Thorne Dreyer & Margaret Moser :
Austin Rock Musician Benny Thurman Dead at 65

photo of Benny Thurman

Benny Thurman. Photo By John Anderson / Austin Chronicle.

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | June 24, 2008

Benny Thurman, a founding member and bassist of the famed sixties rock group the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, died this past Sunday, June 22 in Austin. Thurman was in intensive care at Austin’s Seton Hospital for two and a half weeks before his passing from undisclosed illnesses. He was 65.

Thurman played bass for the Elevators from the band’s beginning in late 1965 until mid-1966.

Austin’s Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the first band to openly embrace the concept of “psychedelic rock” and whose live concerts became a thing of legend, never gained mass popularity or much commercial success but were headliners in the early days of San Francisco’s psychedelic rock scene. The band’s legacy continues, its songs covered by a new generation of bands, and the Elevators are often cited as a major influence by musicians like Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

Benny Thurman, also a violinist, later played for Mother Earth and Plum Nellie but eventually gave up performing.

Before the Elevators: Benny Thurman, Stacy Sutherland, and John Ike Walton in their Lingsmen days. Photo courtesy Austin Chronicle.

The following article by Margaret Moser appeared in the Austin Chronicle on August 20, 2004.

Benny Thurman of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators

“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.”

— Margaret Moser

Source / Austin Chronicle

Special thanks to Fontaine Maverick / The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Thorne Dreyer & Margaret Moser :
Austin Rock Musician Benny Thurman Dead at 65

  1. Mariann says:

    This is sad news — Benny’s music was an important part of the Austin scene. Plum Nelly doesn’t get talked about much, but that was a terrific little band. I fell in love, once upon a time, dancing to that band…

    And to lose any of the original Elevators is especially sad — when they played the old New Orleans Club, a snotty frat hang-out, and the hips took over the place, was the first sense of power I think we ever had as an alternative community — we wuz electrified!

  2. wali stopher says:

    Good Ol’ Benny: Why, I remember one time Benny came over to my house where now stands Barker History Center and he . . . oh wait that’s gonna be in my autobiography. Sorrrryyyyyy!!!
    And then there was the time when I was in the Conqueroo and we were living at that castle on West Avenue. Benny was standing on the roof outside the third floor windows with a broom and he . . . Awwwww! That’s in the autobiography, too!
    Can’t give too much away. It’s For Sale! HA HAAAA HA!
    Aside to Self: “Whew, so glad I got some of this stuff written down before I forgot it all.”
    Seriously, though, folks, Benny was a great guy, as some of you know and remember. The Elevators ran through bass players like the Conqueroo ran through drummers. By the time we opened for them at Doris Miller Auditorium, if memory serves and it May Not, Danny Galindo was the bass player. Then there was . . . good ol’ Whatsisname, uh oh, memory glitches are beginning to crop up.
    Yes I remember Some stuff, though, staring out at the sea of faces, many of them with mouths moving, “Get off the stage!” “Bring on the Elevators!” and other fan adulation remarks. They loved us, stunned into silent adoration after each brilliant number. “Roky!” they screamed occasionally.
    You’ll have to read my autobiography, soon as I get it written, if I find an agent, if he finds a publisher, if I don’t die first like good ol’ Benny and Ike Ritter, Janis Joplin, Townes van Zandt, Champ Hood, and so many more locally and nationally known friends whose names have become elusive in this Twiight of the Neurons, let’s see: Uncle John Turner, John “Mambo” Traynor, Jesse Taylor, Doug Sahm, yep, “God” recalls his products one by one.
    Oh well . . . you see I am still an idiot. Always did like Benny Thurman and enjoyed his monologs, er uh, conversations.
    May you prosper and enjoy your life.
    Love and Peace,

  3. Tim Jones says:

    I remember one day in about 1972 when Benny remarked after dropping some acid:
    “…I realized I was God. Then I realized, so is an ant.”
    He was an enlightening man and an immensely entertaining individual. It’s with sadness I see another of Austin’s original psychedelic musical inspirations has left us.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I went o the “One Nite” down on REd River one night when My friend Bill Dorman and his band was playing (Whistler) and they ask Benny to come on stage and play the violin with them. He declined saying he was afraid his Dad would find out and get after him. Anothr time I went to this party somewhere in Austin and was ripped on something. I must have been really obvious cause Benny came up to me and stared into my dialated eyes and said ” I know you know, man” Those were the days…… Glad I survived.

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