R.I.P. Benny Thurman, Original Thirteenth Floor Elevators Bassist

Categories: Catfish Reef
Photo by John Anderson/Austin Chronicle
Benny Thurman in 2004
Benny Thurman, the original bass player for the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, passed away last month. Thurman, 65, died June 22 after two and a half weeks in the intensive-care unit of Austin's Seton Hospital with an undisclosed illness, according to a report on Austin '60s blog The Rag.

A classically trained violinist and Marine Corps veteran, Thurman, born February 20, 1943, played with the Elevators from late 1965 to mid-1966. Previously, he played with future Elevators John Ike Walton and Stacy Sutherland - whom he met at the famous Austin UT-area hamburger stand Dirty's - in the Lingsmen, an Austin dance band that relocated to the Gulf Coast and established a popular residency at Port Aransas beachside concession stand/club the Dunes.

They were discovered by Tommy Hall, the electric-jug player who drafted the Lingsmen's rhythm section for the new group he was starting with singer Roky Erickson. Though he didn't even really play bass, Thurman was convinced to come along.

"I was a fiddle player, violin," Thurman told Austin Chronicle writer Margaret Moser in 2004. "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."

The Lingsmen: Benny Thurman, John Ike Walton and Stacy Sutherland
The Elevators, Thurman said. "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."

He sure did. Thurman, a longtime State of Texas employee, went back to violin and played in the Austin band Plum Nelly before retiring from music in the 1970s. He is survived by his daughter, Jennifer. No funeral arrangements have been announced, but a likely place to look is the memorial thread on the Texas '60s Music Refuge Yahoo message board.

The Elevators' 1966 appearance on American Bandstand, still one of the most surreal moments in all of '60s pop-culture history:

If anyone has any further information to add about Thurman, the Lingsmen, the Dunes or the Elevators, please leave it in the comments. Houstonians and psych fans in general could always stand to know a little more about that era. - Chris Gray

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