The 13th Floor Elevators were the first band who used the word ‘psychedelic’ in their music. An American rock band from Austin, Texas they emerged in the local scene in 1965 formed by guitarist and vocalist Roky Erickson, jug musician Tommy Hall and the fuzztone guitarist Stacy Sutherland.
Their first album, ‘The Psychedelic Sound Of The 13th Floor Elevators’ was released in the spring of 1966. The album’s body contains a mixture of sixties-style rock and ballads cut with this new ‘acid rock’ sound the band was forging. In my opinion, this is one of the most fascinating of the acid age records, the archetype of psychedelia. All songs in this album are mixed sounds of psychedelia, garage rock, folk and blues that give me the chills every time I listen to them. The group’s anthem, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’, a ferocious soul song, made history in the genre. Even though the lyrics of the song seem all but extraordinary (separation from girlfriend, escape from home), the hoarse voice of Roky Erickson reveals a man who is in pain and communicates this feeling with intense energy. For me, the soulful lyrics together with the surf sound create an imaginary journey back to the ‘60s. I consider the song ‘Fire Engine’ to be the trademark of psychedelic music. Erickson’s powerful voice, the sirens that come out and the intense electric jug sound easily turn this song to a real panic. The song that is by far one of the greatest is ‘Roller Coaster’. It immediately shows that this is a different, dark and melancholic song. The strong psychedelic elements, the sorrowful voice and the lyrics make you feel the battle that is given in the confused mind of Erickson who is struggling to balance between reason and madness. Stacy Sutherland’s guitar completes the sound of a man who is travelling deep within his own darkness.
It is interesting to say that in 1968, while the band was at its peak, four of the five members of The 13th Floor Elevators were facing pending drug possession charges. Roky Erickson was arrested in 1969 and charged with drug possession. He pleaded insanity to avoid doing jail time and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Legend has it that his mind was so devastated by the shock therapies and the medication that he spent the rest of his life battling serious mental illness. The band, as expected, fell apart.
I believe that The 13th Floor Elevators were a remarkable band: Erickson’s wild-man vocals create an atmosphere where mayhem reigns. Stacy Sutherland’s piercing guitar adds a dark mood, while drummer John Ike Walton ties it all together. Artists ranging from ZZ Top and Robert Plant to Primal Scream and Ty Segall can trace their influence back to Roky Erickson and his company in one way or another. There is no doubt that they were rock pioneers and continue to influence new generations of musicians even today.