The 13th Floor Elevators had so much going for them – an amazing hit in their own state, Texas, a great singer with a piercing voice (reminiscent of Buddy Holy in places) and novelty with their ‘electric jug’ (this consisted of a jug partly filled with water and air blown into it producing a fast oscillating sound.) This coupled with a psychedelic image shown to great effect on their first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators, made them the first genuine psychedelic group, beating even the San Fransisco bands to embracing the new LSD music culture.
Their guitar and drums sound was drenched in reverb – this enhanced the psychedelic sounds and made the voice of lead singer, Roky Erickson, shine through. The songs are played with tough, punk abandon on songs like You’re Gonna Miss Me and with gentle spirituality on others like Kingdom of Heaven. Their laissez faire attitude coupled with the mind-bending images and lyrics led them into trouble with the law. Erickson pleaded insanity (under advice from his lawyer) in 1969 when arrested for drug use and was hospitalised, receiving electric shock treatments and psycho-active drug therapy. This left the band without a powerful front man and they never really recovered from that.
Erickson carried on making music in bouts after his release from hospital in 1972 and on various recordings (live and studio) available since then his voice sounds as intense as it always did. His lyrical themes vary from Vampires and Satan to conspiracy theories about Bermuda and Aliens thrown in – great stuff.
I can’t remember where I first heard Roky’s amazing voice – Big Mick (who has been making me mixtapes since 1983) is the most likely candidate. He has inserted not just 13th Floor Elevators songs into his compilations since day one but also several tapes (and more recently CDs) of recorded and live Roky performaces. Another workmate from around that time, a plumber and long-time pal called Budgie (who eventually made a vocal cameo appearance on our Poptones album Popartglory), made me cassettes of 13th Floor Elevators stuff, recorded and live. Bobby Gillespie and the rest of Primal Scream were also big fans and would play their songs (13th Floor Elevators second album, Easter Everywhere, was a favourite of theirs) when we went up to visit them in their HQ at Byres Road, Glasgow. The club in Glasgow they helped to run was named after a 13th Floor Elevators song, Splash 1.
We did attempt to cover 13th Floor Elevators songs but they would descend into noise once we got past a verse and chorus. One version in particular was of Levitation live in Reims, France where we murdered the song and droned on without purpose for a long time – the crowd loved it of course…