Bentley’s Bandstand: The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, David Ball

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, 7th Heaven: Music Of The Spheres, Charly Records

More than a band, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators were musicians on a mission, which was basically to save mankind through the power of evolutionary thought and spiritual beliefs. For a collection of Texas wild men to have such lofty goals might seem a little touched now, but consider Tommy Hall, the guru of the group, was an acid acolyte starting in the early 1960s, and their picture begins to come into focus. Forming in late ’65, the Elevators immediately went for the inner zone, consuming LSD continuously and recording songs like “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Reverberation (Doubt),” “She Lives (In a Time of Her Own),” and their grand opus “Slip Inside This House,” all the while attempting to initiate a trip into bliss. Sometimes it worked, and others it went radically astray. Naturally, the police began pursuing the band and arrests arrived like clockwork. After only three years, the aggregation was in taters, and some of their brains were even worse. Singer Roky Erickson was sent to the hospital for the criminally insane for several years, and there were no more rides for the Elevators. This collection of the 14 songs on their seven U.S. singles, along with four other odds and ends, plays like a journey to a land that no longer exists. Screaming guitars, earthshaking vocals, Hall’s absolutely haunting electric jug: psychedelic rock never got any more out there than this. For the past 40 years, the Thirteen Floor Elevators have become mythic, and for very good reason. They threw the dice using their lives as chips, believing the message they had come to deliver was worth gambling everything for. Listening to the lyrics now, they really did have secrets of the soul inside, and tried to share them so the world would turn towards the light. One of the last songs they ever recorded, “May the Circle Remain Unbroken,” is just Erickson repeating those five words over and over, while a keyboard from the cosmos and Stacy Sutherland’s reverb-spiked guitar deliver that music of the spheres. Their followers still believe, and for that alone, compilations like this have the feel of holy texts. Long may they reign.

David Ball, Sparkle City, Red Dirt Music

Here’s a card-carrying veteran of the country music world, one who has not only been to the top but has also shown the kind of dedication that myths are made of. David Ball grew up in South Carolina, and like a lot of country-inspired artists found himself in Austin in the mid-’70s. The outlaw country craze was at full tilt, and it seemed like shaggy hair, silver and turquoise jewelry and, yes, Peruvian power powder was flowing in the streets. Ball, however, took a quieter route, teaming with Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood in Uncle Walt’s Band, a folkish trio that specialized in intricate playing, smart lyrics and an endearing stage presence. That it wasn’t anywhere near Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson’s allure didn’t get lost on Nashville record label execs, who steered clear of the group with studied indifference. But the bodies in the clubs loved them, and they quickly established a solid cult following. A decade later Ball was in Nashville, making singles and looking for the big break. It came in 1994 with the hit single “Thinkin’ Problem,” which was as good as it sounds. A successful run on the charts lasted a few years, and when it was over the country singer stayed true to his roots and kept making great albums that backed down to no one. Sparkle City is as strong as anything David Ball has ever recorded, and is full of heart-busting songs, perfect accompaniment by the Pioneer Playboys and, most important, Ball’s singing, which is so moving that it’s hard to understand why he isn’t still on top in the country crowd. Songs like “Tulsa,” “What Do I Do if I Don’t Have You,” “Houston Again” and “So Long” feel like classics, and just may be someday. There’s a good chance this Southern man isn’t complaining, though. His two partners in Uncle Walt’s Band are no longer with us, and Ball is still way ahead of Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” on the career scale. But still, country music this great should be connecting with the masses, and maybe for the son of a preacher man from South Carolina, it just might again.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • vlastas

    Glad to ‘hear’ the contribution of Bill on the Rollins’ show on KCRW.
    I think, based on his reviews on this site, he, Bill, could easily helm a show of his own…reviewing those great finds and playing selections.
    Even a half-hour show would be terrific…would lead to an hour or more.
    Try it – You’ll see! Mike V

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