|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