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.

1 comment:

  1. Man dude. I'm not into spiritual mumbo jumbo but props to you for a great article about the Elevators. Good journalism.