This is the letter I’ve been waiting to write for over 50 years. It is one that is born out of the absolute love I have for your band, the 13th Floor Elevators, and how they gave me a life. That is not an exaggeration. When I saw the Elevators for the first time in early 1966, something happened inside me that had never happened before. …
Bill Bentley, a veteran music producer in Los Angeles who grew up in Texas, says his brush with the music of fellow Texan Roky Erickson altered the trajectory of his life. In fact, there are many longtime Texas musicians who have similar stories after having come across the music of Erickson and his influential band.
Erickson, who died in 2019 after years of declining health, would have been celebrating his 75th birthday today. And though his music reverberates in ways celebrated by critics and fellow rock musicians, his name is largely unknown, even among fellow Texans. The excerpt above is from a posthumous letter Bentley wrote to Erickson that is featured in a recently released compilation of famous artists performing Erickson covers, “May the Circle Remain Unbroken.”
“I’d been a rock ‘n’ roll fan a long time. And in my really early years in the 50s, I fell for Elvis Presley big time. And that excitement just always opened me up inside,” Bentley said. “But when I saw the Elevators, I could feel like this brain consciousness expanding, and it wasn’t drugs. I mean, I was completely straight at that time – I was, what, 15 years old? And I just knew that the band had secrets about how to move up the way we think.
“And that’s kind of a far out thing to say today. But I heard it in their songs. There is a power that no other rock ‘n’ roll band I had seen – or even seen since – had. And I’ve never forgotten it.”
Erickson’s partner in the Elevators, Tommy Hall – who actually formed the band and wrote many of their lyrics – moved from his hometown of Memphis to Austin in the early 60s to attend the University of Texas, where he studied psychology. He was a student of the earliest psychedelic experiments, Bentley said, and felt the best way to share the lessons of how to change consciousness to the better was with a rock ‘n’ roll band.
“He saw Roky and his former band in Austin, the Spades, and he could see sort of the just inert power Rocky had inside of him,” Bentley said. “Tommy had sort of almost like a prophet effect on Roky, and Roky followed him for the next four years. And they really did change what I feel is the essence of what rock ‘n’ roll could be, which was an expansion of the mind.”
One of the great songs, Bentley said, was “Roller Coaster” – “It starts like a roller coaster so real, it takes your breath away” – about the psychedelic trip on LSD. “Reverberation (Doubt)” was about letting the mind get hung up in a negative space from bad reverberations, then going beyond them to a positive space. And “Fire Engine” was about the feeling when taking LSD.