'Til Waiting Is Filled
Myths & Facts Regarding the 13th Floor Elevators Studio Recordings
by Patrick Lundborg
1. The Decline And Fall Of The I.A. Empire
After a successful 1966 and a productive 1967, the early months of 1968 marked the beginning of the downfall of the International Artists label. Easter Everywhere, the label’s flagship release, was an artistic success but met with unexceptional sales. The label hadn’t had a hit for more than a year, and Roky & the 13th Floor Elevators seemed unable to pull another “You’re Gonna Miss Me” out of the hat. The label tried new strategies, including purchasing a recording studio in January ‘68, into which the increasingly erratic Elevators were shuffled to bring back the magic of ’66.
In early February, IA:s Los Angeles-based A & R specialist Lelan Rogers left the company, possibly over disagreements with the label owners over the handling of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Freeform Patterns. Rogers had contributed substantially to what would become the IA legend, mixing music business-savvy with a taste for anarchic and uncommercial artists. While IA had no shortage of engineers and studio assistants ready to ‘produce’, the label lost a lot of its professionalism and – some might say – common sense, when Lelan walked out the door. The unexpected success of Bubble Puppy in late ’68 extended the label’s life-span by a year or two, but in 1971, International Artists declared bankruptcy.
Prior to this, under circumstances and for reasons that are still somewhat unclear, the 13th Floor Elevators members had signed over the rights to their songs and recordings to the IA label and its affiliated publishing company, Tapier Music. Elevators biographer Paul Drummond suggests that the band were forced into the transaction due to large debts owed to the label, for lost equipment, studio time, etc. No one gave much thought to this back then, as it was widely assumed the band had been a one-hit-wonder who would be forgotten in a few years. Similarly, not much attention was paid to the fate of the master tapes for IA:s twelve albums and circa forty single releases. In conversation with Greg Shaw in the early 1970s, Lelan Rogers admitted that he had no idea what had happened to the tapes – some of which may have been taped over with later studio recordings, to cut costs.
2. International Artists Resurrected
In the mid-1970s, the International Artists revival began. Inspired by enthusiastic fans in Texas and England, as well as his personal commitment to the bands involved, Lelan Rogers decided to pick up the IA trail where he had walked off. Looking up his old Houston connections, he was able to track down master tape dubs for several – maybe all – of the twelve original IA albums, then in possession of ex-IA owner Noble Ginther. Former IA engineer Ray Rush assisted Lelan in creating new masters for the first two Elevators albums. The first outcome of this was the notorious ‘Masterfonics’ pressings – so called because of the word appearing in the dead wax of the otherwise uncredited reissues. Pressed in small runs, the ‘Masterfonics’ repros are thus actually master tape-sourced, with some IA involvement, a fact that was unknown until recently. The purpose of these two repros may have been to test the market, before a more ambitious reissue project.
Lelan aquired whatever tapes Noble Ginther had stored away in his garage, and went back to Los Angeles to organize his revived IA label. In 1978, the IA box-set was conceived, parallel to which Radar Records in England would release repros of the first two Elevators and the two Red Krayola LPs. However, technical problems plagued the reissue projects from day 1. Lelan’s assistant at the time, Gregg Turner, has described how some of their IA master tapes disintegrated in the mixing board, after which they opted for vinyl-sourcing certain albums instead. It would be useful to know exactly which masters were ruined this way, but this info is lost in the mists of time. However, listening to IA:s 1978 reissue of Easter Everywhere gives clear indication of a genuine studio tape source – it is actually superior in sound to the original 1967 vinyl pressing, a little known fact still today. Turner remembers getting most of Easter transferred before the tech problems began, but of course a recent master transfer of Easter already existed, from the preceding Masterfonics project.
The ’78 IA box-set reissue of Psychedelic Sounds is also very likely to be from tapes, but since the original ‘60s LP mastering and cutting there had been more skillfully handled, plus the fact that many Elevators fans prefer the mono mix – this is less of a big deal than the Easter reissue. Rumors have gone around of extra, stand-alone copies of these first two Elevators LP repros being pressed up (i e: outside the 12-album box-set) around this time, but remain unconfirmed. Some record dealers broke up the box-set and sold off the LPs one by one, to make more money. The bottom line here is worth repeating: the 1977 ‘Masterfonics’ and the 1978 IA box-set reissues of Psychedelic Sounds and Easter Everywhere are not vinyl-sourced, but from original ‘60s tapes. For the other albums in the box-set the story may vary, and a knowledgable person has suggested that the box-set repro of the Golden Dawn LP – today one of IA:s most-loved releases – sounds like a vinyl needle-drop.
At this time, Lelan & the revived IA were supposed to send their album masters to Radar Records in England for their corresponding reissues. However, as Radar owner Andrew Lauder has testified, new technical problems arose, when the IA-supplied tapes turned out to be unfit to use. Thus, Radar settled for creating their own vinyl-sourced reissues from privately owned album originals. By late 1978, both the IA box-set and Radar reissues were out, and some mild enthusiasm was registered in the middle of punk rock brouhaha. Overall, though, the old Texas drug music didn’t set the world on fire the way Lelan Rogers had hoped, and after a retrospective sampler of unreleased IA material collected from Noble Ginther’s garage tapes – the double Epitaph For A Legend from 1980 – the International Artists label was again put to rest.
3. Charly & The Elevators
Yet, record collector and ‘garage’ fan interest in IA in general and the 13th Floor Elevators in particular kept mounting during the 1980s, and it didn’t take many years before a new generation of IA reissues appeared. Somewhere in the mid-‘80s, representatives of the Charly label in England tracked Lelan Rogers down, and arranged for licencing his old Texas warhorses. Contrary to popular belief, there was nothing illegitimate about these arrangements, as Lelan had purchased the whole IA catalog from the former IA owners in the mid-‘70s. The Elevators, as noted above, had given up the claims on their music while the original ‘60s IA was still in operation. The earliest Charly-related reissues came out in 1988 (prior to this, Easter had been bootlegged once and Psychedelic Sounds twice), of which picture disc and CD versions also exist.
The confusion around the original IA master tapes now takes on an even greater magnitude, because few people who have heard the Charly/Decal reissues, or the many later repros that were licenced via Charly, would claim them to come from original tapes. They’ve been widely assumed to be vinyl-sourced. The rationale here was that since any master tapes were ‘lost’ since decades, what could you do? However, as our recent research has shown, the master tapes were not lost; they were around in ’78, Lelan had them, and their provenance has been established. Exactly what Charly received from Lelan in the 1980s, and why real master tapes weren’t used, is not known. It is however interesting to note that Radar Records ran into similar problems when licencing material from Lelan 10 years earlier. Parallel to this, Roky Erickson’s career and mental health was in a downward spiral, and the entire Elevators-IA legend was in a state of disarray. After respectable efforts by Doug Hanners and Pete Buesnel, the legacy had been poorly handled. Elevators bootlegs flooded the market and no one seemed to care, while people – often Roky fans from the punk era -- who didn’t even know such basic data as who IA:s owners were, blamed Lelan Rogers for everything bad in Roky-land. There were poorly grounded lawsuits filed by Roky’s mother and by ex-Elevators drummer John Ike Walton. Reportedly bitter about the inaccurate slander and in need of money to handle the law-suits, Lelan finally sold the IA catalog to Charly Records, who up until this point – the late 1990s – had only been licencing the material. Out on the streets, interest in the Elevators was greater than ever, and a rapid string of (usually sub-standard) reissues followed, from labels like Collectables, Spalax, Get Back, all processed via Charly in England. Any master tapes or studio tapes in general were presumed to be permanently lost, a “fact” which made the mediocre-sounding reissues a little easier to swallow.
4. The Myth Of The “Lost” Master Tapes
However, things are never entirely black and white, and least of all so when it comes to the 13th Floor Elevators. For many years, there had been indications that not everything was lost, in terms of original studio recordings. John Ike Walton was obviously in possession of some original reels from Psychedelic Sounds, which he would licence out to various independent labels, both legit and dubious. These tapes, from the Sumet Sound sessions in Dallas where more than half of Psychedelic Sounds was recorded, featured rough mixes in perfect sound of things like “Monkey Island” and “Don’t Fall Down”. On a track such as “You Don’t Know” the rough mix was so good that it may be preferrable to any official version. This material, which could be called the ‘John Ike tapes’ can be found on the Original Sounds vinyl LP, or the Unreleased Masters Collection CDs.
Furthermore, the Elevators’ old producer Walt Andrus had kept safety dubs from the Easter Everywhere sessions, including an alternate, superior mix of “Dust”, and official mixdown versions of things like “Slide Machine” and “Levitation”. In total, I believe around half of Easter always did exist in tape format, in possession of Andrus and others, along with outtakes from the sessions (such as the great “Right Track Now”). Andrus collaborated with Hanners-Buesnel for their legit T.A.R label releases, where the unreleased “Fire In My Bones” from the post-Easter era first appeared. As producer and former proprietor of the studio where the recordings took place, Andrus was also in possession of the two tracks +outtakes from the “You’re Gonna Miss Me” 45 session, as well as the Gordon Bynum Demos, a large number of songs recorded during the Spring 1966, some of which were later used by IA for their Live album, with applause dubbed on. The Bynum Demos contained more material than IA had used for Live, and again this appeared for the T.A.R albums Fire In My Bones and Elevator Tracks in the 1980s.
Moving on to the Bull Of The Woods album, a few bits and pieces from those sessions had seeped out, such as “Wait For My Love” on Epitaph For A Legend in 1980, as well as acetate versions of the powerful “It’s You” (a k a “I Don’t Ever Want To Come Down”) and an alternate, hornless mix of “Livin’ On”. However, the main portion of the Bull Of The Woods tapes remained unseen for many years. Some years back, a Texan musicologist visited the former IA studios in Houston and to his surprise discovered mixdown masters for five tracks from Bull Of The Woods. The tapes were not available for extraction, but it was yet more proof that the majority of the Elevators master tapes were not lost, and had in fact never been “lost”. As our above recap shows, there has been no shortage of studio reels -- it’s more that people have somehow become attracted to the idea of the “lost” tapes, the rediscovery of which would finally set everything straight regarding the Elevators, International Artists, and things like that. And so the myth was perpetuated.
5. Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men
Among those who preferred facts over myths, it was obvious that a substantial part of the Elevators recorded legacy could be pieced together, by rounding up all the scattered tapes described above. The other route – the discovery of complete mix-down masters of the albums – seemed less likely. If such tapes existed, they would surely have been used for all those recent reissues, or? Such naïve logic is not the proper tool for navigating in the International Artists universe, and thus it came to Elevators biographer Paul Drummond to solve the riddle by mere will-power. Finally granted access to Charly’s tape vaults in Holland in 2007, Drummond soon came upon the supposed-not-to-exist stereo masters of all three Elevators studio albums, along with a few more choice IA pieces. From these finds, the few tracks that first seeped out (two on Snapper’s Never Ever Land IA box-set, one on a promo CD for the Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men) indicated a significantly better sound than an original vinyl copy.
As for Psychedelic Sounds, these stereo mixdowns were not used for the Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men box-set. Assuming that everyone has heard this LP in stereo already, the Sign box-set instead contains needle-drops of the mono version, along with an ‘alternate stereo mix’. These new, alternate versions utilized the John Ike and Walt Andrus studio reels discussed above, remixed by Andrus himself, with some input from Roky Erickson. The end result is impressive, and the status of the alternate stereo mix is strengthened by it being presented in the running order intended by the band, as indicated by Tommy Hall’s liner notes, describing a psychedelic life-style concept.
Some of the production decisions for Sign may irritate casual fans who were hoping for a final, definitive Elevators box-set that could be filed away forever, but for the hardcore fan, the ‘alternate mixes’ do have an attractive ring to them. It is a widely held opinion that the stereo mix of Psychedelic Sounds, originally created without the band present, is not entirely successful, with tracks like “Monkey Island” and “Roller Coaster” suffering in particular. Anything alternate produced here could well be an improvement.
Moving on to Easter Everywhere, it is a recognized fact that something went wrong in the final stages of the original mastering of that album, even with its ‘masterpiece’ status, which led to a final cut that was too low and somewhat muddy. Walt Andrus has expressed dissatisfaction with the official mix, although he considers it the best record he has ever worked on. Comparing the sound of an original Easter LP with the extraordinarily rich and warm sound of the alternate “Dust” mix available on a few bootlegs, Andrus’ criticism of the final mix seems valid. The excellent sound of the remastered stereo Easter on the Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men box-set improves the situation considerably, although one might still envision an even better-sounding version that goes back to (non-existent) multi-track reels for a full recreation of the album with a sound like that alternate “Dust” version (which is also included in the Sign box-set).
As for Bull Of The Woods, the situation is less complex, and the Sign box-set contains the recently discovered album mixdown in its entirety; the sound is terrific except for “’Til Then”, where it seems the original studio recording was below-par, for some reason. This track appears to have been tacked on to Bull at a late stage, and was not part of the song list submitted for copyright registration in late ’68. Fans of the final Elevators’ album will also be delighted by a number of outtakes from the Spring ’68 sessions, none of which have been in circulation before, not even on cassette.
There’s much more to be said about the many unreleased and live tracks that adorn the Sign… box-set, but that is material for a whole different article. Prepare yourself to be excited over the early, completely different ‘garage’ version of “Reverberation”, the first and arguably superior version of “Never Another”, and the best-ever sounding version of the Avalon ’66 live tape… among many other things. At the time of this writing, it appears that vinyl format versions of most of the material heard on Sign Of The Three-Eyed Men box-set are in production, possibly even a vinyl box-set.
PS since the above was written, a beautiful-looking and excellent-sounding vinyl box-set titled Music Of The Spheres has indeed arrived, and it deserves an article on its own. To be added...
© Patrick Lundborg, 2010-12
© Patrick Lundborg 1999-2012