The Austin Chronicle

High Baptismal Flow: Part 2

The 13th Floor Elevators' ground floors: Where are they now?

By Margaret Moser, August 20, 2004, Music

Benny Thurman

Age: 61

Location: Austin

Instrument: bass

Recorded: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)," "I've Got Levitation," Live

"I wasn't too much on bass, I was a fiddle player, violin. I couldn't play bass worth a darn, but I said I'd learn. It was hard, but I got a big ol' jazz bass from John Ike [Walton]. I could keep up and was on a lot of the fast rock stuff, but then they got into those romantic love songs, with Roky singing."

So reflects Benny Thurman on his two years as the original bassist for the 13th Floor Elevators. Retired from a state job and caring for his mother, Thurman jokes about spending his days watching Jerry Springer and living with "three cats, two dogs, and a redbird nest outside the window with little blue eggs in it."

Thurman was classically trained as a violinist, playing in his high school orchestra before joining the Marines. He returned to Austin after the service and one fortuitous afternoon sauntered into Dirty's Hamburgers on the Drag where he met John Ike Walton and Stacy Sutherland. The three teamed up, found a singer, and relocated to the coast, where they called themselves the Lingsmen and played "the Dunes, a concession stand on the beach, Wednesday nights and weekends" with great success. After Tommy Hall drafted the band's rhythm section for the Elevators, Thurman found his world and music had changed.

"Compared to everyone else, we were smashing! We had the sound, the image – you can hear the gap between us and what else was going on in 1965. It's the basic beat. When you first get hip, it's what you feel. We were inspired by Dylan. And Janis. Janis really tore it up. Tommy was the main instigator. I remember sweating it out, rehearsing for gigs.

"The music was so new, they called it the 13th floor – everyone else had only gone to 12. It was the movement of the spirit – Owsley, Leary, the Dead. People were tired of the Kingston Trio and 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' and the Elevators were on the pinnacle. We went out to San Francisco and L.A. twice in a Volkswagen and stayed with Clementine. She was so kind with us when we were there.

"Believe me, nobody wants to stay on the 13th floor. It's too weird. It was bedlam, that Armageddon-in-your-mind type music. And we were the first, the original. We were onto the pyramid, with its mystical Egyptian connection. Incense, hash, peyote were introduced into the culture. Amphetamines and barbiturates. I liked Desoxyn; I'm drug-free now. After the bust, I broke away. I was about to get married and they needed a better bass player."

Thurman went on to play with other Austin acts, notably Plum Nelly in the mid-Seventies, but with family responsibilities looming, he left music behind. Nevertheless, his time as an Elevator is a source of great pride for him.

"I'd like to see Tommy again someday," he commented wistfully. "We caught the wave and held onto our surfboard. It was all an experiment, but it was a great experience. A lot of people never get to experience anything at all. Not just performing, but the life around it, the sparkle of it, the groove. I got some of it."

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