[Interview Transcript from the book "Psychedelic Psounds"] 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS: PSYCHEDELIC SOUNDSThe 13th Floor Elevators. To many the name means nothing. To a small segment of the musical world, however, the group is a legend of almost mythic proportions.There are a number of reasons why they are considered legendary, yet the Elevators main claim to fame is that they are generally considered the Fathers of Psychedelic Music. This claim may be arguable, but no one can deny that any other band took psychedelic music to their hearts and souls and minds like the Elevators.The testimoney to this is their classic first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, which was released in 1966. It was atypical of any previous album. It contained songs which were primarily written around drug-related lyrics and intersected with philosophy, religion, love, and death as well as adolescent and social naivete. It was an album that combined psychedelics and music to ask questions about existence and looking at the world "through brand new eyes."To make an entire album that is primarily written around drugs would have been commercial suicide for practically any record label. Yet this album was made---although not in California and not in England ---but in Texas by an ambitious record company in Houston called International Artists.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 as well as 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 it could be pioneered if he could just find the right musicians.Tommy Hall found the backing musicians he needed in a Third Coast band from the Port Aransas-Rockport area called the Lingsmen: Stacy Sutherland (lead guitar), Benny Thurman (bass), and John Ike Walton (drums). The missing 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." Erickson was not only an accomplished rhythm guitarplayer, but possessed one of the most powerful and dynamic voices ever heard on vinyl or in concert.The group decided to call themselves the 13th Floor Elevators which was based on the non-existent floor that was left out of high-rise buildings by superstitious contractors. The Elevators were really going to a level where no one had gone before.The Elevators eventually signed with International Artists and in August 1966 released the classic (not just the music, but its cover and liner notes as well) The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. The album starts out with the garage band classic "You're Gonna Miss Me" which reached #56 and would become their highest charting single. The album also included such great psychedelic songs as "Roller Coaster," "Kingdom of Heaven," Reverberation (Doubt)," and "Splash 1."Yet even 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 of exquisite beauty entitled "Slip Inside This House" as well as "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)" and a great cover of Dylan's "Baby Blue."The Elevators did a good deal of touring (most notably in California) 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 being harrassed by 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.For all intents and purposes 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 a superb album in 1980 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 great 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 198Os, 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 Misouri for "testing." It was decided that he wasn't entirely lucid after shooting him full of chemicals, but by now Roky had snapped.It should be noted that of all the times I have interviewed Roky he has always been gracious even thought his responses have often been "out there in left field." Many times I thought what he said during an interview was total nonsense, but during the transcribing of the tape I could indeed make sense of his answers.That has all changed now. My last interview with Roky (November 1991) proved to be an exercise in futility with hardly any response making sense. Roky smoked continuously and appeared paranoid and schizophrenic throughout the taping. It was more like "I Talked with a Zombie" and it made me sad to see him in this totally unsane condition. (The end part of the interview will provide an example.) Strangely enough, seeing Roky in this condition made me think when I saw him sing in a punk rock club in Houston called The Island in 1981. Roky came onstage looking like he only came out at night---whiter than white skin, bloodshot eyes, a furrowed brow, and long brownish-gray hair that didn't appear to have been combed in ages. Yet when he opened his mouth I couldn't believe my ears. It was the most incredibly powerful voice I had ever heard!The 13th Floor Elevators may well be the greatest tragedy in rock and roll history; yet when I play the Elevators' music and hear the power and energy of Roky's vocals, I can't help but think of the Elevators as they were in the 6Os at the height of their powers. This is how I want to remember the 13th Floor Elevators, forever young musically, as they levitate toward the ceiling, with Roky singing, "I Don't Want to Ever Come Down."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. 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).