Sunday, August 31, 2014

Slip Inside This House: The Nightmare Trip of the 13th Floor Elevators Part IV

"Higher worlds that you uncover 
Light the path you want to roam 
You compare there and discover 
You won't need a shell of foam 
Twice born gypsies care and keep 
The nowhere of their former home 
They slip inside this house as they pass by 
Slip inside this house as you pass by"

Welcome to the fourth installment in my ongoing examination of the legendary and pioneering psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. During the first installment I briefly considered the group's influence and legacy as well as the psychedelic scene that began to emerge amongst University of Texas at Austin students during the very early 1960s. As was noted there it was this scene that played a key role in spawning the Elevators.

the Elevators
During the second installment I considered the curious backgrounds of the largely upper middle class kids who comprised the 13th Floor Elevators, with a special emphasis on the founding members. With the third and most recent installment I began to examine some of the most compelling aspects of the group's brief run, beginning with their use of LSD and their various run-ins with the law. As was noted in that installment, I'd decided to address the group's career in sections as it will hopefully be easier to follow this way. While I've tried to keep things in chronological order as much as possible, I've inevitably jumped around in the group's history a bit.

Thus, some sections will be more compelling after being read in conjunction with other sections. And with that disclaimer out of the way, let us move along. To start off this installment let us take a look at the group's sole out of state tour.

San Francisco

The Elevators hit the road for San Francisco on August 13, 1966. As was noted in part three of this series, this event was preceded by both the resolution to the drug bust the Elevators had endured earlier in the year as well as the infamous Texas Tower Sniper incident (which occurred on August 1, 1966). With the atmosphere in Texas becoming increasingly sour by the day, the group felt a change in scenery was in order. San Francisco was a logical choice on several levels.

At the time it was well on its way to becoming a major musical and general cultural center within the nation. But beyond that, expat Texans had taken an active role in establishing San Francisco's emerging psychedelic culture. What's more, several of these Texans had cut their teeth in Austin's own psychedelic scene a few years earlier and thus had some lose ties to the Elevators. The key figure was Chet Helms, a native Californian who had attended the University of Texas at Austin for a time in the early 1960s. In 1963 he famously hitchhiked back to California with his friend Janis Joplin.

Joplin and Helms
As was noted in part one of this series, Helms had played a key role in establishing Austin's psychedelic. Elsewhere, part two briefly addressed the fact that Helms later became Elevator jug player/lyricist/visionary Tommy Hall's LSD connection. This resulted in Helms making regular visits to the Halls' residence in Austin during the mid-1960s. While this was going on Helms was making quite a name for himself in San Francisco.
"Music happenings were a cornerstone of the cultural revival in the Haight, providing a locus around which a new community consciousness coalesced. One of the early energy-movers in the local rock scene was Chet Helms. A couple of years earlier, Helms had forsaken a futures a Baptist minister and hitchhiked from Texas with a young blues singer named Janis Joplin. Together, these two rolling stones traveled the asphalt networks of America in search of kindred spirits until they settled in the Haight. Joplin fell in with other musicians, joining what would later become Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Helms formed the Family Dog, an organization dedicated to what was then the rather novel proposition that people should be encouraged to dance at rock concerts."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 142)
The legendary Family Dog was a little less innocuous than this.
"The Family Dog was a loose collective of dope dealers connected to the pre-Charlatans crowd who had run the first head shop in San Francisco from late 1964, selling an array of knick-knacks, antiques, dope pipes and rolling papers. Luria Castell wanted to use their proceeds to fund events in an attempt to legitimize the new scene. Named after the 'dog house' on Pine Street, where the standard joke was 'Oh, who does that dog belong to?' 'Oh, it's just the family dog.' They promoted a series of shows at the Longshoremen's Hall, October 16 and 24 and November 6, 1965..."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 150)

These concerts were a big success and would lead to the rise of the famous ballrooms that would become such a key part of San Francisco's psychedelic scene.
"The Family Dog dance was a huge success, and soon these concerts became a staple of the hip community. Each weekend people converged at auditoriums such as the Avalon Ballroom for all-night festivals that combined the seemingly incongruous elements of spirituality and debauch. Thoroughly stoned on grass and acid and each other, they rediscovered the crushing joy of the dance, pouring it all out in a frenzy that frequently bordered on the religious. When rock music was performed with all its potential fury, a special kind of delirium took hold. Attending such performances amounted to a total assault on the senses: the electric sound washed in visceral waves over the dancers, unleashing intense psychic energies and driving the audience further and further towards public trance. Flashing strobes, light shows, body paint, outrageous getups – it was mass environmental theater, an oblivion of limbs and minds in motion. For a brief moment outside of time these young people lived out the implications of Andre Breton's surrealist invocation: 'Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.'"
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 142-143)
the Avalon Ballroom
Chet Helms claims to have been the individual who introduced strobe lights at concerts. He was much revered amongst the San Francisco crowd for his generosity. This would contribute to his later rivalry with Bill Graham, who ran the Fillmore (the other major ballroom in San Francisco at the time) and played a key role in commercializing San Francisco's psychedelic scene.
"...Acid rock, as the San Francisco sound was called, was unique not only as a genre but also as praxis. The musicians viewed themselves first and foremost as community artists, and they often played outdoors for free as a tribute to their constituency. Even when there was a cover charge, Chet Helms and the Family Dog usually waived it for friends and neighbors. People revered Helms for this, but because of his generosity he frequently lost money and could not always pay the bands.
"It was only later, when acid rock went national in the summer of 1967, that the scene began to change. Whether it was the profit motive or just the euphoric spirit of the early days was becoming harder to sustain, some of the originals felt that things were going sour. An up-and-coming rock promoter named Bill Graham was holding shows at the Fillmore auditorium and handling the biggest acts. Unlike Chet Helms, who ran his dance shows more like a church, Graham was in it strictly for the bucks. Although he refused to turn on, he was tuned in enough to see that light shows and acid rock could have mass appeal. Before long, high-powered record execs were knocking at his door."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 144)
Bill Graham
While Graham and Helms initially tried to work together their polar opposite objectives soon led to a break and rivalry that Helms was inevitably destined to lose. The Elevators inadvertently wandered into the middle of this rivalry during their San Francisco stay when they booked shows initially at both the Fillmore and Longshoremen's Hall (which at the time was being used by Helms and the Family Dog). Graham believed that he had secured an exclusive contract with the Elevators and was furious when they booked additional shows with Helms' people. Whether this contributed to the Elevators' struggles connecting with the San Francisco crowd is impossible to say, but they only played one show at the Fillmore and stuck to Helms' ballroom afterwards.

The Roky Erickson documentary You're Gonna Miss Me would have audiences believe that the Elevators all but invented the "San Francisco sound" when they rolled into town in 1966. This is utter nonsense. While reports vary, the general census is that San Francisco-ites simply didn't know what to make of the Elevators. They came into town with a Top 40 hit single ("You're Gonna Miss Me") and soon appeared on the Dick Clark's American Bandstand (their initial appearance with Dick Clark did not feature the infamous "We're all heads, Dick" line delivered by Tommy Hall, as is commonly assumed; this exchange occurred in October 1966 when the Elevators briefly returned for a follow-up appearance of Clark's show).

the Elevators on American Bandstand
To San Francisco groups and fans alike, this made the Elevators come off as "pop", at least until they saw the band perform live. At that point nobody really knew what to make of the group.
"How the Elevators were perceived in San Francisco is a hard question to answer. Although they were undeniably psychedelic in their outlook, they remained outsiders in every meaning of the word. While Janis became a poster child for the hippie-chick look, the Elevators hadn't yet made any concessions to adopting hippie attire, and with the stress of the recent bust they retained much of their standoffish paranoia and didn't hang around to socialize after performances. Somehow the band failed to evolve with the San Francisco musical culture in the same way that local bands did. Instead, they locked together and took an extreme amount of acid.
"The Elevators still played an eclectic mix of rock 'n' roll and original material, which had appeased their audience back home. Unlike the San Fran bans they didn't play long, improvised jams or meandering guitar solos. The jug was either a unique invention or an unwelcome intrusion in the music. However, even if you argue that the jug was an unnecessary appendage on a rock 'n roll cover, in an original song it would be a perfectly fused, integral part. The Elevators were conceived as an electric band delivering a psychedelic mantra from the onset. While this was Tommy's chosen medium and message, many of the Californian bands had evolved from more traditional acoustic roots to electric instruments. In contrast the Grateful Dead, despite their reputation as accomplished musicians, hadn't been conceived as an amplified, electric band, and their long semi-improvised jams betrayed their bluegrass roots. John Ike, with his kit chained to his drum stool, hit the drums harder and more aggressively than any other drummer on the West Coast. If the leather strap on his custom-made size-thirteen drum pedal broke, he simply kicked the drum instead. Stacy and Ronnie barely moved, and instead menacingly flanked Roky, who twisted and screamed until his slight frame shook. They didn't speak between songs, they didn't exactly dancer put on a show; instead, they delivered a loud and uncompromising barrage of music, saturated with intense lyrics and information."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 157-159)

Most accounts hold that the Elevators were simply to intense live, the paranoid energy of their sets bordering on punk rock nearly a decade before such a style would be recognized. Another aspect that set the Elevators apart from their San Francisco peers was their musicianship.

Accounts put forth by the likes of David McGowan and Jan Irvin alleging that the entire California rock 'n' roll scene of the 1960s was a creation of the CIA are quick to harp on the fact that most California bands were mediocre musicians. This was especially true of the L.A.-based bands of formed the legendary Laurel Canyon scene, whose studio albums were heavy on session musicians. Many band members in these groups had only recently learned how to play their instruments when these 1960s California groups started to gain national attention and even the ones who were accomplished musicians came from folk backgrounds and thus had little experience with electric instruments. While the L.A. bands were especially shoddy in this regard, their peers in San Francisco were not much better.
"To Texan ears, many of the San Francisco band sounded sloppy and under-rehearsed – in particular, their old friend Janis' new band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Even the Dead's Jerry Garcia, when questioned about Big Brother's musical ability in September 1966, acknowledged that 'those guys are pretty new electric instruments... and they still have to get used to what comes out and what doesn't come out.'"
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 159)
Janis with Big Brother and the Holding Company
The Elevators had no such problems. Guitarists Roky Erickson and Stacy Sutherland, despite being quite young when the band was formed, had both taken up the guitar around the age of ten and had nearly a decade of experience under their collective belts by the time 1966 rolled around. What's more, while Austin's folk scene had inspired the Elevators to a certain extent, the primary musical influences on Erickson and Sutherland were fellow Texans like Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and other early rock 'n' rollers who made heavy use of electric guitars. Thus, they were unburdened by transitioning to electric instruments either.

While the rhythm section at this point (John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman) was not as strong as it would later be with the two Dannys (bassist Danny Galindo and drummer Danny Thomas, that is), Walton and Leatherman were solid if unspectacular and also had several years of experience on their instruments. The only Elevator who had just learned an instrument was Tommy Hall. While his jug remains one of then most controversial aspects of the band's sound, Hall had an excellent sense of rhythm and was able to effectively work the jug into their live sets. What's more, the sounds Hall generated with the jug also pre-dated some of the early synthesizers and may have influenced groups who soon began incorporating the new technology.

Tommy Hall
By all accounts, the musical prowess of the Elevators in relation to their San Francisco counterparts was unquestioned. Houston White, an associate of the Elevators, was especially contemptuous of the San Francisco bands when describing their skills in relation to the Elevators:
"Those motherfuckers couldn't play, not the Elevators but everybody else, you know, the Grateful Dead were really awful and Jefferson Airplane were grim... I mean they got real good later on. They just weren't happening, and that was the thing, the Elevators were so obviously in command of their instruments and they had it together. Big Brother and the Holding Company were awful... If it hadn't been for Janis they'd have never gotten across the street."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 159) 
Thus, the Elevators were largely spared the indignity of session musicians on their records. They also wrote the bulk of their own material, with fellow Austin-ite Powell St. John being the only songwriter to contribute heavily to the band's albums outside of the actual members. While the Elevators did a far amount of covers while playing live (as did all bands during this era), their studio albums were largely comprised of original material written by Erickson, Sutherland and Hall.

Powell St. John
Ironically the Elevators, who first gained their devoted local following in no small part due their prowess as a live band, did not begin to slip as musicians until after the group's adventure in San Francisco. While part of this was due to the outfit's excessive drug use, another contributing factor was Erickson and Hall adopting the San Francisco ethos of not practicing their instruments. Still, Sutherland and the later, highly professional rhythm section of the two Dannys ensured that the band remained an effective live band for much of their run. So while the Elevators were many things, they certainly did not suffer from lack of musical ability as did many of their contemporaries during this time frame.

International Artists

Easily one of the strangest and least remarked upon aspects of the Elevators' brief run was their record label, International Artists (IA). While it only lasted from 1965 to 1970, the small Texas-based label would release some of the most groundbreaking psychedelia ever recorded.
"Houston's International Artists label was run by Leland Rogers, the brother of rocker-turned-country crooner Kenny Rogers (who scored his first big hit in 1968 with a transparently insincere psychedelic ditty, 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)'). By the end of the '60s, the company had a remarkable psychedelic roster including Lost & Found, the Golden Dawn, Bubble Puppy, and the Red Crayola, which debuted with an intriguing effort called The Parable of Arable Land, featuring a guest appearance by Erickson (though much of its music was static and self-consciously arty). International Artists signed the Elevators, but like many of their labelmates, the musician soon had a long list of complaints about the label and Leland Rogers, whose business practices helped doom them to obscurity..."
(Turn on Your Mind, Jim DeRogatis, pg. 71)

several of the other legendary International Artists releases: Red Krayola's The Parable of Arable Land, Bubble Puppy's A Gathering of Promises and Golden Dawn's Power Plant
The Elevators themselves, or at least Tommy Hall, share a degree of the blame for their failures as well. Still, there's no denying that IA had some curious business practices. While Leland Rogers has taken a fair degree of blame over the years for the label's ineptitude, he is in fact likely the only reason why IA artists got any national exposure at all. It was the actual owners of IA whose actions were so bizarre.

IA was originally founded by a local musician to attract big label interest in his band. Upon accomplishing this goal, the label was sold to a conglomerate largely comprised of lawyers with no experience whatever in the music industry.
"Inspired by the name 'United Artist,' Fred Carroll had conjured up the impressive-sounding International Artists to attract major label interest for his band the Coastliners. Following local success in October 1965, 'All right/Wonderful You' was picked up by the Back Beat label and, having no further need for the International Artists name, Carroll sold it to a strange conglomerate for the $35 cost of the label printing blocks. A pair of lawyers, Bill Dillard and Noble Ginther, a music business hustler and publisher, Kendall A. Skinner, and a studio boss, Lester J. Martin – inspired by the success of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones – were eager to get into the 'lucrative' music industry. Dillard and Ginther had no previous experience whatsoever, but were convinced that if they found the Texas Beatles, they could stand to make a lot of money. Meanwhile, Skinner worked as the A&R man while Les Martin hoped new bands to pass through his 'Jones and Martin Recording Studio,' co-owned with Doyle Jones."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 135)
the Coastliners
Shortly after the Elevators signed with IA in the 1966, Leland Rogers became the label's "national promotion man." Rogers already had nation wide contacts among DJs and other radio people and was thus able to generate a fair amount of radio play for "You're Gonna Miss Me." There are even some reports Leland was able to generate interest from Hanna-Barbera in terms of leasing the single, but these accounts are hazy and widely disputed.

The details surround the Elevators signing with International Artists are also curious as well. As one might expect, LSD was involved.
"While John Ike worried about the band's long-term future, Tommy was fed up with dealing with promoters and contracts, and was more concerned with preserving the essence of the band's message. He decided that if their fate was sealed with IA, then they should understand the group's perspective. Noble was a 'local boy' who a grown up with Elevators soundman Sandy Lockett in Houston. So Tommy, armed with LSD and a copy of Dylan's recently released Blonde on Blonde album, decided to pay Noble Ginther a visit. Allegedly, Tommy gave him acid and put on Dylan's 'Visions of Johanna' as proof of the high levels pop music was now entering. Ginther supposedly pleaded with him to turn it off and sat out the rest of the trip while Tommy explained his ideas. With Ginther 'converted' and 'in the know,' a contract was drawn up."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 143)
Dylan's Blonde on Blonde
While Tommy would continue to insist that Ginther was "in the fold", the Houston attorney noted in a 1973 interview that "there was the MESSAGE, which at the time I truthfully didn't even know what they were talking about." Tommy, however, would continue to insist that Ginther had seen the light through the rest of the Elevators' run.

possibly Ginther
Despite the initial success of "You're Gonna Miss Me", problems with IA began to emerge in late 1966 when the Elevators released their follow up single, "Reverberation," and their debut LP, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Both were a disaster.
"International Artist, out of a mixture of fear, ignorance or stupidity, didn't promote or distribute the single or album at all. But this was just the start of IA's incompetence. They simply didn't know how to promote a band, let alone one as unique as the Elevators. Fearful of adverse press leaking out over the bust their association with drugs, IA simply decided to do nothing. With no band photos or interviews, this was merely the beginning of what became the mystique of the Elevators. Instead, they blindly soldiered on, demanding more product in the hope that some of it would sell."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 198-199)
If International Artists had been weary of promoting the Elevators at the onset, they were positively terrified after the debacle at the Houston Music Hall Theatre (discussed in part three of this series). To band members and outsiders alike, the label's behavior became increasingly bizarre after the brief California tour and went completely overboard after the Music Hall show.
"While the band and their contemporaries had done everything possible to capitalize upon their status as returning heroes, IA appeared to be antagonistically attacking their progress. While it is understandable that a company run by lawyers was fearful of promoting a bunch of drug-fueled freaks to a wider market, they were also failing to serve their own self-interest. It was almost as if the Californian tour had been a useful means to keep the band out of the way while they spun the singled to the music industry rather than to the music-buying public. The failure of the Musical Hall show further fueled IA's paranoia and lack of trust in the band. They were simply too frightened to allow the band to be seen or heard in interviews or photos, and yet used the drug situation to exploit and control them at the same time. Leland Rogers, the man solely responsible for spinning the first single, repeatedly failed despite strong material. It was still presumed he could hype the album to success via his influence on a network of DJs and promoters. However, a promotional trip to the East Coast to market the album and follow-up interest in bookings for an East Coast tour, with shows from Florida to Maryland resulted in nothing but confusion."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 224)
Leland Rogers
Emma Walton, the mother of original Elevators' drummer John Ike Walton and the initial financial patron of the band (as noted in part two, the Walton family had made money in the oil industry), began to investigate what the label was doing with the group. Her attorney, Jack McClellan, began checking up on the above-mentioned East Coast tour and found that IA had made no arrangements for such a tour whatsoever. In point of fact, they only shows they continued to set up for the band were in obscure clubs within the state of Texas. This ensured that whatever national success the group achieved up this point would totally dissipate and that they would revert to little more than a regional cult act.

These actions led to a power struggle within the band.
"However, instead of the great escape, the situation degenerated into a triangular power struggle between IA, John Ike and Tommy. The dynamic between Tommy and John Ike had somehow worked until now, the two extremes being equally important in producing the band's unique persona. While Tommy felt John Ike's adverse reaction to hallucinogens was the first crack in his master plan, John Ike anchored them in the real world and help facilitate Tommy with the 'thinking' while he organize the 'doing.' However, Tommy wanted to maintain the status quo and stay with IA. He felt he had reached a level of understanding with IA by taking acid with Ginther, and this could be hard to achieve at another label. This meant he could concentrate on his ideas without becoming involved in business. Making money or repaying debts were irrelevant to his vision and, as Tommy expressed in 1973, 'the band was really just a device for our own education, so that it could pay for itself. In other words, we were just feeding back education so we could make some money, so we could makes more education...'
"The IA bosses were shrewd businessmen and did what every record label practices, divide and conquer: recognize the band's hierarchy and prey on their weaknesses. IA made further empty promises to replace equipment, book a national tour and give them more studio time for a new album. Tommy felt that a return to San Francisco would cause more problems than it solved and that by sticking with IA, which was hungry for product, he could gain increased artistic control." 
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 248-249)
John Ike Walton
There even allegations that the legendary label Elektra Records, which had recently signed the Doors, had shown interest in picking up the Elevators' contract during this time. While there is some question as to just how serious Elektra Records truly was, IA made no effort to peruse this interest. Thus the label, which was seemingly to afraid to promote the band, was also unwilling to get them off their hands (and potentially make a nice profit) by selling their contract to a major label.

While I've tried to avoid much conspiracy theorizing in this series, the actions of IA on the whole are truly inexplicable to the point that one is left with the distinct notion than IA was trying to suppress the band. While the label was surely incompetent on any number of levels, Ginther and Dillard displayed enough basic business sense to raise the possibility that their actions were deliberate for some reason.

Tommy Hall's actions are also curious, though possibly more rational than they are commonly claimed to be. While he may well have felt a certain kinship with Ginther after dropping LSD and listening to Dylan with the lawyer, his actions were surely also influenced by the fact that he was getting kickbacks from the label. The Waltons' attorney, Jack McClellan, examined Tommy's relationship with the label and made some interesting observations. He stated:
"God knows what they lived on. See, Tommy was able to go in there to IA and get these piddling little handouts – maybe fifty bucks to last him a couple of weeks. Totally unsatisfactory trips like that. But all seemingly cool with Tommy, since he got to buy as much acid as he wanted. What did he care about eating or paying back his debts, or that Momma Walton was out thousands? He seemed to be sold on Ginther personally, because he'd once dropped some acid with him, which shows how sophisticated Tommy was. By the time I latched on the band's bankroll, the pattern was already established. Anytime they got a couple of hundred dollars together, Tommy would fly up to San Francisco, buy a bunch of acid and fly back. I finally indulged John Ike to the extent of letting him buy a motorcycle just because I felt Tommy had appropriated so much of their bread. He wasn't hoarding it for himself, oh no! He was spending it on all of them. But you can see why John Ike insisted on managing the band, so he could protect his share. I was supposed to clean up all that shit, and what I actually did was just accelerate the process of their disintegration. All this was irrelevant to Tommy. He was willing to sell his soul for stardom; he was willing to let himself be screwed by these straight guys. John Ike wasn't; Roky didn't know."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 248)

And yet Tommy Hall didn't seem especially bent on stardom either. What really seems to have been driving him at this point was artist control and the ability to finally pursue his vision in full. And he got these things by the end of the year when the band went about recording Easter Everywhere. With John Ike out of the band by then and Stacy Sutherland feeling the heat off another drug bust, Tommy was able to totally dominate the artist direction of that album. What's more, IA put up top dollar for the recording process, enabling the band to explore their sound much further than on their debut (though the label naturally did the initial pressings on the cheap just as they had done for The Psychedelic Sounds of..., thus ensuring the original records sounded poor).

Thus, Tommy Hall seems to have succeeded in a fashion that appealed to his sensibilities. While he may have been many things, he was able to arrange events so that he was at the helm of one of the most unique and groundbreaking rock 'n' roll albums ever recorded with Easter Everywhere.

As for John Ike, his nightmare with IA had only begun. After he left the group he would begin what would become a decades spanning legal battle to recoup some of the group's earnings. Allegedly bank rolling the band and engaging in a protracted legal battle with IA ultimately bankrupted the Walton family. John Ike would hardly be the only band member to suffer greatly, however. And on that note, let us move on our next topic.

Roky Erickson's Mental Breakdown

By most accounts, Erickson's mental problems first began to manifest during the band's stay in San Francisco. In the documentary on his life, You're Gonna Miss Me, Clementine Hall (Tommy's wife) recounts how Roky first began hearing voices (a state of affairs that would continue for decades) while in 'Frisco, and that she would take him down to the beach and allow the waves to strike him until the voices subsided.

Erickson himself alleged at one point that his mental state began to change around the age of 17, prior to his discovery of LSD, but now refutes this claim. In recent years he has also taken strong issue with being diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia in general.
"... There has been much debate over the years as to when Roky first experienced the symptoms of mental illness and what the root of the cause was. He has been diagnosed as schizophrenic on several occasions, and here lies the problem. As of 2007, Roky will clearly tell you he has never experienced any symptoms of schizophrenia – it was all a necessary ruse to avoid the draft board in 1966 and jail in 1969. 'Schizophrenia' is an unsatisfactory umbrella term for a range of disorders for which there is no medical diagnosis, and the stigma can lead to marginalization and social control, often through excessive medication and incarceration – both of which he experience. Today there is a serious lobby by many psychiatrists to argue that schizophrenia is a redundant and unhelpful diagnosis. Certainly Roky has a highly emotional state of being, informed from an early age by his equally neurotic parents, which manifested in a hysterical and eccentric personality. In 1973, Rocky stated he became aware of his mental condition changing age seventeen (he now refutes this). Aged eighteen onwards he embarked on the toxic overload, experimenting with a pharmacopoeia of illicit substances, supposedly typical 40% of people suffering from 'schizophrenia.' In 1975, Roky surmised that although bands took drugs to keep on the road he used mine-altering substances as a means of retaining control of his mind.
"From an early age, Roky made a decision to live his life on his own terms. He invariably stops taking the anti-psychotic medication he has been prescribed as soon as the symptoms begin to be controlled, preferring his natural mental state to the inhibiting side effects. Roky's use of drugs and chosen lifestyle were both therapeutic and destructive to his mental state. Roky's behavior during his periods of illness appear to parallel many of the generic psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, disorganized thinking, delusions).
"While the 'normal' brain can distinguish the sound of a constantly dripping tap and relegate it as useless information, someone suffering from a psychosis cannot differentiate and will react equally to all environmental stimuli until the accumulative bombardment reaches a cacophony – they cannot habitualize to their surroundings. The most obvious path to regaining control is simply to 'scream' over at all. 
"Assuming Roky suffered from such symptoms, his life as a rock musician – playing at extreme volume, using feedback to create a 'third sound,' would have addressed this dehabitualization. Equally, focusing on reciting lyrics, familiar information patterns, would have the same effect. While the relationship between LSD and psychosis is ultimately territory for the research scientist, it is particularly relevant to Roky's life. LSD's effects can stimulate the central nervous system to redefine its surroundings through a brand set of senses, and the result can be synaesthetic. A blue object in the real world is only reflecting light back into receptors in the eye to make it appear that color. In an altered state of perception the object could appear as a different color or stimulate another sense entirely – the color could be smelled or heard. The way in which hallucinogens influence dehabitualization validates the psychotic perception where the surroundings are 'emitting' too much information. In the Sixties, Roky coined the phrase 'I'm transmitting but not receiving,' which mirrored Nijinsky's anti-Descartian theory 'God is the fire in my head, I do not think and therefore I cannot go mad.' Historically there has always been rebellion in writers such as Baudelaire, Woolf and Poe, who chose their mental turmoil as a source of creation and the means of battling mundane normality..."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 81-82)
Much of the evidence indicates that Roky had already developed some mild psychosis prior to joining the Elevators. Predictably, this has led many to the conclusion that it was Erickson's LSD use that set him on the path of total breakdown that he later wandered. But there were other factors at play around the time (i.e. the San Francisco tour) when Roky's psychosis became overt and evident to all.

Some have speculated that a certain drug he began taking leading up to his appearance before the draft board in 1966 played a much larger role in his psychosis than LSD. Taking this substance was part of a broader plan devised by Tommy Hall to help Roky beat the draft.
"Tommy and Clementine had always taken on a parental role in the relationship with Roky and decided to guide Roky through beating the draft board. Between them they constructed a plan that would require Roky to employ all of his skills as an actor while Tommy concocted an almost Gurdjieffian form of method acting for him. In his teaching, Gurdjieff set his pupils physical hurdles in order to overcome mental barriers. The idea was for Rocky to complain of back pains while presenting a suitably disoriented and disheveled appearance to support his suffering. Tommy used Asthmador as part of Roky's draft avoidance regimen. This was an asthma relief preparation that contained the active ingredient Atropine, a psychoactive compound present in both mandrake root and belladonna. Asthmador either came in powdered form, which was supposed to be lit and inhaled to clear bronchia, but could be misused by placing it in gelatin caps and swallowed. It also came in cigarette form in an unintentionally psychedelic red and green packet.
"Belladonna has had magical powers attributed to it since the Dark Ages, and its use as a poison is well known, but it had also been discovered as a drugstore high in the Sixties. Leary is reported to have stated that he'd never heard of a good belladonna trip. Atropine is the same substance present in Mandrax (from the mandrake root), which was heavily abused by Pink Floyd's madcap leader Syd Barrett and has often been attributed to the final crack in his sanity..."
(Eye Mind, Pal Drummond, pg. 171)
Atropine is closely related to scopolamine, which is a chemical variant on the former. Both are derived from solanaceae plants such as the above-mentioned belladonna and mandrake root, which have been used in a host rituals for centuries. Scopolamine, when paired with morphine, is known to create a state known as "twilight sleep." At various times the US national security apparatus would consider the use of twilight sleep as an interrogation technique. Strangely, Roky reportedly first used heroin while in San Francisco as well. Given Tommy Hall's loathing for opiates, however, it is unlikely that their was an attempt at play to cause a similar state in Roky. But moving along.

While Roky's mental state has generally been attributed to excessive drug use, many friends and associates of the Elevators have insisted that Roky's early psychosis was largely an act. What really unhinged him was not the drugs (at least at first), but the electroshock treatment he has been subjected to over the course of his life. While many believe that Roky was only subjected to electroshock after he was sent to Rusk in 1969, his relationship with the treatment began earlier than this.

Both Tommy and Clementine Hall have insisted that after the second time Roky had taken acid they dropped him off at his house before the effects of the drug had warn off. Evelyn Erickson, Roky's mother, was understandably shocked and, according to the Halls, she immediately took him to the Austin State Hospital for treatment. Evelyn has long denied this account but Chet Helms also noted that he had encountered Roky in an institution before the Elevators began. Helms, as noted above, was a regular visitor at the Halls' house even after he moved out to California in 1963. Clementine Hall has gone even further with her claims, stating:
"I think it was the second time Roky got high with us. Evelyn was the one who decided he was out of his mind and needed to be hospitalized when he was high – she thought he was crazy, she refused to believe he was high. And Tommy and I had said 'please don't make us take you home, we don't think you're gonna be safe there.' 'Oh, of course I'll be safe with my mom!' 'What if she sees you like this?' 'She'll be fine.' And she had him committed! I do know that while he was high, he was subjected to shock treatment, and that was when the biggest damage was done."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 81)

If this account is true, it should certainly be factored in to Erickson's breakdown. Roky was also institutionalized briefly while he was in San Francisco as well (in both cases, and in many others, Tommy Hall came to break Roky out) and while there were plans to give him electroshock therapy then, they apparently fell through. Upon returning to Texas from San Francisco, Roky began to seek out psychiatric help in order to thwart the draft board. At this point he seems to have gained a most curious patron who would protect him for a time.
"Help also came from another mysterious character in the Austin scene, Dr. 'Crazy Harry' Hermon, would later come to Roky's rescue again. The thirty-six-year-old Austrian-born research psychologist was definitely an outsider and the polar opposite to the medical norm in Texas. His eccentric 'jet set' air, his advocation of unconventional therapies combined with his Federal license to prescribe LSD put him in direct contact with the Austin underground where he helped fight many draft causes on medical grounds."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 203) 
While largely forgotten now, "Crazy Harry" Hermon was a major LSD proponent in the 1960s. He also reportedly had a keen interest in hypnotism and nude therapy. After he was run out of Austin in the late 1960s by local law enforcement he became a member of the mysterious "Neo-American Church", which proclaimed hallucinogens as a religious sacrament. The "church" was founded in 1966 by Arthur Kleps, an associate of Leary's during the Millbrook days. The famed LSD chemist Nick Sand served as an "alchemist" for the Neo-American Church" before departing to San Francisco with the likely US intelligence asset William Mellon Hitchcock (who, along with the Millbrook scene, were discussed in depth here).

Hermon is the masked and restrained individual in the center
As was noted in part two, its also possible Chet Helms had ties to the Millbrook scene. Thus, Roky's relationship with Hermon was potentially either the first or second brush the Elevators had with the Millbrook people. This is especially relevant to the fate of Tommy Hall, as we shall see in the next installment, but it should be noted that I have not been able to determine if Hermon had yet made contact with the Millbrook clique when he first encountered Erickson.

Unfortunately, Drummond doesn't really explain what other rescue Hermon performed for Roky. He is only mentioned once more in Eye Mind, in a quote from Evelyn Erickson recounting Roky's legal woes in 1968 (which resulted in him being subjected to electroshock treatment in a Houston psychiatric hospital for a brief time as well). Apparently many of the local psychiatrists wanted to subject Roky to a more "intense" regiment of treatments, but Hermon briefly protected him. There relationship seems to have ended after Roky was living with one of Hermon's nurses for a week or so, and then simply walked away. Its possible Hermon's own legal woes also led to his break with Erickson (and Austin on the whole) as well.

Roky's luck was about to come to an end, and he was finally subjected to heavy electroshock therapy shortly after the Elevators dissolved. He was not the only member that would receive such treatments either. These and other fates shall be considered in the final installment of this series. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Slip Inside This House: The Nightmare Trip of the 13th Floor Elevators Part III

Every day's another dawning 
Give the morning winds a chance 
Always catch your thunder yawning 
Lift your mind into the dance 
Sweep the shadows from your awning 
Shrink the fourfold circumstance 
That lies outside this house don't pass it by

Welcome to the third installment in my examination of Austin's the 13th Floor Elevators, one of the pioneering psychedelic acts of the 1960s. During the first installment I briefly addressed the Elevators' legacy over the years as well as the origins of Austin' psychedelic culture. With the second installment I did a run down of the curious backgrounds of the original 13th Floor Elevator lineup, who were largely upper middle class kids (sans bassist Benny Thurman, a former Marine) hailing from families with certain connections.

With this and the remaining installments of this series I would like to focus on various aspects of the band's brief run. I'll try to keep things in chronological order as much as possible, but there will be a bit of jumping back and forth. So with that disclaimer, let us start off with one of the core components of the group's identity: LSD.


The hallucinogen was present from the very inception of the Elevators: one night in 1965 Benny Thurman, John Ike Walton, Stacy Sutherland and Tommy Hall (the bulk of the band's original lineup) went to see Roky Erickson perform with his then-band, the Spades, at an Austin club known as the Jade Room. Allegedly all five parties tripped together after the show and agreed to pursue what would become the Elevators. There has been some question, however, as to whether every member of the band tripped during this outing.

Roky Erickson (in the red shirt) with his first band, the Spades
There is no question concerning the group's second joint trip on LSD, which occurred during a band rehearsal. It was then that the Elevators first embarked upon jug player and guru Tommy Hall's quest to "play the acid."
"Tommy did have an agenda – a vision of the band as the medium for his message. The idea was that the band would take LSD and then 'play the acid,' provoking a synesthesic reaction from the audience. Unfortunately, it was virtually impossible to describe the temporary revelation of the psychedelic experience without actually being on the drug. Therefore, if the band – and possibly some of the audience – were tripping on acid, it would evoke and reinforce the message. The problem was how many of the band members would share his vision. The only way he could find out was to introduce it into the rehearsals. Although everyone had supposedly dropped acid the night they went to see Roky and the Spades, it's not known whether everyone actually took what Tommy handed them. Stacy and Benny had an appetite for experimentation, but also shared a redneck caution with John Ike. John Ike claims not remember his first encounter with LSD. However, his second trip was to shape his future relationship with the drug, and with Tommy. He freely admits that this whole early period of the band's history is a blur due to his drug use. Roky been well aware of all the interest in LSD in the late Fifties and it appeared to be the perfect catalyst for creating new, heightened performance. Roky thrived on extremes, and was well aware from theater training of the concept of breaking the barrier between the stage and audience. If Tommy was right and the band could 'play the acid' and make the audience high, they would be reinventing ancient ritualistic traditions, creating a new type of performance."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 75-78)
Tommy's vision for the Elevators would later be applied to rock 'n roll as a whole by the great Christopher Knowles when he compelling argued that the music was the spiritual descendant of the Mystery religions of the ancient world.
"... Over time, I came to realize that rock 'n' roll is in fact the direct descendant of the Mysteries, which had evolved and adapted to suit the needs and customs of postwar American secular culture. 
"What did the Mysteries offer that other cults of the time did not? Almost exactly what rock 'n' roll would, thousands of years later. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence – leaving your mind and your body and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger. A personal connection to something deep, strange, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding monotony of everyday life and break all the rules of polite society. A place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all night."
(The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, Christopher Knowles, pg. 6)

While many would take this recreation of the Mystery and shamanistic traditions of the ancient world as a largely subconscious act on the part of various artists, this is clearly not the case with Elevators. Tommy Hall had made the connect between rock shows and ancient rituals at a very early date and used his knowledge of various esoteric traditions to consciously experiment with this connection. But moving along.

Roky claimed to have first become aware of LSD via a TV program he viewed in the late 1950s. Surprisingly, such things did exist. Consider this (unintentionally hilarious) clip, believed to have filmed been in 1956.

This trip would have a profound effect on the entire band. Lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland would equate it with a religious experience. In a 1973 interview with Joseph Kahn he stated:
"Once we had an (LSD) experience, we all had this spiritual thing that happened together. I mean it was really a religious thing. We just all came on together and we were in a wonderland. And ol' Tommy had put us, with his knowledge, into a clear state. You know what I mean? It was a completely clear state of mind. And it was like you were free. Totally free."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 79)
Drummer John Ike Walton, however, was horrified by the experience. During an interview with Paul Drummond, he noted:
"I had the worst trip anybody can imagine. I just didn't want to take anymore. First time, nothing happened. The second time, Tommy gave me a massive dose – an overdose. He gives me a gelatin capsule full of it. He said, 'Here. Take this.' I said, 'I don't want to take this. No, thank you.' Then Stacy comes in, 'Hey, man, listen. You've got to take that acid or you're not going to be in a place with us. And we want the band to be with us, man.' And then Benny comes in and says the same thing. So I said, 'Okay, what the hell.' I took that stuff. I was playing the drums here and the walls started to move. I mean I was out of control. My brain was out of control. I had no control. I didn't like it. It scared me. I was terrified of Tommy. I was terrified of all those people. I didn't want to do anything but crawl around in the front yard of this house and look at the fields. It's weird. That stuff is – it might be fine for some people, but – I'm not the same."
(ibid, pg. 79)
Despite John Ike Walton's adverse reaction, the band apparently emerged from the experience with a purpose.
"After sunrise their trips had finally faded and each band member crawled back to their respective homes. It had been chaotic but somehow that evening had cemented the future of the band. Hallucinogens were to become an integral part of the band's existence. Creatively and as inspiration they were the catalyst that made the band unique. The events of that night cemented the roles each would play – Roky as the face and voice, Tommy as the vision and lyricist and Stacy the sound. Yet their individual reactions to LSD were still divided."
(ibid, pg. 80)
Roky, Tommy and Stacy
John Ike Walton would refuse to take LSD ever again after this experience. This was the first blow to Tommy's vision of "playing the acid." Elsewhere, bassist Benny Thurman also had a deeply religious experience, but he began to develop an ideology that was contrary to Tommy's.
 "Benny, like Tommy, was a talker, and he'd taken LSD's revelatory visions as purely religious and wanted to express his own quasi-religious view but when he proceeded to profusely enthuse about the Lord and the heavenly culture, Tommy seemed dismissive. Benny still carried his fiddle with him and when challenged often whipped it out and played his reaction. He was also taking a lot of speed, which Tommy disapproved of and declared were 'Hitler's drugs'..."
(ibid, pg. 115)
Benny began to developing his own psychedelic Bible and increasingly tried to play the part of a speed-fueled prophet. This breach of Tommy's territory was one of the factor's the led to his dismal from the band in 1966.

Despite these set backs, the band (sans John Ike Walton) opted to go through with Tommy's plan of playing live shows on LSD. In an interview with Paul Drummond, the jug man remarked:
"We were naïve. It was my idea that we would play the acid. Well, you can only take it once a week. So that was a problem. So we all took acid, but John Ike had a bad trip, so that was the first hole that we had in the group because my idea was we would all be on acid and then we would reinforce one another as we played. We played some shows when we were on acid and we had people come to us, saying they were more stoned now, digging our group, then when they were on peyote. It had done that to their heads."
(ibid, pg. 81)
The band played more than "some shows" on acid. While I was skeptical of the claim that the group had almost always performed on LSD, multiple band members insisted that this was the case. Indeed, the group seems to have gone to great lengths to ensure that they were tripping when playing live. During the group's brief tour of San Francisco in 1966, for instance, the group would attempt to play more than one show a night so they were assured of reaching the widest audience while performing and tripping.
"During September, the band worked probably harder than any other month in their career, and added to their haphazard schedule they dropped acid nearly every day. But the problem with Tommy's mission was that LSD takes a minimum of three to four days to clear the system before another hit can be taken and its full effects experienced properly. This put a real pressure on the band to decide when and where they would drop acid for best effect. From Tommy's point of view, multiple bookings were a bonus because it meant that two or three shows could be played on a hit of LSD. Later on in their stay on the West Coast, Ronnie remembered they developed a pattern of playing once every four days. Fueled by LSD and youthful energy, the band hit the road on a chaotic tour the Bay Area and, as usual, the police wanted to bust them at every opportunity..."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 162)

As one can image, this meant that individual band members consumed an enormous amount of LSD during the Elevators' 1965-1969 run. Both Roky Erickson and Tommy Hall have at various times claimed to have taken over three hundred hits of LSD during this time frame. This is likely not an exaggeration as virtually all of the band members have experienced severe psychological problems over the years as a result of this quest. Some of these problems (most notably Erickson's mental breakdown) began appearing during the band's run.

Beyond this, however, repeated use of LSD would also begin to have a warped spiritual effect on various members. The most striking instance of this by far is one particular trip lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland had in 1967. It occurred before the band was set to play a show at the prestigious Houston Musical Hall Theatre.

the Houston Musical Hall Theatre circa 1967
At the time it was the group's biggest show in Texas but the venue (booked by their record level) was a very bad choice. It was located in a high end suburb teeming with cops in one of the most conservative cities in the nation (one Elevator associate described Houston as a "Nazi encampment" at the time). Paranoia set in amongst the band and was bolstered further when their label opted to hire off duty police officers as security for the band.

Stacy took a hit of pure Sandoz acid shortly before the Elevators were set to take the stage and almost immediately began to have a major episode. Jack McClellan, the band's lawyer, had traveled with them to the show and attempted to calm him down by having a massive office duty cop give him some cannabis. McClellan described this spectacle as thus:
"This friend of mine was saying, 'What's wrong with Stacy? You gotta take the sharp end of the acid off with some grass.' Stacy was lying on the goddamn floor, groaning. This guy [an off-duty cop] was about seven feet tall and three hundred pounds, and straight-looking, and he freaked Stacy out. He just looked like a big cop, standing there in that hotel room. Finally, this dude gave him a couple of joints and cooled him right out, but we practically had to carry him on stage. The kids loved it. No wonder the nacs considered it their sacred duty to eradicate these cats..."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 221)

In a 1974 interview with Joseph Kahn, Stacy insisted that he had had a prophetic experience:
"... One time I was in a motel room; we were getting ready to play a show at the Musical Hall in Houston, and it was the biggest show we'd ever done in Texas, and we took some Sandoz acid. And all of a sudden, I lost control of my body and I got down on the floor and I'd never experienced anything like this before, and I looked up and Tommy and Roky were turning into wolves, hair and teeth, I mean wolves... man! And in my mind I was hearing the echo of space, and rays of light were shooting through the roof. And I kept remembering the scripture in the Bible, 'Beware the false prophets,' and all of a sudden here was a vision in light that we were wolves and we were spreading drugs and Satanism in the world, and I'd never realized it, because of an Antichrist influence. And all of a sudden I was bad, and these angels walked in the room and they had light shining on them, bright, and they all gathered 'round me and they were the jury at my trial. And this one angel stepped up, and he was offering me a job, and it was really just our lawyer [Jack McClellan], and Roky and Tommy and one of Roky's friends named Jack Scarborough. And I knew who they were as people, and I knew they were in a model level... you know, conception, and I was talking to God, and they were spirits in a position of influence on me and a decision that had to be made in my life. And I couldn't make it, know what I mean? And we want to the show and all of a sudden Roky put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Man, you've been here before.' I knew what he meant, but I thought he meant, 'YOU HAVE been here BEFORE.' [Laughs.] He said, 'Man, I'm sorry you've just here because of me,' meaning 'I put you in a bad place'... possibly. I thought he meant my whole existence and purpose was to be a guitar player for his voice, I felt like I was going to turn around and a bolt of lightning come through the car and explode... and the spaceship would come. We got to the Musical Hall, and I went inside and the devil was there, and he had his tall pointed hat on, and he was the emcee for the show, and he was 'Weird Beard,' the number one disc jockey in Houston, and he looked at me and he had a goatee and a sorcerer's costume on... and I was bad and he knew it. And nobody else in the room could see, and this narcotics agent that we hired to travel with us had to guard us, because they were always trying to put pot on us, was standing beside me and I didn't want him to know I was freaking out. And the devil walked up to me and started asking me how his pointed hat looked, and every time he twisted his pointed hat his nostrils would flare... I ran outside and looked up at the sky and there were clouds of blood floating in the sky... and I call John Ike and Ronnie up and said I've got to go to the hospital, 'cos I lost it. And they kept saying, 'No, man, you don't want to do that, because if you go to a hospital the psychiatrist is going to see you flipped out on acid and they're going to start hassling. You might as well work it out yourself.' So, I said, 'Okay, I'm just going to try and go with it' and we went inside and the show was starting man, and it was the biggest show we'd ever done! [Laughs.] And as soon as I took off down the ramp, man, I looked down and there I saw the light show and the revolving stage and it represented Hades, and Satan with his cape was leading us down into the arena. And all these kids were around, and I thought, we're going down there to tell people to get stoned and if the world ends right now I've had it. And I said, 'Man, I have to get to a preacher...' I was gone, I really thought it was the end, you know. I couldn't talk to either [Tommy] or Roky that night, see, because they were the wolves... I was a wolf too. I got on this rib and I ran for the door and one of these wolves jumped in front of the door. And I thought they were going to stake me on the floor, because I was a wolf too, see? I said, 'Man, we're mad.' But anyway, that angel, he told me I was going to the penitentiary and that I was going to lose this chick [Laurie Jones] I had been going with for eight years... And we are planning on getting married. And when I came down about two or three days later I just blew it off, just said, 'Man, too weird!' and I never thought about it... and a few months after that I lost that chick, and a year and some and I was in the penitentiary. That really happened, I swear."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 221-222)

Russ "Weird Beard" Knight, the DJ whom Stacy saw as the devil (top); an image shot of the Elevators back stage at the Houston Musical Hall Theatre presumably taken while Stacy was in the midst of his prophetic trip (bottom) 
In 1977, during a videotaped interview, Stacy again insisted upon the vision. Only this time he acknowledged that the angel had made had made a third prophecy to time shortly before he took the stage that night.
"There was one element of the vision that Stacy didn't recount in 1974, but did relate 1977. The angels at this trial warned him of three prophetic happenings in his life. Firstly, the end of his eight-year relationship with Laurie Jones; secondly, his incarceration in a penitentiary (just as his grandmother had promised him); and a third, which was to terrible for him to relate, but was presumably his premature death."
(ibid, pg. 223)
This prophecy too came to pass in 1978, about a year after this interview. But more on that in a later installment.

While its tempting to read deeply into this experience, it should also be taken in context with Stacy's upbringings at the hands of his maternal grandmother. As was noted in part two, she instilled in him a notion that he was "bad" from a young age and that he was destined to end up in the penitentiary sooner or later. Clearly this vision was shaped by the predictions Stacy's grandmother had made concerning him from a very young age. Other elements, most notably losing his long time girlfriend and dying young, were likely fears he was already experiencing at this point due to has uncontrolled drug use (which also included speed and heroin by this point). But moving along.

Outlaw Ways

The Elevators would be hounded by police officers throughout their brief run. This state of affairs began practically at the onset of the group's founding, shortly after their version of "You're Gonna Miss Me" (Roky had previously recorded the single with his old group, the Spades) became a major hit in Austin and cemented Roky Erickson as a local hero to the youth of Texas. The Elevators' situation was further complicated by the fact that Tommy Hall (with ample assistance from his wife, Clementine) had become a significant drug dealer in the Austin area, a fact that deeply worried drummer John Ike Walton and Benny Thurman from the get go. This combination provided ample pretext for local law enforcement to crack down on the band.
"'Roky Erickson' was becoming a far too prominent name, and the authorities had decided it was time to act. Burt Gerding was placed on surveillance throughout the university scene, while vice squad Sergeants Conner and Flores were detailed to Stacy and John Ike from January 19. While they weren't exactly sure what the band was up to, it didn't matter – it was time to put the frighteners on them as Harvey Gann, lieutenant in charge of vice and narcotics, was having his reality threatened. The presence of Roky Erickson and his debauchery were a direct affront to the way of life he'd fought for in the war – and Gann was a proper war hero, the sole survivor of a plane that crashed behind enemy lines. On his fourth escape from the Nazi prison camp, he made it across Russia and arrived back in the United States the day before the war ended...
"Tommy's trips to Mexico to buy grass had become elaborate charades with Clementine and the kids dressed up for the perfect family outing and returning with the kids sitting on huge sacks of Mexican beans stuffed with marijuana. Any broken laws were contrary to his quest for enlightenment and his philosophical rule of thumb said that if you thought you'd get busted, you would. Austin's smoking community bankrolled the trips and once, when he failed to deliver, it resulted in the temporary confiscation of his beloved record collection.
"Before Christmas Tommy secured a particularly large hall of grass, twenty-six pounds. By the end of January, it had dwindled to two pounds – more than enough for a felony and two to ten years. The bulk was stored under a couch in the garage in the driveway, and the evening of January 26, the kids spotted cops poking around the alley and alerted Tommy."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 102-103)
Officer Burt Gerding
Tommy dismissed these warnings, believing that Officer Burt Gerding (who had previously displayed some interest in Austin's counterculture) would tip the band off before a major bust went down. Needless to say, Tommy grossly misread Gerding.
"Gerding's job was to be omnipresent in the youth culture, to the point he was no longer feared, because he never appeared to bust anyone. He genuinely liked his job, whether it was keeping an eye on the brothels on the city limits are shaking Lightnin' Hopkins' hand at the Eleventh Door Club, and often took bemused older folks on late-night tours to see the freaks at play. However, according to Gerding, his report, intended for Gann's eyes only, was circulated around city hall and the decision was made that it was far better to make an example of Roky Erickson than risk arresting the 'wrong' people. The sons and daughters of wealthy oilmen from Dallas or Houston might get caught in a wider bust and could cause a 'big stink,' which might negatively impact on lucrative endowments to the university from prominent oilmen. Busting the Elevators was a 'let's scare them out of it' stopgap.
"On January 26, Leonard Flores and E.L. Conner applied for a search warrant for room eighteen of the Bel Air motel, where Stacy and John Ike were staying, and Gann and the vice squad staked out Tommy's house until two a.m. Due to 'a lack of activity' they didn't execute the warrants until 8:20 p.m. the following evening...
"While searching upstairs, Gann found a bag of syringes and needles, which dated back to Clementine's first husband's tuberculosis treatment. She neglected to throw them out and Gann felt he had all the evidence needed to prove heavy drug use. When Clementine's mother called Gann to inquire what the charges against her daughter, she was allegedly told possession of heroin. She had become addicted to morphine while recovering from an incident on the ranch when a pig mauled her arm. The horror of her daughter being associated with opiates was enough to cause a heart attack. Despite Clementine's insistence that only marijuana was involved, her mother refused to believe her and died a few days later in the hospital. The consequences of the marijuana bust were proving to be tragic in the most unexpected manner.
"The officers' returned from Tommy's house was listed as 'metal sifter containing marijuana, a plastic bag containing marijuana, large cardboard box containing assorted quality of marijuana in bags and containers, a small amount of marijuana from the floorboard of 1966 Chevrolet Greenbrier, Texas, 1965 Registration License PGL 462.' While the cops had previously secured evidence against Stacy, they now had Tommy, but Roky and John Ike were still clean – and it was Roky they wanted most of all.
"John Ike, Stacy and Roky were put in the squad car and driven to Roky's apartment. What the police didn't know was that Roky had actually moved to a new address a few months earlier, effectively making their search warrant invalid. Although Roky had cleaned the premises, the cops still found his old pipe with burnt marijuana in the bowl and supposedly a bag of grass...
"For John Ike and Benny, it confirmed their misgivings about Tommy Hall's activities, but ultimately it made the nucleus of Roky, Tommy and Stacy even stronger. The bust became a double-edged sword – it gave them notoriety, leading to further popularity, but also led to a paranoid and nomadic existence, constantly moving addresses with no fixed base. After gigs they didn't hang around and socialize; ultimately, they were learning to be outlaws..."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 103-108)
a newspaper account of the Elevators' drug bust
This was the first and most significant bust the group would collectively be involved in. While other members were brought down individually during the waning years of the group, it was this initial bust that would haunt them throughout their brief run. As noted above, Texas law enforcement would use this bust as a pretext to keep the group under constant surveillance for years to come. And yet the initial outcome of the bust was relatively favorable for the Elevators. It was resolved by the fall of 1966.
"On July 28, it was reported in the Austin papers that the band had appeared at a court docket call and received a September 19 trial in front of Judge Mace Thurman. Thurman had the reputation as the 'hanging judge' for any drug-related felonies. He never gave probation or was lenient in any drug-related cases. The band fully expected to be picking cotton for the next ten to twenty years...
"However, there was some unexpected news. The hearing was brought forward a month, and D.B. Woods, an elderly, non-criminal judge would be presiding. Two rumors perpetuate – firstly, that Mace Thurman was taken ill and another judge simply replaced him. However, while earlier attempts by Evelyn and her prayer group to influence the grand jury failed, she maintained her belief in the church as a way of solving her family's problems. The district attorney's wife, who bellowed to her prayer group, shared her concerns for the youth and as a result, the Elevators' court hearing was brought forward when Mace Thurman was on vacation.
"At the pre-trial hearings in June, Jack McClellan had based suitable please on the police evidence; Stacy and Tommy's attorney Holman Brooks would plead guilty. By doing so, they waved a jury trial and any further examination in the hope of lenient sentences. However, no one was prepared for the actual outcome of the court hearings. Stacy and Tommy's cases were filed at 9:55 a.m. on August 8, 1966, John Ike's at 11:32 and Clementine and Roky's at 11:33 a.m. Before midday they were all back outside the courthouse wondering how they all walked free.
"Both John Ike and Clementine's cases were thrown out due to 'insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.' Roky's case was dropped because of technicalities on the search warrant; not only was he no longer a resident at the address but the warrant had the incorrect street number.
"Jack McClellan: 'They had the wrong address on Roky's search warrant, they had Tommy's number on Roky's street. In their sloppiness, the narcs blew it. They planted him,anyway, with stuff they'd found a Tommy's house. At the hearing, Harvey Gann got the idea that I was going to raise hell about them rushing in without knocking, so he volunteered the information that he served the warrant personally, as soon as they'd corralled everybody into the living room. That tied him to his own bad search warrant. It was a happy accident, because he misunderstood what I was after, he lied his way into the truth. They sprung Roky. As for the rest of them, because they were the first group of white middle-class kids to get busted, the DA wasn't that interested in putting them in the penitentiary.'
"In Tommy and Stacy's case, where the evidence was real, the new judge allegedly misunderstood that a small amount of evidence had been seized, rather than that a small amount had been tested as evidence. Tommy and Stacy, much to their surprise, were each given two-year probationary sentences.
"Clementine: 'Well, we went in absolutely terrified, and we were absolutely bamboozled when we came out and it wasn't the horror we thought it would be. Everybody was telling us that we would never be heard of again. So we were absolutely shitting green, if you don't mind the expression. And then... this is one of the reasons I'm eternally grateful to Roky's mother. Evelyn happened to belong to a prayer group with the district attorney's wife, and Evelyn told the prayer group they needed prayers ever Roky about this whole situation. And apparently the DA's wife worked on the DA, and what the DA did was, he picked a day for the trial, when Judge Thurman was not going to be there and he brought in a non-criminal, a civil judge, an elderly one from another area who knew nothing about the situation. And the way the DA described our stash was, "we examined a small amount of marijuana." Now, it's true they only examine a small amount, but there was a large amount. But the judge heard the word "small amount," and that was deliberate. He says words to the effect of, "well, don't ever do this again, boys." And we came out of there alive only because of the fact that a switch had been pulled on the judges and the DA set it up in a certain way. And he could only have done that because of his wife, and his wife could only have done that because of Evelyn's prayer group.'"
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 146-147)

So, while there may well have been some type of conspiracy to keep the Elevators out of prison (at least at this point), it doesn't seem to have extended far beyond Evelyn's prayer group. The band was no doubt aided by local prejudices as well. In the documentary You're Gonna Miss Me, one of police officers interviewed for the feature on Roky Erickson's life noted that while Texas had very stiff drug penalties at that point, they were typically only enforced if the accused were minorities. Upper class white kids were usually given a slap on the wrist. As noted above, attorney Jack McClellan also seems to have believed this was a factor in the extraordinarily lenient sentences the accused were given.

Indeed, its possible that had the Elevators not so blatantly flaunted their drug use that they would have been left alone as the Austin psychedelic scene (discussed at length in part one) on the whole largely had been up to that point. But the Elevators' bust was one of two incidents that year that would leave that scene and the city as a whole awash in bad vibes. But more on that in a moment.

The probation of Tommy and Stacy has often been cited as one of the prime reasons why the band didn't tour more, especially outside of Texas, to support their albums. But this does not seem to have been the case. Indeed, the group's famed San Francisco tour occurred after, and not before, the bust as is commonly claimed. In that case the group did not have much difficulty in being given permission to leave the state of Texas.
"For the police it had been an infuriating defeat and the band were gaining a mythical reputation as 'unbustable' despite dozens of attempts throughout Texas. However, the probation conditions prevented Tommy or Stacy from entering 'places where intoxicating beverages are sold,' which meant they couldn't play clubs or beer joints and were required to 'work faithfully at suitable employment, subject to the approval of the court' and they weren't allowed to leave Travis County, let alone the State of Texas. The police had them in a very tight noose.
"But the Elevators had no intention of staying to fight; their plans were to leave immediately. Tommy and Clementine were now living in an apartment above their attorney's and swift arrangements were made to relocate their probation to San Francisco. At the time it was common practice to remove the offender from the environment in which they had offended. Within four days of the trial, Tommy and Stacy's probation had been cleared and filed and the band hit the road for San Francisco on August 13, 1966."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 147-148)

So it would seem that the Elevators had the ability to tour out of state and indeed other such tours were discussed. But the band never again made it out of the state. This seems to have primarily the result of the reluctance of individual members to go on the road combined with the ineptitude of the group's record label. But more on that in a future installment.

The group would remain on the lam for the rest of their run but would largely remain free of legal complications. This was despite the fact Tommy Hall would continue to deal drugs throughout the band's run. Still, the group's fortunes began to turn rather suddenly as the band petered out.

Drummer Danny Thomas was arrested at a show at Baytown in 1968, but the charges never stuck because the Elevators record label had made a deal with the police to let Thomas off in exchange for a dealer named John Lewallen. The band's luck ran out, however, around the time the group was splitting up for good in 1969. That year Erickson, Sutherland and Hall were all arrested. Sutherland and Hall would both due time while Roky ended up in a mental hospital. But more on that in a future installment as well.

Bassist Ronnie Leatherman was also drafted and sent to Vietnam around this time as well. He was the only band member that ended up in the war, but this is not unsurprising. Stacy Sutherland and Tommy Hall were exempted from the draft after the 1966 bust because they were on probation. Roky faked mental illness (initially), which contributed to his institutionalization in 1969. Original bassist Benny Thurman had already served five years in the Marines prior to joining the Elevators and had thus fulfilled his service requirements. How drummer Danny Thomas and bassist Danny Galindo avoided Vietnam is a bit murky, however.

Danny Thomas
But before wrapping up, let us return to the 1966 bust and its aftermath for a moment. The bust was the first major blow to the University of Texas at Austin's emerging psychedelic scene that had spawned the Elevators. The second occurred on August 1, days before the Elevators went before Judge D.B. Woods: the Texas Tower Sniper incident.
"... The famous Texas Tower Sniper case took place on Lammas, that is, on August 1, 1966 at Austin (this is a Cross Quarter Day; the next Cross Quarter Day would be October 31, 1966, when the Zodiac killings began). Charles Whitman was an ex-Marine who somehow lost his mind and began shooting at random targets from the top of the tower at the University of Texas, hitting forty-five people in ninety-six minutes and killing fourteen of those. Whitman had had trouble in the Marines, and had been court-martialed in November 1963. He had served in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, beginning in December 1959 when Castro's revolution was in full swing and the island nation was transferring its political allegiance to the Soviet Union. In June 1961, he was sent to a college preparatory school in Bainbridge, Maryland, eventually enrolling in the University of Texas in September 1961 under a special program designed to enrich the Marine Corps' scientific and technical capabilities by training selected the Marines in engineering, mathematics and science.
"It was a prestigious assignment, and one that Whitman eventually flunked, in tandem with a gradual deterioration of his mental state. He lost his scholarship, and had to report to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in February 1963. He was court-martialed in November for an assault on another Marine, and his fiancée showed up for the trial. She thought she had become pregnant. The night of November 23, 1963 – according to Whitman's journal – but it was a false alarm. It is interesting to note the similarities between Whitman's career and the American political experience of the time. Whitman, a Marine, is stationed in Cuba at the time of the Castro revolution; Lee Harvey Oswald, another Marine on active duty the same time as Whitman, is tested in Russian in February of 1959, but is release from active duty on September 11, 1959 before Whitman arrives in Cuba. Oswald (who would eventually campaign for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee) will renounce his American citizenship in Moscow on October 31, 1959 (Halloween).
"Oswald, either a very poor Marine or a deep-cover intelligence asset, depending on whom you believe, is accused of assassinating President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in the Texas Schoolbook Depository in Dallas, Texas, using a poorly made sniper's rifle. The following night, Marine Charles Whitman is having sex with his fiancée while awaiting a court-martial, and act the fiancée later believed to have impregnated her. The following day, Oswald is killed by Jack Ruby.
"Three years later, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman became's the second ex-Marine accused of sniping people from a high place in Texas, after first murdering his wife and mother the previous evening..."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pgs. 186-187)
Whitman firing from the Texas Tower
To recap: Whitman, a Marine with a curious background, first appeared in Austin in the fall of 1961 shortly after the student experiments with peyote had begun (as was noted in part one of this series). Whitman flunked out by 1963 and returned to the Marines in North Carolina. He was then discharged after his court martial and returned to Austin in 1964. During that time he tried to return to the university while also working first as a bank teller and later as the Texas Highway Department. He also began beating his wife and abusing amphetamines (or "Hitler's drugs", as Tommy Hall would say).

Then, on the first of August, nearly eight months since the Elevators were busted and three days after their trial was announced before "hanging judge" Mace Thurman, Whitman climbs the tower at the University of Austin. The day before he had murdered his wife and mother.

the announcement of the Elevators' trail was announced on July 28, 1966
During this time frame the University of Austin had become a kind of mecca for young liberal Texans and had even begun to develop its own unique culture. By 1966 this scene was beginning to gain a certain degree of national attention thanks to the 13th Floor Elevators and other local bands that had given Austin a vibrant musical scene. Then the Elevators were busted and a horrific shooting spree unfolded at the University of Texas. This sent the community there reeling and led to further deflections to other parts of the country. The Elevators initially tied to follow their peers.

Its also interesting to note that famed novelist and alleged UFO abductee Whitley Strieber long claimed to have been present at the Whitman shooting spree while attending the University of Texas, but only later realized that he did not begin attending UT until a year or more after then event. And yet he still insists to have vivid memories of the event, according to Peter Levenda in the third book of his Sinister Forces trilogy. Levenda also claims that Strieber had begun to suspect that he was subject to some tests as a child at Randolph Air Force Base.

Randolph is located outside of San Antonio, about an hour's drive from Austin. Randolph AFB was the site of the Air Force's "aviation medicine" experiments. Various former Nazis who had conducted similar experiments during World War II and were staffed there during the late 1940s and 1950s. According to John Marks in The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate", mescaline was one of the substances tested during the Nazi "aviation" experiments.

While this all makes for some interesting speculation, there is no evidence that the University of Texas was involved in MK-Ultra experiments, nor that tests involving humans and hallucinogens were conducted there. What's more, none of the Elevators seem to have spent much time in the San Antonio area, at least prior to their band years. They played multiple shows there and even used the city for rehearsals during the group's waning years, but the band did not collectively spend much time there because of police harassment. Drummer Danny Thomas studied at Trinity University in San Antonio, but did not start attending there until 1966. Stacy Sutherland was born in San Antonio (because his hometown lacked adequate medical facilities) but spent much of his youth in quiet Kerrville. Eventually he would move there, but only after the Elevators had split.

Clementine Hall, Tommy's wife and who was also busted along with the Elevators (resulting in the death of her mother, as noted above), had a tenuous tie to the San Antonio area: her father owned a ranch near there and periodically visited it. Her father, as noted in part two, was a long time military attache who had served throughout Latin America and thus was almost surely involved in some type of intelligence work. During this time he was working for Governor John Connally. However, Clementine did not move to Texas until she was in her early 20s and while she did live with her parents for a time, it was at their regular home near Austin. It does not appear that she spent much time  at the San Antonio ranch and there is no evidence at all of the Elevators ever venturing there.

Clementine Hall, whose mother was so shocked by her arrest that she suffered a heart attack and succumbed to complications from it days later
It is interesting to note that Roky Erickson's father may have been a member of the Air Force during WWII (but this is not certain, as was noted in part two), and that the family used to travel regularly to the San Antonio for family outings during his childhood. There are no indications that there was anything unusual about these trips, however, which seem to have involved the entire family.

But regardless, this researcher has encountered nothing concrete to indicate the Austin scene had any ties to what was going on at Randolph. Further, is not even known if the Nazis used at Randolph even had backgrounds in using hallucinogenic drugs as the aviation experiments involved a host of things and only a few researchers worked with mescaline.

And with that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment we get into the Elevators time in San Francisco and their bizarre record label. Stay tuned.