Busted Again! 13th Floor Elevators VS. Texas Law Enforcement (Part 2 in a Series)

The 13th Floor Elevators’ inception narrative is anything but immaculate. The group reconstituted the best of two pre-existing Texas bands:  The Spades, featuring front man, Roky Erickson, and The Lingsmen, including Stacy Sutherland on guitar, John Ike Walton on drums, and Benny Thurman on bass. The Spades were a typical 1964 post-Beatles/Stones/Kinks Austin garage band holding “residency at Austin’s Jade Room club” (scarletdukes). The group’s single, released the following year, featured the original version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (and an early version of the Elevators’ “Don’t Fall Down”, called “We Sell Soul”). The Lingsmen were not of the Austin scene and were not a recording band. They were “a jug-oriented club band” hailing from a small West-Central Texas rural enclave called Kerrville, about 100 miles from Austin (scarletdukes). The future 13th Floor Elevators would later retreat to this hill country refuge whenever Austin “was no longer regarded as a safe haven” for their illicit activities (Eye Mind, 215). 

Austin jade room
Roky’s Spades held residency at Austin’s Jade Room (photo: Pinterest)

Future 13th Floor Elevators Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland met twice before they’d established an enduring connection that would lead to their collaboration in both musical and marijuana-oriented endeavors. Both of these meetings happened informally, and perhaps providentially. The first meeting occurred at an Austin bar when Stacy was still a high school student and Tommy was an undergrad at the University of Texas. Stacy was trying to set up a marijuana score for five Austin university students and ended up chatting with Tommy while making the exchange. Their second  encounter was by chance, happening down at the beach in Port Aransas. Stacy and John Ike ran in to Tommy and Clementine and were invited to join the Halls in partaking of Tommy’s Acapulco Gold , which almost got the group arrested. Those first two meetings connected Sutherland and Hall and solidified both their mutual interest in musical collaboration and their dedication to ensuring marijuana’s availability to the Austin underground, no matter the risks

Tommy and Stacy smoked marijuana to enhance and uplift whatever they might be doing at a given time, whether hanging out with friends, contemplating the meaning of existence or making music. Cannabis procurement was their shared goal, but it was music that became the essential link in the pair’s association. Stacy was a skilled guitarist with  “kaleidoscopic range” , while Tommy was an esoteric poet and underground music enthusiast. His budding friendship with Stacy and John Ike brought him into the fold and afforded him the opportunity to become a “fringe” member of The Lingsmen (scarletdukes), which was enough to assure Tommy’s place in the future Elevators. Although he wasn’t a natural musician, Tommy envisioned music’s potential to communicate important ideas and information to his peers, fellow travelers, and the world. He also understood that this communicative potential was inescapably dependent upon a rock and roll band’s teen appeal, so Tommy sized up The Lingsmen’s potential. While he and Clementine were “impressed” with both the music and The Lingmen’s sizable, enthusiastic crowd (Gathering of Promises, Ch 7), they found the band members lacking crucial teen appeal and felt that a line-up change was necessary (scarletdukes). 

Tommy blowing jug with Benny on bass at a 1966 Elevators show at the Bellaire Gym (photo: Pinterest)

Tommy envisioned music as a the ultimate platform from which to communicate his deep and animated engagement with esoteric philosophy, the occult, and consciousness expanding, mind altering, psychedelic drugs. He wasn’t a musician per se, but he wrote poetry and was “clued in to the advantages of combining meaningful lyrics with volume, electricity and mind expanding drugs” (GoP, Ch 7). Tommy was a a truth-seeking intellectual above all, deeply engaged in transcending conventional experience through spiritual exploration and chemical experimentation. As a University of Texas undergraduate, Tommy “took an active part in campus life, which had a strong bohemian undercurrent, including drug experiments, underground newspapers and literary parties”(scarletdukes). He decided to form a band as a vehicle for his poetry but  “had no experience with electric music, much less organizing or leading a band” (GoP, Ch 7). When Tommy announced to his friends that he would be starting a rock and roll group, he was clear about the group’s mission: “…proselytize for the acceptance  and general use of psychedelic drugs” (GoP, Ch 7). To help get a band together, he developed an ad hoc method of blowing jug that produced sounds more like a didgeridoo than a trombone and which was an effective accompaniment to his lyrics. 

Sump’n Else aired in Dallas-Fort Worth on WFAA-TV, Channel 8, from September 6, 1965 until January 26, 1968

Sump N Else TV show early 1966:

Host –  Ron Chapman
Ron:  “Who is it that is doing the ‘doo ga doo ga doo’ Is that you?” Could you do that for me again ’cause that’s a wild sound you get there out of that jug – I thought that was an electric bass doing that all the time – let me hear…try it again”
Tommy: (tests out the jug on the live mike and performs a brief run)
Ron:  “Give me a whole run on it.. give me a few runs on that thing”
Tommy: (goes nuts and does a cool 10 second run live on TV but is encompassed by feedback)
Ron:  “I thought we had a bass playing doing that.. that was going like crazy… that is wild! Where did you come up with this idea?”
Tommy:  “oh about six months ago I just hit upon the idea”
Ron: “You were just sitting around with a jug in your hand one day and decided maybe I can make music with this thing huh..I see, well you’ve come up with a great sound – this next thing is called Fire Engine I have a feeling maybe you have something to do with that do you?”
Tommy:  “Yeah, I wrote it”
Ron:  “You wrote that?”
Tommy: “Yeah I wrote the words”
Ron:  “And do you also have a part of the jug on there?”
Tommy:  “Mmmhmm, yes sir”
Ron:  ” Ok let’s turn it back to them once again to the guys from Houston who will rock any place let’s turn it back to the 13th Floor Elevators and this thing called Fire Engine and I imagine it will be – the 113th Floor Elevators!”

from Sundazed – Pychedelic Microdots-Texas Twisted CD

Tommy & Clementine Hall (photo: helioschrome)

The Kerrville-conceived Lingsmen were a band designed specifically for live performance. Stacy and the rest “had invented the band on the spot in order to secure a summer residency at a club in Port Aransas called The Dunes” (GoP, Ch7). Music was the Lingmen’s ticket to gaining a stage and securing a residency at a club where drinks and women were within arm’s reach.  All of the members had played in other bands, with other musicians, but Stacy and the Lingsmen’s lead singer, Max Range, “had played together since they were both 16…and had even backed up San Antonio’s Doug Sahm in the early stages of his career” (GoP, Ch 7). Stacy, in particular, played such a powerful role in both the 13th Floor Elevators’ sound & musicianship, and in their near existential attachment to marijuana, that it is worth quoting in full Ben Graham’s almost poetic characterization of the troubled young man who was so different from Tommy:

“Even as a teenager, Sutherland cut a dark, brooking presence, and was continually torn between a strict Baptist upbringing that appealed to his introverted, troubled soul, and a predilection for the rock ’n’ roll life, with all of the hell-raising and chemical abandon that it entailed. In Sutherland’s inner life he was literally walking between God and his angels on one hand, and Satan and his minions on the other. He seems to have felt that he was damned from birth, and if drugs like peyote and marijuana didn’t offer salvation, he used them to try and gain some kind of understanding of the supernatural forces that were controlling his destiny. All of this came out in his guitar playing; by turns haunting and savage, tender and tormented, born deep in the blues and the western twang, but ringing out with its own eerie sorrowful yearning.”  

(GoP, Ch 7)

In Port Aransas, thanks to Clementine Hall’s quick thinking, they’d dodged a potential career ending bust for possession of Acapulco Gold before they’d even conceived a musical partnership. The downside of the dodge was the birth of an overextended notion that their cleverness and stealth would suffice indefinitely to protect them from the law. After meeting Stacy for the second time, Tommy “extended [the family] vacation and hung out with the band” (EM, 26). Although Tommy was writing poetry and desperate to play in a band, he had not been invited to participate in the music just yet. Stacy and Tommy were “mutually impressed by each other” (EM, 26), however, and saw promise in forging a friendship. The Halls departed Port Aransas with the intention to reconnect with Stacy, John & Benny back in Austin. The truth was that Stacy hadn’t yet sized up Tommy as a musical collaborator because he was focused almost entirely on the potential for his new friend as a “new source of marijuana” (EM, 26).

Stacy on stage in Houston, 1966 (photo: JoDee Purkeypile / Flick’r)

After Tommy and family left for Austin, “Stacy and Benny acquired a pound of weed for $100 and became so blatant in their dope smoking that John Ike banned any marijuana from the living quarters” (EM, 26). The riskiest moments for Stacy and his roommates generally came when there wasn’t a safe and secure hideaway for their stash, so once John Ike forbade holding their herb in the house, Stacy and Benny were perpetually on edge and beginning to panic. The Lingsmen’s guitarist and bass player became so paranoid that their fear of discovery led them to try to get rid of the stash altogether. They were planning to sell what they had left to assuage their well-founded fears until “Stacy spotted a solution.” (EM, 26). Stacy was well-aware that The Lingsmen had a reputation for “turning on” (EM, 26) and was clued in that a few cops were watching closely. He and Benny would head up to the Port Aransas gunnery each morning to smoke out and enjoy their view of the entire island. From their perch, they also spied the police parked below and were convinced that the cops knew they were getting high. When they saw the cops heading up after them, Stacy and Benny would hide their stash in the sand. The police would probe the sand for the illicit stash while Stacy and Benny trolled them by asking them what they were doing. The marijuana panic finally eased and was transformed into a lighthearted cat and mouse game. Stacy recalled, “It was a big sport in a way” (EM, 26), and wrote a song about it called “Tried to Hide”.

“Tried to Hide” (album version) was an Elevators rewrite of Stacy’s song about hiding cannabis from the Port Aransas police. 

The Lingsmen’s next run-in with the police was similar to the first in that the cops were, by Stacy’s telling, easily outsmarted. Clementine Hall proved this on the beach with the near bust, and Stacy and Benny were having similar success in their daily morning sessions up on the gunnery. The downside of the apparent ease of deceiving law enforcement was that the boys could be lulled into complacency. One mistake, one oversight, could lead to their discovery and arrest. It was inevitable that as long as the cat and mouse game continued, there increased the chance of getting busted. But Stacy and Benny were young, rebellious, clever, and felt freer and less paranoid while away from the city. Stacy couldn’t help but write a song about their cops and robbers adventures he called “Tried to Hide”, which became the b-side to their first single and later a highlight of the first 13th Floor Elevators LP. Musically the track evoked Stacy’s love of The Kinks and their wild beat sound “and bastardized the riff to ‘Come On Now,’ the B-side of their current U.S. hit ‘Tired of Waiting for You’” (EM, 26). The Elevators’ version of “Tried to Hide” retained a portion of the original lyrics, this verse evoking Stacy’s initial paranoia:

You blew what you had and tried to sell it

You thought what you were and you tried to tell it

And when I got near

All I saw was fear

And I know you tried to hide

And you cried ‘cos you lied about it…

“Tried to Hide” The Lingsmen / 13th Floor Elevators
Original Elevators version of “Tried to Hide”, released as a single prior to the Psychedelic Sounds of… LP.

The song cut both ways vis a vis Stacy’s recognition of what was at stake if he were busted. On one hand, it was explicit acknowledgement of the outsized role the hide and seek game had taken in their lives, but on the other hand, it was almost a taunt, mocking the police for their failure to catch them in the act. If it was a taunt (hard to know without the original lyrics), it was a recipe for carelessness that could lead to their being caught. To wit, one night while getting ready to play their regular gig, “John Ike got talking to a man at the bar that reminded him of Johnny Cash” (EM, 29), after which a few of the security guards, who happened to be policemen, informed The Lingsmen’s drummer that he had been speaking with “the head of the state narcotics commission” (EM, 30). As if under the protection of a guardian angel, the boys were again saved the fate of incarceration, this time by cops moonlighting as security. After revealing to John Ike the identity of his interlocutor, the guards told him unequivocally, “‘You boys better get out of here. You’re talking to The Man. He wants you guys’” (EM, 30). John Ike thanked the officers sincerely and went to inform his bandmates.

Site of one of the former gun emplacements at Port Aransas where Stacy and Benny smoked each morning (photo: stexboat)

The Lingsmen beat a hasty retreat and began breaking down their equipment. Meanwhile, back up musicians Danny and Bobby Galindo, called in by Lingsmen vocalist Max Range for that night’s show, were just pulling up to the club and “witnessed the old band loading their equipment and Bonneville motorcycle onto the back of a pickup truck” (EM, 30). The Galindo brothers immediately turned tail and drove back home. The following morning, “the vice squad raided the ‘Lingshack’…hoping to find them still sleeping, but found only a scattering of marijuana seeds and stems” (EM, 30). Stacy, John and Benny were gone, back to Kerrville or Austin, as far away from the vice squad as possible. This was the closest call yet and their escape from certain incarceration was dependent on the unlikely kindness of a few off duty cops. As far as near busts went, this was about as near as one could be without getting caught. The Lingsmen were done for good, and in their place Max Range gathered a new back-up band dubbed “The Laughing Kind”, who continued to play the coastal circuit until 1967, when Danny Galindo left to take his place as an one of the Elevators (EM, 30).

Primitive Zippo
Doing high dives into the California cannabis industry, cannabis culture, cannabis-friendly music and anything else cannabis-related residing in the vast expanse of my turgid cranium.

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