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Friday, February 13, 2015

13th Floor Elevators for Friday the 13th

The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Best Rock Band Ever?

         In honor of Friday the 13th (the day not the movie) I thought I might pay tribute to the incredible 13th Floor Elevators.  For those who recognize the name you may or may not agree when I suggest that arguably the Elevators were one of the greatest rock and roll bands to emerge from the 60's.   That's saying a lot when so many great bands came on the scene during that decade that produced so much revolutionary music that completely changed music history.  But I'm saying it--or if maybe not the greatest, the 13th Floor Elevators certainly wield an aura of influence over much of the rock music that came after them

Innovators of a Genre?

        They are often attributed as being the first psychedelic rock band and credited as being the first to even use the term "Psychedelic Rock".   This immediately becomes a turn off for many of you I know, but this may also be partly due to a lack of knowledge about the entire genre.   There has been some highly creative music connected with the psychedelic music movement.

          But then there's that drug thing.  The connection between mind-altering drugs goes hand in hand with the creation of music back to the earliest days of jazz and beyond.  The sixties saw the increased popularization of the hallucinogens such as LSD as well as the continued popularity of marijuana which was commonly used among earlier jazz and blues musicians.  The drugs may have influenced some of the creation of the music, but it also took talented musicians to actually create and perform that music.

What About the Band?

          Austin, Texas has given us many a fine musician, one being Roky Erikson, the guitarist/ lead singer for the Elevators and later as a solo artist.  In 1965 Roky combined forces with fellow Texan Tommy Hall to form the 13th Elevators.   Hall provided the unique sound of the electric amplified jug which provides the signature sound of the Elevators.  We've seen jugs used as a novelty in bands before this, but Hall gave jug playing a whole new dimension where the sound has often been mistaken for a synthesizer or some sort of electronic instrument.  The Elevators style is in the tradition of such bands as The Rolling Stones, Them (with Van Morrison), and The Animals.

          The group made an immediate impact on the music scene with a relatively minor chart single and their seminal album Easter Everywhere which some musicians and critics consider to be one of the best rock albums of all time.  Moving on from Texas to the San Francisco scene the band wowed the emergent bands from the hippie movement providing inspiration for such groups as Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead.  Sadly, though popular with the counterculture crowd, the very talented 13th Floor Elevators never gained widespread national fame.

           The group eventually fell apart due to internal strife, disillusionment, and drugs.  In one of the saddest stories of rock music, Roky Erickson, who had been struggling with mental illness, was busted in Texas for possession of a single joint and was eventually committed to a mental hospital for reasons of insanity rather than accept imprisonment.  During his stays in mental facilities the treatments with drugs and electroshock therapies only worsened his condition.   He recorded a number of albums as a solo artist for a couple of decades as he struggled with his mental condition.  The albums of the Elevators became difficult to find and the band became an anomalous footnote of modern music history.

The Resurgence of a Legend

         In 1990 a resurgence of interest in Roky and the Elevators with the release of the outstanding tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.   Roky was back in the limelight albeit in a cult status.  With the help of his brother Sumner, Roky has returned to the music scene regularly touring and recording.   Roky's comeback story is documented in an outstanding documentary You're Gonna Miss Me--highly recommended for fans of rock music or anyone interested in the subject of schizophrenia and other mental illness.

        This post is as some of you might have already surmised is a lead in to my upcoming Battle of the Bands post that will appear this Sunday February 15th.   I will be featuring two covers of the most well-known song by the 13th Floor Elevators.   And before you avoid this Battle dismissing it as some kind of weird psychedelic song, it's one of my favorite songs and many rock artists would probably concur with my taste in liking this one.  I do hope you will listen to and vote on this Battle.  You might be pleasantly surprised--or not.

         My post tomorrow at Wrote By Rote will be about my discovery of the music of The 13th Floor Elevators and my decades long quest to obtain recordings by the band.

         Are you familiar with The 13th Floor Elevators or Roky Erickson?   If you don't like psychedelic music, what about it don't you like?    Do you think the traditional methods for treatment of mental illness often worsens the condition?

For more info about 13th Floor Elevators:


Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound by Paul Drummond

http://funky16corners.blogspot.com/2004/11/1116-13th-floor-elevators-slip-inside.html

All Music


54 comments:

  1. Most interesting Lee, didn't realise it was Friday the 13th, these days I don't recall what day it is on awakening.

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    1. Not only is today Friday the 13th there will also be one coming up in March!

      Lee

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  2. Lee, I'm glad you posted this information. I've never heard of this band or of Roky. I don't really know much about psychedelic music. I did attend a Grateful Dead concert about 15 years ago. Most of their music was okay, but I found myself more caught up in watching the true fans. I try not to define whether a band is 'in or out' because of the genre. I can usually find a song or two that is okay, my way.

    Then there's this question you pose: "Do you think the traditional methods for treatment of mental illness often worsens the condition?" Absolutely!

    In 1967 there was split of the mental from the physical definitions of illness. Neurology had, up until that time, been the area of medicine to inquire, pertaining to a brain dysfunction. But there was dissension among the doctors, and viola, "The American Psychiatric Association" was born. I could write a "damn" book. The best revenge would be to give that entire group a dose of their own "medicine/methodology," and not feel guilty... except for one thing... I really care about people. No one deserves to be treated as the national and international Psychiatric groups have mistreated human beings.

    I look forward to your battle!

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    1. I concur about being able to write a book about the topic of mental illness and many of them have been written already. One of my brothers has been institutionalized for over 30 years now--since he was in high school. It seems that the treatments made him worse, but then I wasn't around him most of those years. It's difficult to know what to do about those in his situation, but whatever they've done so far hasn't seemed to work. Roky Erickson's story is kind of inspiring when you see the progress he makes to this day.

      Lee

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  3. I've heard of Roky but not the Elevators. But yes, as you know the Grateful Dead is my fave band in the universe and I loved going to shows and dancing, people watching, seeing friends, etc. It was an experience second to none. And I got to see the Airplane once in 1989 when they got back together and did a few shows....I got to see them at the Fillmore West and it was like stepping back into the 60s. A couple days later they did a free concert in Golden Gate Park. Good times.

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    1. I have liked the psychedelic music movement since it came about. There was so much creativity and daring to it all. There was a bad side to the culture, but the music itself was and is pretty fascinating.

      Lee

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  4. I've heard of them, but never heard any of their music. Not much into trippy music. At least not the mellow stuff. While I don't like that kind of music, I can still respect bands like Pink Floyd for their talent.

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    1. You should check out some stuff by the Elevators--it's more like the early English Invasion sound--not slow usually and full of guitar based rock and roll. Roky's song themes now are mostly on science fiction and horror themes--vampires, zombies, and aliens. He's quite a songwriter in the rock genre.

      Lee

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  5. You know, we both like a bit of psychedelic music, but I've not heard of The 13th Floor Elevators or Roky Erickson. Also, neither of us are smokers, but it's just crazy to think that once upon a time ago a single joint could have unnecessarily destroyed someone's life like this.

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    1. The Roky Erickson story is ridiculous from the standpoint of what happened to him over a joint. Texas used to be really bad about this from what I've heard. If you like rock music, you must check out the Elevators and Roky's solo stuff might right up your eccentric alley.

      Lee

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  6. Oh yeah, I've heard of the 13th Floor Elevators. But I'm not sure they or any other band really was the "first" psychedelic band -- like many things, I think it was more of an evolution than a sudden appearance. The blues, the Beats, the folk movement, jazz, and improving instrumental and recording technology (multi-track recording, fuzz tones, loader amps, etc), and -- yes, drug experimentation -- all kind of flowed into and through the 'psychedelic' movement.

    But I've always enjoyed much of that type of experimental-meets-grrove kinf od music.

    My guess for Sunday's song is "You're Gonna Miss Me"

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    1. Of course, like most music, there is an evolutionary process as well as a lot of fusion of styles. Back in the mid-60's every band was trying to latch on to the magic of the Beatles and that entire movement. There pockets of creativity all over the U.S. and Austin was one of the main focal points. The Elevators were innovative but also highly derivative--they did not exist in a vacuum and that's probably why they became such an influential part of the psychedelic movement.

      I've seen many sources that credit Tommy Hall as being the first one to use the term "psychedelic rock" and they did flaunt it on their first albums.

      "You're Gonna Miss Me" is an excellent guess. Not sure how many covers there are of that song, but the one I've chosen I think has the most covers of any of the songs by the Elevators.

      Lee

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  7. I never heard of them, but as a die-hard Rolling stones fan, I will check out some of their music.

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    1. I hear a strong early Stones influence in the music of the Elevators. I think they may have even covered some songs that the Stones did. I do know they did a cover of Them's "Gloria".

      Lee

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  8. Gosh, I'm not familiar with either of those bands. I feel left out!

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  9. I have Roky's 2010 release (True Love Cast Out All Evil)-a far cry from the Elevator's output.

    Todd Rundgren had some interesting comments about the use of drugs to inspire creation, and I remember it essentially saying that since he did not retain a lot of what he got on the trip, the trade off was not worth it.

    I have always assumed that his "A Wizard A True Star" and "Todd" albums were the results of his drug experimentation.

    Roky was lucky to have a happy ending-I always thought Syd Barret's story was tragic.

    Are you having trouble finding the Elevator's albums (I think there were four)-I am pretty sure they are in print. I'd picked up collection of all four a few years back, but I thought I remembered seeing "definitive" releases coming out recently.

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    1. Now they're all over the place in every format. I have all of them on vinyl as well as CD. Same for Roky Erickson. They are such a cult favorite now that all of their albums are accessible in one form or another.

      Tomorrow on Wrote By Rote I'll go into the story of my first discovery of the Elevators and my quest for their albums.

      Lee

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    2. Your use of the word "quest" made me think you were still looking.

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    3. It was a decades long quest for a while, but now I don't look for any albums. Though I guess I'm interested in discovering new recordings that I can hear on line.

      Lee

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  10. I have never heard of this band nor the leader Roky. I truly enjoy this type of music and it was my brother who played this when I was young. People should not judge too quickly because Cary Grant used LSD to help him and he felt it did. The poem "Kubla Khan (I can't remember the actual name or the writer right now) was written after an opium induced dream. Even Alice In Wonderland may have been written while Carroll was under the influence. Reagrdless, music and anything else truly creative comes from within and no drug can minimize talent. It sounds like this man suffered greatly and fell between the cracks when it comes to mental health. Vivien Leigh underwent shock therapy and I don't think it truly soes help. There are people who were placed into mental asylums when they should not have been there at all and many did not get the right treatment. Even now, there are many medications out there to help individuals but where one drug may benefit a person, that same drug could cause harm to another. It is so difficult to find which drug helps and at one amount they should take. At least, now, the judgements and negativity associated with mental illness or brain illness (I like this better) is a little better. I am going to e-mail my brother and ask him if he has heard of them. I will be surprised if he has not

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    1. You said so many true things in your comment. Sometimes society merely passes judgement on those who are different and negatively labels them or segregates them from society.

      No drug can make us more talented, but I do things some drugs can enhance creativity by adding new dimensions to thought. Beyond the hallucinogens we can include alcohol which can be of far greater harm than the drugs such as LSD and marijuana and the like. How many great creative minds were influenced by alcohol? The answer is many! Legal doesn't make one thing or another necessarily better. Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall were immensely talented in what they did, but they experimented and maybe the experiments failed to some extent or maybe society's attitude was to blame for the failure. There's a lot to think about in all of this.

      Let me know if your brother knows of the band or Roky.

      Lee

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    2. You are right about Alcohol and one can name 10 famous people, off the bat, who died as a result of alcoholism. Yes my brother knows them and he knows the story of Roky quite well. He said he appreciates their music but it is not his favourite.

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    3. Alcohol has been the downfall of so many many famous and not. I was glad to hear the word "appreciates"--your brother is apparently like me in the respect that there are styles of music that I might not enjoy listening to but I can appreciate the effort that went into making it. Like I really can't stand gangsta rap, but it's something that I can't do and I recognize that it took a certain amount of ability or something to create that type of horrid music.

      Lee

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  11. Damn I just cant remember that far back these days, but I did see Jefferson Airplane a very very long time ago. . .

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    1. Well I certainly know that feeling.

      Lee

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  12. I actually had 13FE on my spotify, but for whatever reason it was from a ronco style collection that refuses to play- and I didn't see it anywhere else on the site. I do have it burned to cd somewhere. I was wondering if you would mention the story that they NEARLY acquired a female lead named Janis Joplin- but she reneged on them to join Big Brother and the Holding Company.

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    1. The Janis Joplin story was in my radar, but there was so much to say and still keep the post relatively short that I opted not to use that bit of legendary information. One of the sources I read said that Joplin actually sang back up vocals with them for a while and modeled her singing style on that of Roky Erickson. Wonder what would have happened if Joplin stayed with the Elevators and they'd all have taken things easier with the wild living and drugs?

      Lee

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  13. Science fiction music, wow! I think its really neat that Rokys brother is trying to give him back his music. Fortunately Roky still has the sparks of happiness and creative genius to make a comeback. Great tribute blogman.

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    1. Thanks! The film Sure Gonna Miss Me is an uplifting look at Roky's life when his talent was essentially being wasted up to the point where he is back on stage before fans. Roky has an encouraging story in his life.

      Lee

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  14. I never heard of that band or Roky. I don't remember any psychedelic rock music that I liked at the time but I was just a kid in the 60's.

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    1. It's somewhat of an acquired taste perhaps, but it's also widely varied. I think one appeal of psychedelia is the eclecticism of the music that engenders many styles.

      Lee

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  15. Psychedelic rock sounds won't scare me away at all!! Love that sound. I headed over to You Tube to listen to You're Gonna Miss Me - and LOVED it. I can't quite put my finger on who they remind me of...... but it will come to me eventually.
    Maybe White Stripes were somewhat influenced by them? I'm getting a Jack White vibe. (that's a good thing!).

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    1. I'm pretty sure Jack White has some kind of influence from the Elevators and Roky. I still say there's a lot of Stones sound in what the Elevators did, but over all there's that 60's garage band vibe that I get.

      Lee

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  16. Some psychedelic music sounds dated, but other psychedelic music retains a fresh feel. And even some songs which sound dated now can still be enjoyed as fun period pieces. I always liked the interesting noises, trippy themes, and how sound was used to create interesting effects and moods.

    Twenty-one years later, I still remember how I felt the first time I hear "Within You Without You," like those never-before-heard noises and those deep lyrics opened up a door to another world and expanded my mind to unknown possibilities.

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    1. I suppose some of the music can sound dated although over the past couple of years I've dragged out some of my old psychedelic records and have been amazed how current they actually sound. Some sound better to me now than they did back when I first listened to them. And I definitely hear an influence in many newer groups. The Beatles opened a lot of doors to new sounds.

      Lee

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  17. That's one of my favourite genres and there's even a page on my website called "Psychedelic Selections". Never took drugs, because I got high on the music. Still do! ☺ Although I've heard the name, I'm not well acquainted with this band. Probably because I was living in Europe from 1965-69 and then Canada. Not sure they had international exposure.

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    1. Into the 70's they achieved a high status in Europe and for a while you could only find the Elevators albums on European imports. I've found several Elevators covers by European bands.

      Part of the great thing for me about the psychedelic music is that you could really get involved in it and literally get lost in the music. In a sense it does some of the same things for me as classical. I think a lot of people are misinformed about psychedelia thinking that it's a lot of weird sounds and disjointed music, but actually it's more like stream-of-consciousness in music form.

      Lee

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    2. Seems I missed out on this band! :( Too bad, they had a great sound. Youtube is such a wonderful resource and I'm catching up. Great comment about psychedelia; it transports you to another world. No other drugs needed, IMO.

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    3. The Elevators didn't have a great marketing engine behind them since they weren't on a big label. They mostly impacted the scene for those in the era by the live shows they performed and the legend that grew around the band in the aftermath.

      Lee

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  18. do you have to eat crazy shrooms when listening to psychedelic music or does psychedelic music make you eat crazy shrooms? Which one is it :))

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    1. Either way works or you can style enjoy the music without psychotropic influence. It's rock and roll. Party on, dude!

      Lee

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    2. style = still No I'm not high on anything, I just woke up and am a bit bleary eyed and fuzzy minded. I know, that sounds like the way I always am, but it's more so when I just wake up.

      Lee

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  19. When I think of playing the jug, I picture the Darling family on the Andy Griffith Show; though, their jugs weren't amplified. It's horrible what happened to Roky, but I'm glad he eventually made a comeback. I'll have to checkout their music!

    Julie

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    1. Jug music is usually kind of hokey--kind of hillbilly or Spike Jones. Tommy Hall made it innovative with a futuristic sound.

      Lee

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  20. How can the Elevators be one of the greatest rock and roll bands to emerge from the 60's...when I have never even heard of them. There's a lot of classic bands that I don't necessarily agree with how influential they were...but at least I've heard of them. Gonna have to go Googling for them now. :)

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    1. An argument for them has been made by more than a few critics. I know it seems odd, but sometimes the music geeks and purists delve into the obscure to discover the roots of things. I've been amazed since the advent of YouTube and other internet sources to discover great groups I never heard of back in the day and discovering how influential some of my own obscure faves back then actually were.

      I guess greatness does not necessarily have to be equivocated with fame. In recent years I've noticed some denigration of the Beatles music (though I don't agree about knocking down their status as creators of some truly great music) as well as the elevation of artists that didn't seem so great to me previously. Thing run in cycles and according to opinions. One thing for sure is that the Elevators had a fascinating and tragic story to tell. Roky and his band are worthy of a good biopic one day.

      Lee

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    2. I wasn't familiar with them either and I love Psychedelia! Glad it's not just me, then. ;)

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    3. Not just by far -- it's a whole lot of people. On the other hand there's probably a lot of folks who might have heard of the band or even knew their music back then who just don't remember because they don't remember that much from that period. I have some friends like that.

      Lee

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    4. Hahaha! That's what happens when you overdo the drugs. Was never my thing. Thanks for the introduction though, Lee. I am getting to know them now. Hurray for Youtube! ♫♫

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    5. Actually the funny thing is that most of the friends who claim not to remember things about the era seem not to do so because of any drug use, but mostly denial as their current conservative attitudes seem to not want to admit to crazier times with crazy music. They act as though they'd always been just drinking beer and listening to country music. I don't know if they're ashamed of their past or what, but when I've brought up things that I recall they'll act like they weren't there when I know they were. They were usually the instigators of it all.

      Lee

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    6. Your anecdote reminds me of the movie, "The Banger Sisters" ☺ The conservative one refused to acknowledge her past until the other (still wild) one paid her a visit. Conservative has never been my thing, either. ;)

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  21. Arlee, I was part of a band in Houston that played many split shows with the 13th Floor Elevators. Our band was called the Mods. There were quite a few times when Roky would not show up for a performance and Stacy Sutherland would end up singing lead. I remember one night at La Maison when Roky was so sick he couldn't go on stage. He ended up puking his guts out in the bathroom. One other instance, at the Catacombs, the owner (?) tossed out over a hundred 45 rpm singles of 'You're Gonna Miss Me" to the audience as they waited for the band to start.
    Live - the electric jug was mind-blowing. The recorded jug never sends the same sensation through you...of course, back then, there was smoke in the air that kinda amplified your senses.
    Love Street Light Circus was another favorite place the Elevators played in the 60's.
    Those were my B.C. days. Lots of haunting memories.

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    1. Thank you for your insightful look back to that day. I know what you mean about that smoke too. Too bad the group couldn't totally get it all together then as they might have achieved far more incredible things that would have been known by more people.

      You must have many more incredible stories to tell about the era. I'd love to hear them. Thinking of writing a book anytime about all of it?

      Lee

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Go ahead and say something. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
I normally try to respond to all comments in the comment section so please remember to check the "Email follow-up comments" box if you want to participate in the comment conversation.

For Battle of the Bands voting the "Anonymous" commenting option has been made available though this version is the least preferred. If voting using "anonymous" please include in your comment your name (first only is okay) and city you are voting from and the reason you chose the artist you did.

If you know me and want to comment but don't want to do it here, then you can send me an email @ jacksonlee51 at aol dot com.

Lee