At the three-quarter mark of Paul Drummond’s exhaustive (and exhaustingly detailed) band bio, Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound, the avatars of acid rock stumble into Houston around 1968 in physical and emotional shambles. Lyricist and jug player Tommy Hall is demanding permission to deliver Lord-inspired but LSD-fueled sermons before each show. Guitarist Stacy Sutherland’s dalliance with speed has evolved into a nasty heroin habit. And lead singer Roky Erickson, paranoid and reluctant to play, has adopted a trademark Band-Aid on his forehead to cover his third eye.
It’s a sad coda to the band’s brief but promising career. Just two years earlier, the Elevators rode their regional hit single—the manic fuzz-rocker “You’re Gonna Miss Me”—from Austin to San Francisco, where they headlined a summer of shows and caught the ear of such future Bay Area royals as Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. Their groundbreaking first album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, predated the Dead’s by four months; it captured, as would Easter Everywhere (1967) and Bull of the Woods (1968), the shimmery rock wail that helped define psychedelia. Given band policy to drop acid for every gig and recording session, it’s amazing the group lasted at all. With Roky’s 1969 pot bust and subsequent commitment to a hospital for the criminally insane, the Elevators would officially implode.
Drummond, a British set-designer-cum-journalist, began his Elevators fieldwork in 1999 as a personal quest to separate truth from myth. When he discovered that band members and associates (some of whom had maintained thirty-plus years of silence) were as willing to talk as he was to listen, his research stretched into eight years. He reveals himself to be an unabashed fan, but this zealotry has its rewards. The book, awash in meticulous anecdotes and personal snapshots, is a Day-Glo parable of the times: The 13th Floor Elevators were impossibly young (Roky was fifteen when he wrote “You’re Gonna Miss Me”), burdened by high expectations, stoned to the teeth—and an indisputable influence on popular music.
Drummond’s inexperience as a first-time author shows in the lack of self-editing—the book could easily lose fifty pages—and numerous factual errors, some silly (the “Burny Castle Gibson” guitar is really a Barney Kessel Gibson) and some bizarre (the Sex Pistols playing a Kerrville gig in 1978? Never happened). Nonetheless, Eye Mind is a revelation and, flaws and all, a must-have for the serious music geek. Process, $22.95