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My name is Kyle and I'm a record collector and music nut from San Antonio, TX. I'm always on the lookout for new artists, so feel free to drop me a comment or send me an if you have any suggestions.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Interview With Danny Thomas Of The 13th Floor Elevators

Last week I posted my list of the "Top Ten Garage Rock Bands of the Sixties", in which I included the 13th Floor Elevators in the number four slot. Perhaps if the list was of the "Top Ten Psychedelic Bands of All Time" I would have put them in the number one position. I mean, they basically invented the genre. Lead singer Roky Erikson is even credited with coining the term "psychedelic rock."

The Elevators came about in 1965 when Roky Erikson joined up with Benny Thurman, Stacy Sutherland, John Ike Walton, and Tommy Hall. In 1966 they recorded the song that would make them famous, "You're Gonna Miss Me," which, in October of that year, reached all the way up to #55 on the national Billboard chart. The band's legendary debut album, "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators," came out the following month.

After touring California and Texas, there was a change in the line-up of the band as Danny Thomas and Danny Galindo came in at the drums and bass, respectively. In November of 1967, the 13th Floor Elevators released their second and best (in this writer's opinion) album, "Easter Everywhere."

The band released two more albums, "Live" and "Bull of the Woods," before breaking up in 1969 due to legal problems. The legend of the 13th Floor Elevators continues to live on today. They are often thought to be one of the most creative and inventive bands of all time.

  • I recently got a chance to interview drummer Danny Thomas, who played with the Elevators on the "Easter Everywhere" and "Bull of the Woods" albums.

    KF- I think I heard somewhere that you attended Trinity University here in San Antonio before joining the 13th Floor Elevators. I have a brother who is currently a student there. How were your experiences at Trinity, and what was San Antonio like in the sixties? Was there a psychedelic culture?

    DT- Good question! Before attending Trinity, I attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. I heard about Trinity through the choir director there who had previously taught at Culver. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me and I was accepted to Trinity in 1966. I had never been to Texas and was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and environment, both cultural and geographical. Limestone cliffs and prickly pear cacti were abundant. In the mid 1900's, the Hispanic population was limited to the southwestern area and the cross cultural influences were a very pleasant change from the east coast and mid-west. At Trinity, I was elected as President of the Freshman class and enjoyed my Freshman year but decided to move to Houston when approached by Lelan Rogers, brother of country singer Kenny Rogers, to sign a record contract with International Artists to play with the 13th Floor Elevators. San Antonio was a very vibrant and bustling city with an intense energy in the 1960's. Young people were starting to question authority and rebel against the Establishment. The psychedelic culture was firmly rooted and the era of the "Flower Children" was in full bloom. Psychedelic music clubs were popping up and young people from all walks of life were congregating and celebrating this new felt freedom. Youth also brought with it the urges for foolish choices relating to unrestricted sexual behavior and drug use so there were some casualties. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, ZZ Top, and the 13th Floor Elevators all played the city auditorium. The Hemisfair brought the city together in a way I had never seen. I understand that there were many more great music artists who have called San Antonio home like the Butthole Surfers who also attended Trinity University but that is another story and time and space limitations prevent me from rambling.

    KF- Your musical talent and skill is very apparent on both "Easter Everywhere" and "Bull of the Woods." How did you first start playing music and how old were you?

    DT- Thank you. I played first in Charlotte, NC at age 11 on the local country-western television show, hosted by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith and won a parakeet for taking first place in the talent show he sponsored. I sang "Short Fat Fanny". Throughout middle school, I played the local dances and sock hops with my bands until my parents decided to ship me off to military school in Indiana where, by the way, I formed a band called the "Soul Brothers" (pre-Balushi) and continued playing all the way up until I crossed paths with the Elevators in Austin in 1967.

    KF- How did you get involved with the 13th Floor Elevators?

    DT- The story is short and sweet. Danny Galindo and I had been jamming at pizza joints in San Antonio. We were invited to go to Austin to hear the 13th Floor Elevators play by my roommate at Trinity University, Charles Booker. Charles was from Kerrville, Texas, where three of the 13th Floor Elevators grew up and had a band called the Lingsmen (later to become the Elevators). Danny, Charlie, and I drove to Austin to attend the concert and afterward went to a small house up on a hill where we jammed until the crack of dawn with musician who at that time were unknown to us. About five months later, I got a call from International Artists asking Danny Galindo and me to come to Houston to discuss replacing John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman. We accepted the offer without a second thought, packed the car, and moved to Houston.

    KF- The 13th Floor Elevators are considered to be one of the most progressive bands of their era. They are known to have influenced countless musicians over the years. How does it feel knowing that you were part of such an amazing and valued band?

    DT- Thanks again. The key word there is "progressive". I have always been one for adventuring into previously unexplored areas and the Elevators were undoubtedly far out into the unknown. That was the attraction. With innovative music and metaphysical lyrics, they were taking music into the future and I wanted to go along for the ride. I guess you could say I am a 13th Floor Elevators fan too !!! It took more than just the members of the band to make it happen. It is a phenomenon that is beyond explanation.

    KF- How did playing with Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins compare to playing with the 13th Floor Elevators?

    DT- Well, I have always been rooted in the blues of the deep south. The records we listened to when I was growing up were all Delta blues and Gospel. So, the only difference is, and I'm sure Johnny Winter and Billy Gibbons will agree, that you just turn it up when you play rock and roll.

    KF- Tell us a little about your book "Twice Born A Vagabond."

    DT- Oh, I'm trying to become a writer and I have published a rough draft of a novel called "Twice Born A Vagabond" on the Internet. It is always in a state of flux and changing from day to day. It is fiction based on facts gleaned from my memory of my younger days with the intention of addressing some issues of growing up in America that are not usually discussed. I have three children who are married adults now and I have always been completely candid in sharing what I went through with them. I had good results so I thought it would be a good idea to share the story with everyone.

    KF- Where can we go on the Internet to learn more about you and your book?

    DT- http://13thfloorelevators.uuuq.com/index.html



  1. In 1967 I attended Culver Military Academy and was in the Soul Brothers. I remember Farrell and Combe. What did you play?
    Tom Skinker tskinker@comcast.net

  2. Danny DeWitt Thomas was the drummer no doubt.