Houston 101: An Elevator's Last Ride In The Montrose

Some bands are just fated to live fast, die hard and live a pretty corpse. Maybe no Texas group ever exemplified that credo better than the 13th Floor Elevators, perhaps the first and certainly one of the most dramatic exemplars of a band that flew too close to the sun.

While rock historians know that story pretty well, only the most devoted know that one of the original members was murdered in a domestic dispute in Montrose.

Band lyricist and electric jug player Tommy Hall decreed early on that the band should never pick up an instrument without first dosing heavily on LSD, and let's just say that the Elevators picked up their instruments pretty often.

Nobody knew then what dangers lurked in long-term use of LSD, so the Elevators found out the hard way that their "quest for pure sanity" was a dangerous trip. Guitarist Stacy Sutherland once recalled trying to perform while high on a 1000-microgram hit; the audience started to glow, and then turned first into wolves and then into angels who had the power to determine if Sutherland would be allowed to live or condemned to die.

This was the kind of spiritual ordeal these guys taxed themselves with night after night -- Sutherland once recalled that the members dropped a few times a week every week for five straight years, even though the majority of their trips were bad ones, in his recollection.

They lasted intact for only two albums before imploding for good in 1973, beset from within by their own overstretched souls and from without by the long arm of the law. By the early '70s, half the band was hooked on meth, and Roky Erickson slipped over into a string of drug busts and incarcerations and into the grips of an insanity from which he would not escape until earlier this decade. Hall migrated to San Francisco, where he has spent the last few decades in a Tenderloin fleapit hotel, regularly ingesting psychedelic drugs and unraveling the secrets of the universe.

Guitarist Stacy Sutherland settled at 516 Pacific Street in darkest Montrose with his wife Bunny. He formed a band called Ice, which never recorded or played outside of Houston. By 1978, Sutherland had gone through a meth phase and was then hooked on heroin. He and Bunny got into a squabble which ended with Bunny shooting Sutherland dead, thus forever killing the notion of an Elevators reunion show early on.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax