Roky Erickson & The 13th Floor Elevators – Michelle S.
Growing up in a big family, I was privy to a wide range of music that allowed me to go down many musical avenues from my sisters and brother’s music collections. One such avenue that I got into at a tender age was Psychedelic Music. I loved it! The music had this amazing frenetic energy about it that just connected with me. I was hooked and still am to this day. I started my journey into psychedelic music while listening to various artists collections such as Pebbles and Nuggets along with the bands Love, Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd, Gong, Caravan, Can and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on.
There are many more bands to add to the list but the one I want to tip my hat off to is the 13th Floor Elevators. When I heard their single, You’re Gonna Miss Me from their debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. I became a fan and continue to be to this day even with the band’s many mutations.
While attending a SXSW Festival, Roky Erickson happened to be doing an art exhibit at the same time, so of course I wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity! It was an awesome experience to meet him and to check out the band’s history that he had on display. Despite all the chaos in his life, he seemed like he was in a good place at the time and was a really nice guy.
The band was formed by Roky Erickson on vocals, Tommy Hall on electric jug and guitarist Stacy Sutherland. Although Roky Erickson has the legacy as the father of psychedelic rock and continues to promote the band, it was Tommy Hall who was the brainchild behind the original formation of the band and should share in this title. The band wasn’t like a lot of the other psychedelic music back then, they were the real deal and their music was chaotic and yet complex at the same time.
What also set them apart from other bands was Roky’s maniacal screaming vocals, Hall playing the electric jug which added another dimension to the mix, Stacy’s Sutherland’s hard guitars and John Ike Walton’s drumming which just seem to make everything come together as if their lives depended on it. In a way, it did because at the time, they were also exploring the outer limits of drug induced consciousness, while playing rock & roll in Texas. Which at the time, didn’t settle well with the locals and led to a myriad of problems that gave them their legendary status. They released three albums and performed their last concert as the original band in 1969.
To avoid jail time for drug charges, Erickson was committed to a mental hospital and the three and a half years he was there, some say that the treatments he was given, contributed to his mental issues. He tried a sporadic solo career, but the managers he had basically used him for their own profits and left him with no control or profit from his music. He returned to music in the 90’s with help from friends and musicians that have allowed him to be an artist again. In 2001, his brother Sumner was awarded custody over Roky’s affairs and helped Roky receive better psychological treatment, restore his health issues and found a legal team that worked out his past shady legal contracts so he could begin receiving royalty checks for his music. He is still performing and recovering.
In 2015, at Levitation (originally Austin Psych Fest), something exciting happened! The 13th Floor Elevators performed on stage for their 50th anniversary which in turn, has created a new generation of fans for the band. Full circle…
Below is a performance Roky Erickson did for ACL – Featuring Billy Gibbons in 2007. Enjoy!