time. I know of one case where a kid was committed by his parents and given electroshock simply because he was a member of The Young Peoples Socialist League. In that atmosphere, and considering Roky's background, I'm surprised the doctors didn't amputate his head.
AV: Roky, did people come by and see you at Rusk State Hospital?
RE: I can't remember too much.
AV: Roky's imprisonment essentially meant the end of the Elevators. What happened to the group immediately after Roky' s imprisonment?
DG: I don't know. I was in California at the time.
AV: What about the two subsequent albums that were put out by International Artists?
DG: The Elevator Live album is just claptrap that was put out to capitalize on our success. It wasn't live. It was just a bunch of studio outtakes that was overdubbed with audience noise. It was plain fraud.
AV: What about Bull of the Woods?
DG: I was on one cut of Bull of the Woods that had been recorded earlier. Ronnie Leatherman came in to play bass and help finish out the album. Roky had a few songs that he had either written or sung on before he was sent away. Roky wrote and sang "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" and "Never Another." He also sang on "Living On" and "Dr. Doom." It was pretty much Stacy's album since he wrote and sang most of the songs. International Artists used a lot of horns to fill in the spaces since Tommy had also left.
AV: Did the Elevators make any money at all?
DG: The only money the Elevators made was off appearances.
AV: How do you feel about it?
DG: How would you feel after you got raped?
AV: What were the circumstances of Stacy Sutherland's death that occurred 8/24/1978?
RE: Stacy Sutherland was killed in a domestic squabble. The stories I hear are very strange. I don't want to repeat them.
DG: I didn't hear about it until almost a year after he died.
AV: The music of the Elevators never received any extended airplay, but their reputation has become legendary and their music influential. How do you perceive the Elevators contribution to rock and roll?
DG: There are bands all over the world trying to emulate the Elevators. A good indication of the Elevators' influence was the recent recording that Bill Bentley put together for Warner Brothers called Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson. It consisted of twenty-one different contemporary bands doing covers of Roky and the Elevators' songs.
AV: The way I look at the Elevators is their story is almost like a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy. It's too bad a movie hasn't been made about the Elevators because it would be unbelievable.
TO: It would be like a psychedelic Spinal Tap! It would blow away The Doors movie.
DG: It serves as a great lesson as to how bad you can get screwed around by management, especially if somebody is not taking care of the band then they can get burned real quick.
AV: I think the Elevators have been very influential as far as other muscians, yet most people don't know who the Elevators are.
DG: That may be true here in the United States, but if you go over to England you will find about twenty-five Roky Erickson or 13th Floor Elevator albums available. You don't hear the Elevators on the radio in the U.S. because major labels don't own it and therefore they're not going to work it. Secondly, the sound quality isn1t very good, especially compared to the hi-tech capabilities that are now available.
TO: The recordings were bad to begin with. The first recordings were done in a primitive studio. The first album was done in three track: bass and drums on one, then vocals, and then guitar on another track. They never did capture on record the Elevators as good as that band was live.
DG: I think they did when they put out the first album.
AV: Where did the Elevators record Easter Everywhere?
DG: We recorded at Walt Andrus Studios in Houston. It was the same studio where Fever Tree recorded.
AV: What about the Elevators album cover for the first album, Psychedelic Sounds?
TO: John Cleveland, who was an artist here in Austin, did that great cover. John was a graphic artist here in town who was into creating psychedelic stuff with paint.
AV: Who came up with the logo of the pyramid with the eye? The pyramid and eye logo comes from the back side of a one dollar bill which states "Annuit Coeptis" and has exactly thirteen layers of bricks in the pyramid.
PS: It was one of those arcane symbols of which Tommy was so fond and so vague in explaining. Maybe it had something to do with Scientology. Tommy was very big on Scientology.
TO: Roky and Tommy came up with that idea.
AV: Update me on the whereabouts of anybody connected with the Elevators.
TO: Frank Davis, who helped engineer the Elevator albums, is in Houston and is a successful artist. I don't think he's doing engineering any more. Tommy Hall and Clementine are divorced although they both live in the San Francisco area. Powell St. John is in Berkeley, California raising his family and doing computer work. John Ike Walton lives in Kerrville and owns a pet store. Lelan Rogers lives in the Los Angeles area.
AV: How would you like the Elevators to be remembered and what do you think their contribution to music is?
DG: I always had these mental images of the 13th Floor Elevators as Ghost Riders in the Sky. There were lots of times I felt like that.
TO: I think the Elevators were the best and most influential rock and roll band to come out of Texas and one of the best in the country.
They are a classic example of how the music business can screw you and do you in. They are a classic example of how drugs can inspire and destroy creativity. It's ironic that the psychedelic music of the Elevators could touch so many hearts and minds, yet there wasn't one person in that band that wasn't irreparably damaged by psycnedelics in one way or another.
The Elevators have never received any royalties or money from their records. Lelan Rogers has the master tapes. The Elevators were ripped off completely. If you want to help Roky Erickson, who is essentially unsane, then money can be sent to a foundation set up for Roky:
Roky Erickson Trust Foundation #2 3216 Lafayette
Austin, TX 78722 AV: It's been a long strange trip for the Elevators. Any final reverberations or doubts?
RE: Well, that's what I'm talking about. And there's nothing to be ashamed of about that, but you might feel better about not having them. You'd like to be able to have that.
AV: Have what?
RE: Well, it's that same thing again. There are these things you can get and so if you have the thing you're going to like it.
AV: What things are you talking about?
RE: Whatever it is that you're trying for. If you have the thing, the real nice thing.
AV: Give me an example of a real nice thing.
RE: Whatever you're talking about. You don't want the second deal. You don't want the one that might be bad.
AV: What about the first deal?
RE: You want it.
AV: But not the second deal?
RE: Well, the second might be good too, but it might be something you might not want or something like that. That's what I'm trying to explain to you.
AV: One final question for Roky. How did you come up with the title for "Splash 1"?
RE: I don't know. Probably from studying those things I told you about. You know, the good things and not the other things. You know what I mean?
RE: That's what I was telling you about.
AV: I still don't know what those things are.
RE: Whatever it is.
AV: But I don't know what it is.
RE: Well, that's what I was talking about. In other words, what I'm trying to explain to you, in other words, is you keep asking me questions about things that are real good things, but they're scary. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Interview Notes The interview with the 13th Floor Elevators was conducted on the following dates: November 1981 (phone interview with Roky Erickson); October 1982 (tape recorder session of Roky Erickson answering questions during a seminar at the Houston Record Fair); a post-seminar interview was conducted with Roky Erickson the same day; November 1984 (interview with Roky Erickson); November 1991 (interview with Roky Erickson, Danny Galindo, and Tary Owen at Tary Owen's residence in Austin, Texas); February 1992 (interview with Powell St. John); April 1992 (interview with Clementine Hall).NOTE: Tary Owen was an original member of the Conqueroo and is the unofficial caretaker of Roky Erickson. Powell St. John played with the Conqueroo as well as Mother Earth and provided several songs which the Elevators recorded. While neither Tary Owens nor Powell St. John were members of the 13th Floor Elevators, both were part of the Austin music scene and provided invaluable insights for this interview.