SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Occasionally Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour Sunday set and dub it, “Sue’s Sunday Sojourn.” Prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her on those occasional Sunday nights from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.
The 13th Floor Elevators
“Dear Doctor Doom, I read your recent letter…
We won't join in sameness, we are each one different.
We won't join in oneness when we're each one whole.”
From Bull of the Woods, 1969
This edition of Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be different from any other. It has to be. If you look at the bands I have done in the past, they have all had a healthy repertoire of albums for me to use to make a two hour set but the 13th Floor Elevators only released three. Yet they remain one of my most favorite bands ever and I just had to do a Sojourn on them. Past Sojourns have relied on me sharing a lot about myself but in order for this to work, I need to share with you an unprecedented inside look into the band itself. I’m not only going to let you into my world, we are both going to enter theirs. Come along for the acid drenched ride.
Let me start with the definition of “psychedelic.” According to Mirriam-Webster, the word can be defined as:
“…imitating, suggestive of, or reproducing effects (such as distorted or bizarre images or sounds) resembling those produced by psychedelic drugs.”
The term has come to define the late 60’s as a time period and its burgeoning counter-culture movement. LSD use was on the rise and actually legal at this point and the culture embraced it as the music on both sides of the ocean started to become “psychedelic” in nature. Like anything else in the human experience there is a clamor as people or groups try to prove that they were the first. Despite other claims or proofs out there and accepted in the mainstream, I will prove that the 13th Floor Elevators were in fact the first to describe their music as “psychedelic.”
The album pictured at the top is the Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, which was their debut album in 1966. It has been claimed by many to be the first use of the word “psychedelic” to describe music. Another album that used to often be cited as the first was Psychedelic Lollipop by the Blues Magoos but it has now been established that it was released in late November 1966 and clearly not the first.
The reigning king, which I’m about to dethrone, has been Psychedelic Moods by the Deep. There is no known recorded release date for this record but based on the catalog numbers, other known release dates in the catalog, etc., it is assumed (extrapolated from the data) that it must have been shipped to stores sometime in the latter half of October of 1966. Based solely on that, proponents for the Deep being first put forth their case, and we know the Elevators released their album in November but before the Blues Magoos. The case for the Deep being first, while compelling is circumstantial in the extreme. Sometimes you will hear arguments on when the albums were supposedly named or when were the tracks recorded. I say it doesn’t matter because of the business card shown below.
That is the band’s business card issued in December 1965, giving the phone number of their first manager, Jim Stalarow. This is almost an entire year before the disputed album release dates and note the use of “Psychedelic Rock” on the card… in late 1965! I say now, once and for all, that the 13th Floor Elevators were the first to describe their music as “psychedelic.”
[Note: Wikipedia incorrectly reports the release date for the Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators as October 17, 1966. The mono test pressings weren’t made until October 29.]
And in late 1965 we begin this fascinating story as the 13the Floor Elevators formed in Austin, Texas. When we look at psychedelic music, we see it as something probably invented on the West Coast and, made mainstream by British bands like the Beatles and Cream. We think of San Francisco as the cutting edge and it was, after its birth in Texas. It was in late 1965, using the card above, that they struck out to meet the world with something new. Their music was a fusion of bluesy rock, with maybe some James Brown vocal stylings but completely drenched in lyrics inspired by various avant garde philosophers. Add to this that the band always performed live, recorded in the studio and wrote their music under the influence of LSD. As a final touch, they regularly featured an electric jug as a prominent instrument in the band. A bluesy band with a jug? Nothing could be more Texas. A band on acid, inspired by the likes of Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and Count Alfred Korzybski, and an ELECTRIC jug? Nothing could be more un-Texas!
Unfortunately, it was the un-Texas part that got noticed by the establishment and almost ended their career before it got started.
Their singer and guitarist, Roky Erickson, was already a local celebrity, having cut a local single with his previous band, the Spades. Gordon Bynum, a local talent agent, decided to create his own record label, just to record the Elevators, at least at first. The Elevators signed to the new label, Contact Records, which was an allusion to the term, “contact high.” They went into the studio and recorded a number of songs, including You’re Gonna Miss Me, which would eventually become their first single. Song became a big hit locally and the band recorded enough material for a first album, which was to be called “Headstone.”
Now, the band used acid when performing, recording and writing. We must remember that LSD was legal in 1966 since there were not yet any laws against it. Marijuana was another story and it was pot that got them in trouble. The police busted the band for marijuana and probably being an un-Texas influence on the youth. The establishment wanted to make an example of the Elevators to everyone who might be curious and want to try drugs.
Their song, You’re Gonna Miss Me, was charting in the San Francisco Bay area. They were about to make it big if they could only go out to California to support their record. There was just one problem. They could not leave the state of Texas with their trial date pending. It was worse than just being stuck in Texas. Their case was slated to be heard by the toughest “hanging judge” there was and it seemed they would each be facing ten years hard labor. The establishment was going to make that example out of them.
Fortunately, Roky’s mother was in the same prayer group as the District Attorney’s wife and they got a few strings pulled. Their trial date was moved up and would be before a lenient judge that normally didn’t even hear criminal cases. In the end the charges were dismissed except against two of them and they were both given probation. Much to the chagrin of the Police, there would be no example made of the Elevators. As a final slap in the face, the judge further accommodated them and transferred their probations out of state to California. The band was going to the Bay area to become the stars they were destined to be.
|Elevators at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco|
However, there were other problems they had to deal with. They had signed a contract with Contact Records but that didn’t stop them from sign another contract with International Artists. They had recorded their still unreleased first album, Headstone, with Contact and now, one of those same songs had entered the Billboard charts at #123 but on another record label. (It would eventually climb up to #55.) To say that Gordon Bynum of Contact Records was pissed would be an understatement. I guess this is what happens when you deal with musicians who write, perform and record while tripping on acid.
That first album was never released but some of those songs found their way onto their first released album, Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, in early November 1966. They played many venues in California, especially in San Francisco, and even made an appearance on TV with Dick Clark.
When they returned home to Texas, local papers treated them as conquering heroes. Their record company, International Artists, wanted a second album so they once again went into the studio. They never really toured to support their first album because they were just too unpredictable to manage when they were on acid. They would not tour to support the second one either. Most Elevator fans will tell you that their second album is their best work, yet without any touring to support it, it was financially a flop. Easter Everywhere was released in November 1967, exactly one year after their first.
Back in the 60’s, most turntables would play one side of the record, pick up the needle automatically and put it back to the beginning to play again. Often when you had a room full of stoners, the same record side would play over and over again. The Elevators designed their second album around this and each side takes the listeners on a trip and leaves them in the same place at the end of the side as where they started. Even though it was their best music, the original vinyl sold so few copies that for decades it was a collector’s item and you could not find one to save your life.
The next album IA released was a disgraceful live album that consisted of studio recordings with crowd noises over dubbed. IA was desperate for some return on investment as the band started to fall apart. They really couldn’t tour when the lead singer, on acid, would see the crowd from the stage and run and hide behind the amplifiers.
They completely fell apart during the recording of their third studio album, Beauty and the Beast. A lot of reasons could be cited and the story behind their falling apart is quite convoluted. Suffice it to say that it can all be traced back, directly or indirectly, to their use of drugs and Roky’s deteriorating sanity. Below is a copy of the proposed cover artwork. The title changed at some point to “A Love That’s Sound.” While recorded, it would never be release. In fact, no complete copy of the music survives. One song, It’s You, only survives on an acetate pressing. I’ll play it on Sunday.
|Click to enlarge.|
The band completely fell apart and there were all sorts of legal troubles to boot. Roky Erickson became hospitalized for his mental illness and Stacy Sutherland, the only member still functioning and in Texas had International Artist’s lawyers on his back over the final album that the Elevators owed them.
Bull of the Woods would be their final album and would be controversial. Sutherland provided new material and IA cannibalized a few songs from their previously unreleased album to make this final one, released March 1969. The use of the older material allowed scattered members, like Roky Erickson, to appear on the record but not on every song.
So this album was made behind the backs of all of the members, except Sutherland. To add insult to injury, IA added a horn section to a few of the songs originally recorded for Beauty and the Beast. A horn section! Who ever heard of a horn section in an acid rock song? Finally, the master mix used was horrible.
I recall hearing for the first time the original master mix for Dr. Doom as it was done for the unreleased album. There was no horn section interfering and the mix was crisp and clean. This is how the Elevators meant that song to sound. It was then that I realized what had been hidden from the world. Instead, a sad, over produced facsimile had been passed off back in 1969. Now 40 years later I had been listening to what no one had ever been allowed to hear. I began to cry. I will play Dr. Doom twice this Sunday, back to back. First I will play the butchered version everyone has known through the decades and I will then play for you the original, mixed down from what I believe to be a surviving safety master of the session recorded March 4, 1968. It’s like watching the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy opens the door and steps from black & white to color. The tape (shown below) contains 10 takes of Dr. Doom without vocals. Roky would later record the vocal track over take #6 of the tape. This the one you will hear second on Sunday.
|Click to enlarge|
Fun Fact #1: International Artists hired Lelan Rogers to promote the fledgling band. Lelan Rogers is the brother of recording star Kenny Rogers.
Fun Fact #2: Janis Joplin was associated with the band before either became famous. Janis considered becoming their singer at one point before she moved from Texas to San Francisco and made it big there.
Fun Fact #3: Two of DJ Sue’s most favorite Elevators tunes are Til Then and Rose and the Thorn, off of that disastrous final album. Shown below is the two track stereo master containing the mixed down first side of that album with those two songs.
|Click to enlarge.|
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Shown below is my copy of the business card that proved that the Elevators were the first to use “psychedelic” to describe their music in late 1965. Also shown is a handbill for one of their shows at the Vulcan Gas Company, a venue that catered to the counterculture in Austin, Texas.
Neil Young wrote in one of his songs, “It is better to burn out, than it is to rust.” That is just what the Elevators did. They brought us some of the most memorable psychedelic music of the era but at what cost to themselves? They burned bright for a short period of time and then came crashing down completely spent.
Join me Sunday night at AWT, from 7:00-9:00 PM SLT as I present you with two hours of music, most of which was written while tripping on LSD and recorded tripping on LSD. Their studio albums were as follows:
Headstone, 1966 (unreleased)
The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, 1966
Easter Everywhere, 1967
Beauty and the Beast/A Love That’s Sound, 1968 (unreleased)
Bull of the Woods, 1969
You will hear songs from all five, along with some rarities, live tracks (real live track, not the fake ones) and other stuff. See you there for the acid drenched affair.
“Dear Doctor Doom, read your recent letter.
No, you can't make heaven in the east nirvana,
But you can make certain that the ghost is there.
And the always presence you have found within you,
Is the same in heaven fully made aware.
Sooner seen past watching,
Sooner heard past listening,
Sooner said past talking,
From yours anywhere,
Dear Dr. Doom…”
Special thanks to the "Three Eyed Man;" you know who you are. Thank you for the unprecedented access to the vaults and materials at International Artists Records. I'm indebted.