High Baptismal Flow: Part 2
The 13th Floor Elevators' ground floors: Where are they now?
Location: North Carolina
Recorded: Easter Everywhere, Live, Bull of the Woods
"I was attending Trinity University in San Antonio in the fall of 1966, president of the freshman class. Previous to Trinity, I'd attended Culver Military Academy, so I was fed up with regimentation. Plus, I had the draft breathing down my neck. Everyone was being sent to Vietnam left and right."
On the phone from his home in North Carolina, Danny Thomas looks back on his days as the Elevators' second drummer with a combination of pride and caution. He was playing in bands around San Antonio when his college roommate invited him to see the Elevators play the Doris Miller Auditorium in Austin. Thomas went, and found himself mesmerized by their music. At an after-show party, he jammed with the band, which led to his invitation to join when John Ike Walton left.
"About four months after that show and party, I got a message at the dorm that [their label] IA had called; Lelan Rogers wanted to talk to me because Stacy recommended I take John Ike's place at the drums. He thought I was good enough for the job. So I drove to Houston. I still had short hair and wore a coat and tie to the interview at the offices of IA. Here are all these hippie guys with long hair and beads and blue jeans and cowboy boots. This was new to me, being a Carolina boy. They said, 'We'd like you to take the job.' Considering my circumstances, fed up with school and the draft on me, I said, 'Yeah, where do I sign.'"
Signing on with the Elevators from May 1967 to December 1968 was the ride of Thomas' life. Psychedelic Sounds put the band on the rock & roll map, but Easter Everywhere was the band's finest hour on record. Yet Thomas expresses awkwardness about his tenure with the band.
"My contribution was to help the 13th Floor Elevators solidify their niche, extending their longevity and give them two more albums. It might have been the difference between forgotten and remembered because, according to critics, Easter Everywhere is the better album. Though I wasn't part of the original lineup, I feel my contribution was instrumental in the end result of them being remembered. They might have been forgotten if I had not been there for the job. I sound a little defensive, but I've always had to give a reason for justifying being the replacement drummer. Danny Galindo was the same.
"I've asked myself so many times what it was about the band. I still do. It's beyond words to explain how someone like me whose background was in Deep South R&B was put in hard-driving, Texas heavy metal. It was a phenomenon without a clear explanation, so I have to get philosophical about it. I think the reason people feel they can identify with it and feel like it's accessible and real to them stems from the sincerity of the individuals doing the work on the project.
"I would also like to give Tommy credit for the broad vision of seeing Roky in the Spades and the Lingsmen and putting them together. Neither of those bands had a vision or message. Tommy Hall took those bands and used them and the members of the bands to get a message across that was appropriate for the times.
"And we were all penalized for it. We all had to pay a price as a result in a martyrdom-type way, because we were advocates for a point of view. And whenever you set yourself up in high visibility, then the mean people of the world come out. That's my favorite phrase in 'Slip Inside This House': 'The one-eyed men and two-eyed men and three-eyed men.'
"'One-eyed men aren't really reigning,' that's your generals. 'Two-eyed men with mystery training finally feel the power fill,' those are your leaders and manipulators. 'Three-eyed men are not complaining. They can yo-yo where they will. They slip inside this house as they pass by.' So the one-eyed and two-eyed men are going to crucify the three-eyed men at every opportunity, because that's the way they maintain control. That's what happened to the 13th Floor Elevators and many other people from that generation."
Thomas drives a truck for a living, and his Web site (www.geocities.com/ucdnlo) carries a portion of his novel-in-progress. He declares his performing days completely over ("I'm never going to play again not even for the Elevators"). Yet the 19 months he spent drumming for one of the most influential bands in rock history is never far away.
"Driving down the road doing deliveries, a line from one of our songs will come through my head that makes everything all right. And anytime I get the chance to espouse the message of that generation, I take it."