Welcome to the fifth and final installment in my examination of the legendary psych/garage rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. The Elevators scored a hit single in 1966 with "You're Gonna Miss Me", but then quickly faded from the national scene until singer/guitarist Roky Erickson was institutionalized at decade's end. Erickson, like former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, would gain a reputation as one of the decade's premier "acid causalities" and ensure that the Elevators' legacy as an underground act of the highest order.
Prior to that I briefly examined the Elevators' legacy and the influence Austin's legendary psychedelic scene had on them (part one); the curious backgrounds of the original members (part two); and the group's relationship with LSD and their resulting legal woes (part three).
With this installment I would like to do a brief rundown of the fates of various Elevators during their post-band years. It is this researcher's opinion that this aspect of the band is especially important in light of allegations made by the likes of David McGowan and Jan Irvin that the 1960s music scene and youth movement was little more than a front for the Pentagon and US intelligence community. The Elevators are certainly a compelling group for this narrative --as was revealed in part two, several of the original members had ties to the military and intelligence community via their family and so forth.
And yet International Artists (IA) seems to have inexplicably suppressed the group's work despite their early success, musical prowess and Roky Erickson's movie star-like looks. Many of their peers in California had far less going for them and yet became major chart toppers thanks to effective label management. While some might cite the Elevators' drug problems as a reason for the label's reluctance to promote the group, artists such as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Hendrix were arguably in just as bad of shape as various members of the Elevators and yet their labels were still able to turn them into major stars (even if many of these artists, unlike the Elevators, could barely even play their instruments live at this point).
And even with the drugs were a concern to IA, why not simply sell the group's contract to another label? Reportedly they had offers, most notably from the famed Elektra Records. Instead, IA opted to sit on the group and their rights until the band finally imploded. If things had been bad up to that point, they became significantly worse for the various Elevators afterwards. Consider, for instance, a curious incident that happened to drummer Danny Thomas shortly after the Elevators broke up while he was residing in Houston. Thomas himself described it as such:
"As the result of an anonymous call to the authority stating that I was in a 'catatonic' state – when in fact I had chosen not to communicate with anyone of my own free will – I was bound in a straitjacket and carted away in an ambulance. I was forcibly committed by Texas law enforcement under court order to the psychiatric unit of the Methodist Hospital in Houston, where four electroshock treatments were administered under the supervision of Dr. Crane, before I was released after ten days."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 386)To recap: Simply because Danny Thomas had chosen not speak to anyone for an extended period of time, he was institutionalized against his will and subjected to electroshock treatment. Incidentally, this occurred in 1969, shortly after the Elevators had broken up. Prior to this Thomas had shown no signs of mental illness and he is generally one of the only former Elevators to have emerged from his time with group mentally sound. He continues to work as a profession drummer to this day.
"Roger Baker was institutionalized back there and I visited him several times in some psychiatric hospital where they were going to sweat the socialism out of him with electroconvulsive therapy, you know?"Certainly one can't help but wonder if similar reasoning was applied to Roky Erickson's institutionalization in Rusk. But more on that in a moment.
|electroconvulsive "therapy" in action|
"By late 1968 Ronnie had finally received noticed he would be drafted for active service in Vietnam. Prior to 1968 it been possible to dodge the draft – Fugs singer Tuli Kupferberg had even published a book entitled 1001 Ways to Dodge the Draft – but by '68, the Selective Service System had adapted to many of the possible avenues of avoidance.
"Ronnie: It didn't bother them a bit that I told them I took acid every day! I tried to tell them it was every day... I was with an infantry unit – the 119th Infantry Unit. I was eventually in the finance office, but we did guard duty and went on patrol and did finance – did the payroll in the spare time!
"Q: That must have been totally horrifying, to have to go out there.
"Ronnie: Yeah, it was... we were right next to a big helipad where they had a lot of helicopters and we got a lot of rockets, stuff like that, mortar fire all the time. So it kept you on your toes!
"There were sixty people in the finance office; Fifty-seven had turned on. Opium was readily available and the barracks stank of weed day and night. The sergeant turned a blind eye to the soldier smoking joints in front of him, and there was always advance warning of monthly 'shakedowns' (which were shams anyway because they weren't allowed to body-search the troops)."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 336)
As was noted in part two of this series, original Elevators drummer John Ike Walton came from a family of some financial means: his father had been a "wildcatter" oil man who was well paid for various mining rights he had acquired. Because of this Walton's family had put up a lot of the initial funding for the Elevators prior to their signing with International Artists. They also contributed amply to the band's ever mounting legal fees as well.
Once John Ike left the band in 1967 he and his family would begin what would become a decades-spanning legal struggle to recoup royalties from International Artists. Allegedly this process ultimately ruined the Walton family financially.
"John Ike Walton never found another band after the 13th Floor Elevators that he wanted to drum with. His wife Betty work for the DA's office. Meanwhile, John Ike and his mother maintained a steady lawsuit against International Artists until the family money ran out. After leaving the band he'd only receive a royalty check for $4.06 in December 1967, which bounced.
"John Ike vacillates between his goofy dry humor delivered in his slow drawl and bouts of depression. He attends a Pentecostal church where he 'speaks in tongues,' and has been treated with lithium for years. When he's down he frets over the 'lost millions,' and fantasizes about recouping his family fortune."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 385-386)
|John Ike Walton|
While the fates of these Elevators was certainly severe, they largely pale in comparison to what awaited the bands chief songwriters, Roky Erickson, Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland. Of the three, Stacy's was possibly the strangest. As was noted in part three, Sutherland had an LSD trip in early 1967 that he believed was prophetic. Three predictions were made to him, one of which came true shortly after the experience: the girl he had loved for years married another man. By the late 1960s the second prediction would also come true, namely that he would be sent to prison:
"Finally, the authorities curtailed Stacy's lifestyle as the Sixties drew to a close. IA had kept him out of jail since May 1967, but in September 1969 he was busted again and they raised $6000 bail. However, IA was failing...
"The house of cards was collapsing and Dillard wrote his letter of resignation as president on April 28, 1970. Cliff Carlin resigned from Love Street the following month – by the fall of '70 IA had disappeared completely.
"Exactly four years after the pot bust of January 1927, 1966, Stacy was finally arrested for parole violation and sent to Huntsville prison on January 28, 1970 – the prison Roky had pleaded insanity to avoid. He was transferred to a Travis jail on February 25 to face charges on March 5 and was sent back to Huntsville. Stacy was dragged back into court on April 17 to be sentenced to two years.
"Relieved, he set about playing the authorities' game. He volunteered to do field work in the Texas sun enjoying the prison band. He was disturbed to find his IQ had dropped ten points. By late June he'd racked up enough points on the incentive program to be recommended for early parole. He drafted a sufficiently polite letter to the board in which he acknowledged his mistakes, reinforced his good Christian upbringing, and promised the field labor had made him good and strong and that he'd secured a job with the Harold Martin Construction Company upon his release...
"On August 27, it nearly 'blew his mind' when he was in his cell listening to the radio and Dylan's 'Baby Blue' came on followed by 'Your Gonna Miss Me.' Later that night he was woken at 3:30 a.m. by the prison beating on his bars to inform him he had been granted parole and he was going home."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 353-354)
In 1975 he moved to Houston and began dating a woman named Elizabeth Bunnell, who was usually referred to as Bunni. They would go on to marry in 1977, but their relationship would remain a rocky one. This state of affairs was further exasperated by the rampant alcoholism of both partners. In 1978, as their relationship teetered on the edge of divorce, things came to a head in late August with tragic results.
"On the morning of August 24, 1978 Stacy and Bunni were arguing again. Her fifteen-year-old son Ralph had antagonized Stacy over the divorce threat and the possibility of him having to move out. Tony Bevan the lodger got up and suggested he and Stacy go out for breakfast, which led to several beers. Stacy was distraught by the reality of his failed marriage and they talked about moving out together, as Tony couldn't tolerate Bunni's hysterics much longer. They were joined by Mike Knust (ex-Fever Tree) and they continued drinking throughout the day while Stacy, passively drunk, wallowed in self-pity. When they left the last bar Stacy went into a rage, complaining that the barman hadn't been putting any liquor in his drinks and when they returned to the house they found Bunni in an awful mood. Mike left them to it, and Stacy and Bunni began yelling. Tony, knowing that Stacy was directing his anger at Ralph, went to his room. Ralph said he'd fight Stacy, but Tony got him to agree not to interfere. Then he headed for his room, but saw Bunni sitting at the picnic bench in the kitchen brandishing a 12'' knife. He started talking to her, but Stacy burst in yelling, 'What are you talking to my wife for?' Tony sheepishly said good night, went to his room and put on his headphones, safe in the knowledge that the next morning Stacy would be 'terribly apologetic' for being so inebriated.
"Bunni would normally have left at this point but, worried that Stacy would direct his rage at Ralph, she fetched the rifle and sat guarding his bedroom door with it on her lap. According to Bunni, she was trying in 'dramatic fashion' to ward off Stacy and make him go to bed, but she plugged the trigger as a reflex action when he charged her...
"Upon hearing the shot, Ralph ran from his room, took the gun from his mother's hands, rang an ambulance and then summoned Tony, who entered to find Stacy lying on the kitchen floor. Stacy showed him the tiny wound in his solar plexus and tried to raise himself up on one arm to embrace Bunni, who was hysterical by his side. Stacy fell back, eyes glazed, but remained conscious for approximately twenty minutes. The ambulance arrived, led by a cop. They complained about his size and weight (225 lbs.) and asked Tony to help them move him onto a stretcher and wheel him to the ambulance. Stacy had died on the kitchen floor. Bunni, Ralph and Tony were ordered to the sofa. There was an issue over whether Ralph had in fact fired the gun because his prints were also found on it, but only Bunni's fingerprint was on the trigger. She was held in jail for thirty hours before being released without charge. She refused to believe that Stacy was dead, because he had informed her that if she needed to use the gun on the intruder she would need to fire several times, as the .22 hollow-tip bullets were not enough to actually seriously hurt somebody. Unfortunately, the bullet had severed a major artery causing massive internal hemorrhaging. It was only when she visited the morgue she realized the terrible truth. She signed the release for the body to return to Kerrville for burial."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pgs. 393-394)
|the house Stacy died in, which has since been demolished|
Tommy Hall relocated, along with Roky, to San Francisco in late 1968. The Elevators were falling apart at this point and his "plan" was to round up a new rhythm section there and eventually bring Stacy out to complete the group. This was of course an impossibility due to Stacy's legal status and this effectively marked the end of Tommy time with the Elevators. While he had been involved with what would become the Bull of the Woods album during the early stages Stacy, largely abandoned in Texas, would be the one to complete it.
Tommy soon fell into drug dealing (again) to support himself in San Francisco. However, things would soon turn sour in Frisco and Hall opted to wander south. At some point in his journey he made a curious acquaintance.
"... Tommy drifted down the coast south of Los Angeles and lived in a cave on Laguna Beach, which was part of the commune owned by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. The Brotherhood had started in 1966 as a restricted non-profit religious outfit that viewed marijuana and LSD as religious sacraments. Their aims were acutely similar to and as idealistic Tommy's, the focus being to spread enlightenment through the distribution of acid. However, the police and even Rolling Stone magazine dubbed them in 1972 the 'Hippie Mafia' because they dealt with large shipments of marijuana from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which they then sold to fund the large-scale production of 'Orange Sunshine' LSD. Leary was a figurehead for the Brotherhood and he was arrested on December 26, 1968 in Laguna Beach for possession of over two kilos of marijuana. Having spent a short time in jail, the Brotherhood was supposedly instrumental in his escape to Algeria, where he was held ransom by remnants of the Black Panthers who were also on the run. Tommy's fate followed a similar path; at some point in 1969 Tommy got busted walking into a festival with a large amount of controlled substances and disappeared into a jail in Seattle until 1972."
(Eye Mind, Paul Drummond, pg. 347)
|Timothy Leary with members of the Brotherhood|
"One type of acid was particularly popular among American ground forces in Vietnam. It was called 'orange sunshine,' and much of it was smuggled in from southern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Far from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia a group known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was waging its own holy war of sorts in their tireless efforts to turn the world on to LSD. During their heyday the Brotherhood ran the world's largest illicit LSD ring. Ironically their base of operations was Orange County, home turf of Richard Nixon, Disneyland, and the John Birch Society.
"The saga of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is a bizarre melange of evangelical, starry-eyed hippie dealers, mystic alchemists, and fast-money bankers. Federal investigators described them as a 'hippie Mafia' of approximately seven hundred fifty people that allegedly grossed $200,000,000. But the Brotherhood's secret network of smugglers lived by a code different from that associated with organized crime. They were fired with idealism, committed to changing the world by disseminating large quantities of psychedelics. At least that's how it was at the beginning...."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pg. 236)The Brotherhood had its origins in a "car club" known as the Street Sweepers, who routinely engaged in fights across Anaheim and the surrounding area. This, combined with the fact the the group originated from what was at the time one of the most conservative regions in the entire United States, certainly rises some eyebrows concerning the group's idealism. Still, many have insisted that the group's founder, "Farmer" John Griggs, was the real deal.
|Brotherhood of Eternal Love founder "Farmer John Griggs (center)|
|William Mellon Hitchcock (the individual to the right in the top photo) and Ronald Stark (bottom)|
Its difficult to say whether Tommy Hall was ensnared in these doings. Hall has avoided talking about this arrest in depth for years now and Drummond gives no indication as to how far Hall's involvement with the Brotherhood went. But his arrest occurred at a time when authorities began to crack down on the "Hippie Mafia", however.
For many years now Hall has lived in a flop house in the notorious Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Supposedly his roach (which he dismisses as mere "protein")-infested apartment is filled with books which are stacked up to the ceiling in some cases. Thus, it would seem he has not come far from his cave in Laguna Beach over these past 45 years.
|Hall circa 2004|
"... Returning to Austin, Roky was busted with a single marijuana 'joint.' An attorney convinced him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a ridiculous defense given the charge, and Erickson was quickly hustled off to Austin State Hospital. He was still just twenty years old at the time of his arrest.
"Supposedly due to escape attempts, Roky was transferred to Rusk State Hospital, a stark, barren, maximum-security facility for the criminally insane. While there, Erickson was subjected to more forced ECT treatments and he forced administration of Thorazine. For three-and-a-half years. Also while confined there, he put together a prison band known as the Missing Links. One member of the band had killed two kids and raped and stabbed his own mother. Another had been involved in the rape and murder of a young boy in Houston. A third killed his own parents and a sibling. And then there was Roky, who had been in possession of an insignificant amount of marijuana.
"As 1972 came to a close, it was determined that Roky's sanity had been 'restored' and he was released soon after. He was, however, just a shell of his former self."
(Weird Scenes From the Canyon, David McGowan, pg. 47)
|Rusk State Hospital|
|Erickson (play the guitar) at Rusk|
Some have tried present these themes as evidence of Roky's "Satanism", but there's no evidence whatever Erickson has ever any knowledge of ritualistic Satanism. Roky, a largely child-like man, seems to have only been able to understand his surroundings in Rusk by relating them to the low budget horror films that had so fascinated him as a child. Songs done during his solo career such as "The Creature with Atom Brain" and "I Walked With a Zombie" make this connection clear.
As is well known now, it would take decades for Erickson to fully recover from his time in Rusk. While he was briefly able to continue his solo career in the mid-1970s, by the early 1980s he had largely given up on music and had ceased taking any medication for his condition. This led to a rapid deterioration in Erickson's state that was not reversed until his brother Sumner gained custody of him from their mother, Evelyn, in 2001. From that point on Roky has made a remarkable recovery that has allowed him to continue his solo career.
And so ends this examination of the 13th Floor Elevators. While the Elevators were surrounded by mystery and shady characters throughout their run they seem to have been genuine idealists who were largely destroyed by vindictive law enforcement personal (at best). The only real exception to this was possibly Tommy Hall.
Hall, as was noted in part two, displayed ample far right political views during his time at the University of Texas at Austin while also operating as something of a handler to the Elevators. Clementine Hall, Tommy's wife during this era, was the daughter of a "military attache" who served all throughout Latin America to boot. This was likely a cover for some type of intelligence work. But there is no discernible intelligence agenda in Hall's work with the band (indeed, he would inexplicably back IA's incompetence time and again) while both he and Clementine would pay heavy costs. As was noted in part three, Clementine's mother died shortly after she was arrested along with the Elevators due to complications from a heart attack brought on by the shock of her daughter's arrest.
These are surely not the fates of high level players if the Elevators were even that. And what of the bizarre and inexplicable behavior of their record label, whose actions seem to have primarily been driven by a desire to suppress the music of the 13th Floor Elevators? What of the timing of the initial Elevator drug bust and later trial with the Texas Tower Sniper incident?
If nothing else, the reader should once again see that, on the one hand, there was something very strange unfolding in Texas during the 1960s, and on the other, that the history of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s is far more complex than critics such as David McGowan and Jan Irvin have alleged it to be. Indeed, the much hyped Laurel Canyon scene is but a small part of that whole era and our hidden history as a nation. The Elevators are another, even more enigmatic branch of this whole saga.