SONoBEaT aND THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVaTORS
Nope, Sonobeat never recorded the Elevators (well, maybe once or twice), but we knew them well
The original release of You're Gonna Miss Me by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators on the Contact label
Paul Drummond's 2008 book
An icon dies, but his legend lives on
Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson – founding member, guitarist, and lead singer of Austin's legendary 13th Floor Elevators and composer of the band's signature psych rock tour de force You're Gonna Miss Me – dies in Austin, Texas, at age 71 on May 31, 2019. The news of Roky's death travels quickly and tributes abound: NPR, Variety, Paste Magazine, Rolling Stone (not just one but two), People Magazine, US Today, and dozens more, illustrating the lasting impact and influence Roky, an acknowledged psychedelic rock pioneer, has on music around the world.
Let's refresh your memory about (or, in the unlikely event you've never heard of these guys before, introduce you to) the 13th Floor Elevators. Although Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, and even The Beatles experiment with psychedelic rock in the mid-'60s, it's the Elevators in Austin, Texas, in 1965, who perfect and name the genre. The band is co-founded by lead singer and guitarist Roky Erickson ("Roky" is a portmanteau of the first two letters of his first and middle names, Roger Kynard), electric jug player (electric juggist?) Tommy Hall, drummer John Ike Walton, lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland, and bassist Benny Thurman. For the depth of its legacy, the band itself is relatively short-lived, forming at the end of 1965 and collapsing in 1969 after numerous drug busts and personnel changes. Sequentially, drummer John Ike Walton is replaced by Danny Thomas, bassist Benny Thurman by Ronnie Leatherman, and Ronnie in turn by Danny Galindo. Austin music legend Powell St. John offers deep collaboration with the band, especially on its first album, The Psychedelic Sounds Of..., as does Tommy Hall's wife, Clementine, each contributing iconic songs to the band's repertoire. Famously, during the band's live appearance on Dick Clark's nationally televised American Bandstand in 1966, Dick innocently asks "Who's the head man of this group here, gentlemen?" and Tommy responds "Yeah, we're all heads", following which Dick mentions that the band will soon have an album out. When Dick asks the name of the album, Tommy answers "The Head Stones" (Tommy's sly reference to Psychedelic Sounds of...), following which Dick rushes to get the band offstage. There's no more world-famous Austin band of the '60s than the 13th Floor Elevators.
Richard Hawley quoted in Mojo '60s volume 5 (2016; out of print)
Although there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of magazine and newspaper articles written about the mysterious 13th Floor Elevators, only Paul Drummond's 2007 biography of the band tells the authoritative story. Of course, there's more to add to the story in the dozen years since the book's release, but Paul lays a solid foundation, and we look forward to the possibility Paul will eventually revise and expand the book. Paul presently is finishing up a pictorial history of the Elevators, tentatively titled 13th Floor Elevators, A Visual History (Even More Than Meets The Eye), scheduled for publication in November 2019.
Stephen M. Deusner reflecting on the legacy of the Elevators at Pitchfork (July 10, 2005)
That said, Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound is as good a narrative history of any musician or band as you'll ever get. This is a true story that reads like a thriller, complete with heroes and villains, innocence and disgrace, twists and turns, and, ultimately, death. Paul, who's served as the official Elevators archivist with unprecedented access to every living former member of the band, thoroughly documents how the Elevators as a band came to be the cult phenomenon that it is and how its individual members came to be who they were and are. There are surprises at every turn, including Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr.'s appearance as a character witness at Roky's 1966 drug bust trial. Paul dedicates the book to Elevators' co-founder Stacy Sutherland, who died on August 24, 1978.
A wealth of Elevators posters, handbills, and never-before-published photos, along with extensive interviews with those who were there during the Elevators' rise and fall, round out Paul's narrative, which also serves to illuminate the Central Texas music scene in the '60s.
Next, Vicki Welch Ayo takes us deeper into Stacy Sutherland's tragic story in 2015's Thirteenth Floor Elevators' Stacy Sutherland: Down The Rabbit Hole. Vicki, who's written extensively about Houston-based bands of the '60s and '70s, certainly knows the Elevators' story well, but what makes her book quite different, poignant, and compelling is that it's built from the emotional correspondence between an east coast Elevators fan – Roy Waidler – and members of the Elevators and their families, particularly Stacy, his wife Bunni, and his mother Sibyl, and is augmented with Vicki's own extensive interviews and illustrated with photos from the Sutherland family albums.
Sonobeat owns a small, modest piece of Elevators history, too. In January 1966, an excited Roky Erickson brings a freshly minted copy of the Elevators' first single to KAZZ-FM's rock deejay and Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Jr. Roky and Bill Jr. had been classmates at William B. Travis High School in Austin only two years before. The single, You're Gonna Miss Me, is released on Gordon Bynum's short-lived Contact label and is the same version issued later in '66 on Houston's International Artists label. Rim plays the single over the air literally moments after Roky arrives at KAZZ's studios, and we're 99.9% certain this is the first broadcast of the 13th Floor Elevators' single in Austin and possibly even its world premiere.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) explaining the meaning of the Elevators' You're Gonna Miss Me at the beginning of the film High Fidelity
Although the original lineup of the 13th Floor Elevators never records for Sonobeat, the Joseys broadcast the Elevators in live performances – usually from New Orleans Old World Night Club in downtown Austin – many times over KAZZ-FM in '66 and '67. Recordings of many of those broadcasts survive. And, in 1973, during his experimental Base sessions, Bill Sr. records a reconstituted 13th Floor Elevators, but that doesn't include Roky Erickson, performing the bluesy Maxine. Several former and then-current members of the Elevators also contribute individually to many of the Base tracks, which are recorded at Sonobeat's North Lamar studios in Austin. The Base sessions, including the "new" Elevators recording of Maxine, remain unreleased.
Bill Josey Jr. (under his deejay moniker Rim Kelley) serves as master of ceremonies at the January 7, 1967, Elevators concert at Austin's Doris Miller Auditorium. The concert features the spectacular psychedelic Jomo Disaster Light Show, created with overhead projectors and heated glass slides covered in oil, water, and colored inks.
Elevators' co-founder Tommy Hall quoted in The Austin Chronicle (May 8, 2015)
A limited-edition ten CD box set, Sign of the Three Eyed Men from International Artists, released in spring 2009, contains a booklet by Paul Drummond that includes scans of additional materials from Rim's archives. In 2011, International Artists releases Music Of The Spheres – The Ultimate 13th Floor Elevators, a 9-disc vinyl box set with a revised edition of Paul's Sign of the Three Eyed Men booklet.
Sonobeat friend Ralph Y. Michaels is serving in the VIII US Army Corps in Austin during the mid-'60s. An avid radio and rock music fan, Ralph frequents Austin's nightclub scene, catching the Elevators' performances at the likes of Jade Room, Club Saracen, Vulcan Gas Company, and New Orleans Old World Night Club. In 2016, Ralph graciously donates his candid photos of the Elevators, which he takes at these clubs in 1966, to us, which we've put here.
Excerpts from Paul Drummond's interview of Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) for Eye Mind that didn't make it into the book
Paul: Would you give me a basic history of [Austin's] KAZZ-FM?
Rim: KAZZ was first licensed by the FCC in 1958 and played only jazz, but by fall 1964, when I joined its DJ staff, it was block programmed, and jazz was relegated to the night shift. The programming ranged from The Grand Ol' Opry in the wee early morning hour to Sinatra and Mantovani pop during the day to folk and jazz at night. When I started college at the University of Texas in fall 1964, I began looking for a radio job. I was turned down by KNOW, where I really wanted to work, since it was THE Austin rock station. Dad [Bill Josey Sr.] suggested I make a demo tape and take it to other stations. I did, and Gib Divine, KAZZ's station manager, hired me. I wanted to program a rock show on FM, and Gib agreed. I took the 4–8 pm slot Monday through Friday and the noon–4 pm slot on Saturdays. Dad became sales manager at KAZZ late in '64 and replaced Gib as station manager in '65. KAZZ was owned by Monroe Lopez, who also owned Austin's Big 4 Mexican Restaurants. When we began distributing a top 40 survey through local record stores, the Big 4 Mexican Restaurants advertised on the back. It was Dad's idea to do remote broadcasts from local night clubs – the Eleventh Door, the New Orleans Club, Club Seville, the Club Saracen – to attract advertisers. The live broadcasts began in late '65. We began with demure acts, like Ernie Mae Miller at the jazz piano at the New Orleans Club and the Kings IV at Club Seville, but eventually, we began to broadcast rock bands, like the Sweetarts and the Elevators. Monroe sold the station to KOKE AM in late '67, and KAZZ ceased broadcasting in January '68. When it resumed broadcasting later in '68, it had changed its call letters to KOKE-FM [simulcasting KOKE-AM's signal]. The KAZZ call letters were later taken by a Washington state FM station that has no relationship to the original KAZZ-FM in Austin.
Paul: Why didn't you record the Elevators for Sonobeat? Rumour has it you nearly did.
Rim: Dad and I asked Roky and Tommy [Hall] whether they were committed to IA [International Artists Records in Houston], and that we wanted to record them. This was in early '67. They were under contract to Leland [Rogers, owner of IA] for some time into the future, and Tommy said, "Maybe when our contract is up". That was the end of it. We were interested in psychedelic music, and many of the groups we later recorded for Sonobeat either skirted the genre or hit it dead on. The Conqueroo often is categorized as a psychedelic band, and they were truly a terrific band, but I'd label the single we released by them as jazz-rock fusion, not psychedelia. The Thingies and Mariani were far more psychedelic than the Conqueroo, but neither approached the sophistication in psychedelic lyrics that the Elevators achieved.
Paul: The Elevators began playing the New Orleans Club 9th February 1966 after their Jan 27th bust. Why did you champion their record when the AM station KNOW banned it?
Rim: Roky was my classmate at [William B.] Travis High School [in Austin]. I liked him. He was smart. I'd heard the Spades [Roky's first band] play. They were pretty good for a garage band. The Elevators were even better, and You're Gonna Miss Me was a good rock song. We didn't emulate KNOW. We were known as the maverick radio station. When Roky brought the first test pressing of You're Gonna Miss Me by the Elevators up to the station, I recall throwing it on the turntable and auditioning it. It was by a local band, it was good, and Roky made the effort to bring it to me personally. There was no way I wasn't going to play it. I still have that test pressing. Later, Roky and Tommy came back up to the station with a DJ copy of the single on the Contact label (which I also still have), and I interviewed them briefly on the air.
Paul: Did you broadcast their first performance and do you recall a story Benny Thurman related to me about a "blue northern" hailing on the roof during the first broadcast and the audience all dancing in an inch of water?
Rim: The storm during an Elevators broadcast on KAZZ, that Benny called a "blue northern", rings a bell, but I don't recall that it was the first broadcast or that the audience danced in water. However, I seem to recall that the noise from the storm was so great, pounding on the New Orleans Club's metal roof, that it disrupted the broadcast. Now, if only we could find a tape of that broadcast...
Paul: How did your father [Bill Josey Sr.] relate to the band? Were they approachable?
Rim: Dad liked the whole band, particularly Tommy and Clementine [Hall], and, of course, Dad appeared at Roky's drug trial in Austin as a character witness. Dad was trained as a psychologist. But Dad also was a musician and played jazz and big band-style coronet. He had many theories about why rock music "worked"... that the root of music was entirely the beat, which is why rock music touched a nerve. Dad quite liked rock music and, I think, was a pretty hip guy who surprised the groups we worked with at Sonobeat. I think Tommy, in particular and moreso than Roky, related very well to Dad. Tommy and I spent time between sets at one New Orleans Club live broadcast talking about the "lost chord". This predated the Moody Blues album by that name. Tommy explained how the lost chord was created by what wasn't played and, therefore, was perceived [much like] a line [that has no actual width] is perceived by placing a piece of black construction paper across a piece of white construction paper. Tommy had incredible theories and was articulate.
The Elevators' first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, released in 1966 by International Artists Records in Houston, Texas
Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley serves as master of ceremonies for the January 7, 1967, 13th Floor Elevators and Conqueroo concert at Austin's Doris Miller Auditorium; poster from Rim Kelley's personal collection
Vicki Welcho Ayo's 2015 book