Roky Erickson was born Roger Kynard Erickson on 15 July, 1947. Roky Erickson is an American singer, songwriter, harmonica player and guitarist from Texas. Roky Erickson was a founding member of the 13th Floor Elevators and pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre.
Roky Erickson was interested in music from his youth: he played piano from the age of 5 and took up guitar at the age of 12. Roky Erickson attended school in Austin and dropped out of Travis High School in 1965, 1 month before graduating, rather than cut his hair to conform to the school dress code. Roky Erickson’s 1st notable group was The Spades, who scored a regional hit with Roky Erickson’s song “We Sell Soul”; this song is included on the compilation album Highs in the Mid 60s, Volume 17(although the songwriter is identified as Emil Schwartze on the track listing on this album).
Roky Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators in late 1965. Roky Erickson and bandmate Tommy Hall were the main songwriters. Early in her career, singer Janis Joplin considered joining the Elevators, but Family Dog’s Chet Helms persuaded her to go to San Francisco, California, USA instead, where she found major fame.
In 1966 (Roky Erickson was 19 years old) the band released their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Psychedelic Sounds had the band’s only charting single, Roky Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” A stinging post-romantic breakup song, the single remains probably Roky Erickson’s best-known work: it was a major hit on local charts in the U.S. southwest, and appeared at lower position on national singles charts as well. Critic Mark Deming writes that “If Roky Erickson had vanished from the face of the earth after The 13th Floor Elevators released their epochal debut single, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me,’ in early 1966, in all likelihood he’d still be regarded as a legend among garage rock fanatics for his primal vocal wailing and feral harmonica work.”
In 1967, the band followed up with Easter Everywhere, perhaps the band’s most focused effort, featuring the epic track “Slip Inside This House”, and a noted cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
After the band’s 3rd album, Live, which featured audience applause dubbed over studio recordings of cover versions and older material, The 13th Floor Elevators released their 4th and final album Bull of the Woods in 1968. Due to Roky Erickson’s health and legal problems, his contribution to the album is limited, with guitarist Stacy Sutherland taking more of a leading role.
In 1968, while doing a stint at Hemisfair, Roky Erickson started speaking nonsense. Roky Erickson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.
The Elevators were vocal proponents of mescaline (peyote), LSD, and marijuana use, and were subject to extra attention from police. In 1969, Roky Erickson was arrested for possession of 1 marijuana joint in Austin. Facing a 10 year prison term, Roky Erickson pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Roky Erickson was 1st sent to the Austin State Hospital. After several escapes, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was subjected to more electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments, ultimately remaining in custody until 1972.
When released from the state hospital, Roky Erickson’s mental outlook had changed. In 1974, he formed a new band which he called Bleib Alien, Bleib being an anagram of Bible and/or German for Stay, and “Alien” being a pun on the German word “Allein” (“alone”) – the phrase in German therefore being “Remain alone”. Roky Erickson’s new band exchanged the psychedelic sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators for a more heavy metal sound that featured lyrics on old horror film and science fiction themes. “2Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” (produced by The Sir Douglas Quintet’s Doug Sahm) was released as a single.
The new band renamed itself Roky Erickson and the Aliens. In 1979, Roky Erickson recorded 15 new songs with producer Stu Cook, former bass player of Creedence Clearwater Revival. These efforts were released in 2 “overlapping” LPs – TEO/CBS UK, and The Evil 1/415 records. Stu Cook also played bass on 2 tracks, “Sputnik” and “Bloody Hammer.” Roky Erickson also performed with The Nervebreakers as his backup band at The Palladium in Dallas in 1979. A recording was issued on the French label New Rose and was recently re-issued elsewhere. In 1982, Roky Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body. Roky Erickson later reported to friends that aliens were coming to Earth to harm him, and asked a Notary Public to witness an official declaration that he was himself an alien, hoping that this would convince the aliens to leave him alone.
In an unmedicated state, Roky Erickson began a years-long obsession with the mail, often spending hours poring over random junk mail, writing to solicitors and celebrities (dead or living). Roky Erickson was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft. Roky Erickson picked up mail from neighbours who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room. Roky Erickson insisted that he never opened any of the mail, and the charges were ultimately dropped.
Several live albums of his older material have been released since then, and in 1990 Sire Records/Warner Bros. Records released a tribute album, Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye produced by WB executive Bill Bentley. It featured versions of Roky Erickson’s songs performed by The Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M., ZZ Top, Julian Cope, Bongwater, John Wesley Harding, Doug Sahm and Primal Scream. According to the liner notes, the title of the album came from a remark Roky Erickson made to a friend who asked him to define psychedelic music, to which Roky Erickson reportedly replied “It’s where the pyramid meets the eye, man!” (the quote is also a reference to the Eye of Providence).
In 1995, Roky Erickson released All That May Do My Rhyme on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey’s label Trance Syndicate Records. Produced by Texas Tornado bassist Speedy Sparks, Austin recording legend Stuart Sullivan and Texas Music Office director Casey Monahan, the release coincided with the publication of Openers II, a complete collection of Roky Erickson’s lyrics. Published by Henry Rollins’s 2.13.61 Publications, it was compiled and edited by Casey Monahan with assistance from Henry Rollins and Roky Erickson’s youngest brother Sumner Erickson, a classical tuba player.
Sumner Erickson was granted legal custody of Roky in 2001, and established a legal trust to aid his brother. As a result, Roky Erickson received some of the most effective medical and legal aid of his life, the latter useful in helping sort out the complicated tangle of contracts, which had reduced royalty payments to all but nothing for his recorded works. Roky Erickson also started taking medication to control his schizophrenia.
A documentary film on the life of Roky Erickson titled You’re Gonna Miss Me was made by director Keven McAlester and screened at the 2005 SXSW film festival. In September of the same year, Roky Erickson performed his 1st full-length concert in 20years at the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival with The Explosives.
In the 30 December, 2005 issue of the Austin Chronicle, an alternative weekly newspaper in Austin, Texas, Margaret Moser brings up to date the story of Roky Erickson’s recovery with the aid of his brother Sumner. According to the article, Roky Erickson weaned himself off his medication, played at 11 gigs in Austin that year, obtained a driver’s license, owns a car (a Volvo), voted the previous year, and planned to do more concerts with The Explosives in 2006.
In 2007, Roky Erickson played his 1st ever gig in New York City, as well as California’s Coachella Festival and made a stunning debut performance in England to a capacity audience at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Roky Erickson continued to play in Europe, performing for the 1st time in Finland at Ruisrock festival. According to the article in Helsingin Sanomat 8 June 2007, the performance was widely considered the highlight of the festival day.
According to an interview on Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio with You’re Gonna Miss Me director Kevin McAlester (7/24/07), Roky Erickson is currently working on a new album with Billy Gibbons, singer and guitarist of ZZ Top, and a longtime admirer of Roky Erickson; Billy Gibbons’ earlier band The Moving Sidewalks had a hit with “99th floor”, which was a tribute of sorts to the Elevators.
On 8th September 2008, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai released the ‘The Batcat EP’. Roky Erickson is featured on 1 of the tracks, ‘Devil Rides’.
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