Erickson performing at Austin Music Awards (2008)
|Birth name||Roger Kynard Erickson|
|Born||July 15, 1947|
Dallas, Texas, US
|Died||May 31, 2019 (aged 71)|
Austin, Texas, US
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, harmonica, piano|
|Labels||Columbia, CBS, Restless, Pink Dust, Enigma Records, Five Hours Back, Fan Club, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Triple X, Emperor Jones, Norton, New Rose, Swordfish|
|Associated acts||The 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson & the Aliens, The Explosives, Okkervil River, The Black Angels, The Spades|
Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson (July 15, 1947 – May 31, 2019) was an American musician and singer-songwriter. He was a founding member and the leader of the 13th Floor Elevators and a pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre.
Erickson was born in Dallas, Texas, to Roger and Evelyn Erickson, and had four younger brothers. The nickname "Roky," a contraction of his first and middle names, was given to him by his parents. His father, an architect and civil engineer, was stern and disapproving of Erickson's countercultural attitudes, once forcibly cutting his son's hair rather than allow him to grow it out Beatles-style. His mother was an amateur artist and opera singer, and encouraged Erickson's musical talent by taking guitar lessons herself so she could teach him.
Erickson was interested in music from his youth, playing piano from age five and taking up guitar at 10. He attended school in Austin and dropped out of Travis High School in 1965, one month before graduating, rather than cut his hair to conform to the school dress code. Erickson wrote his first songs, "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "We Sell Soul," at age 15, and started a band with neighborhood friends which would evolve into his first notable group, the Spades. The Spades scored a regional hit with "We Sell Soul"; the song is included as an unlisted bonus track on Erickson's 1995 album All That May Do My Rhyme and was adapted as "Don't Fall Down" by the 13th Floor Elevators for their debut album. The Spades' original version of "You're Gonna Miss Me", later a hit for the 13th Floor Elevators, was featured on the compilation album The Best of Pebbles Volume 1.
The 13th Floor Elevators years
In late 1965, at age 18, Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators. He 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 instead, where she found major fame.
The band released their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators in 1966. It contained the band's only charting single, Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me". A stinging breakup song, the single was a major hit on local charts in the U.S. southwest and appeared at lower positions 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 "Slip Inside This House", and a noted cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". The album Live was released in 1968 by the band's record label, International Artists, with little to no input from the band. It featured audience applause dubbed over studio recordings of cover versions, alternate takes, and older material.
Bull of the Woods (1969) was the 13th Floor Elevators' final album on which they worked as a group and was largely the work of Stacy Sutherland. Erickson—due to health and legal problems—and Tommy Hall were only involved with a few tracks, including "Livin' On" and "May the Circle Remain Unbroken".
Mental illness and legal problems
In 1968, while performing at HemisFair, Erickson began speaking gibberish. He was soon diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.
The Elevators were vocal proponents of marijuana and psychedelic drug use, and were subject to extra attention from law enforcement agencies. In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint in Austin. Facing a potential ten-year incarceration, Erickson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to avoid prison. He was first sent to the Austin State Hospital. After several escapes, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital in Rusk, Texas, where he was subjected to more electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments, ultimately remaining in custody until 1972. During his time at Rusk, he continued writing songs and poetry. Family and friends managed to smuggle out some of these poems and, in 1972, self published the book Openers, intending to use the proceeds to hire a lawyer. (Various sources claim approximately 1,000 copies of Openers were printed; how many copies were actually sold remains unknown.) Six tracks from the 1999 Erickson collection Never Say Goodbye were also recorded during his time at Rusk.
In 1974, after having been released from the state hospital, Erickson formed a new band which he called "Bleib alien," Bleib being an anagram of Bible and/or German for "remain," and "Alien" being a pun on the German word allein ("alone") – the phrase in German, therefore, being "remain alone." His new band exchanged the psychedelic sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators for a more hard rock sound that featured lyrics on old horror film and science fiction themes. "Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)" (produced by The Sir Douglas Quintet's Doug Sahm and inspired by Vladimir Demikhov's 1950s head transplant experiments) was released as a single.
The new band was renamed Roky Erickson and the Aliens. In 1979, after playing with the Reversible Cords on May Day at Raul's, Erickson recorded 15 new songs with producer Stu Cook, former bass player of Creedence Clearwater Revival. These efforts were released in two "overlapping" LPs – Roky Erickson and the Aliens (CBS UK, 1980) and The Evil One (415 Records, 1981). Cook played bass on two tracks, "Sputnik" and "Bloody Hammer." Roky performed with The Nervebreakers as his backup band at The Palladium in Dallas in July 1979. A recording was issued on the French label New Rose and was recently re-issued elsewhere.
The Austin-based band the Explosives served as Roky's most frequent back-up band during the early Raul's Club era, between 1978 and the early 1980s. Billed as Roky Erickson and the Explosives, they were regulars at Raul's, the Continental Club, and other Austin venues. It was this incarnation that contributed two live tracks to the first Live at Raul's LP, released in 1980, with other Raul's top bands: The Skunks, Terminal Mind, The Next, Standing Waves, and The Explosives (without Roky Erickson). The Roky Erickson tracks ("Red Temple Prayer" and "Don't Shake Me Lucifer") were not included on the initial release for contractual reasons, but were included on a later release. In 1982, Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body. He came to feel that, due to his being alien, human beings were attacking him psychically. A concerned friend enlisted a Notary Public to witness an official statement by Erickson that he was an alien; he hoped by declaring so publicly he would be in line with any "international laws" he might have been breaking. Erickson claimed the attacks then indeed stopped.
Creative decline and renewed interest
Beginning in the 1980s, Erickson developed a years-long obsession with the mail, often spending hours poring over random junk mail he received and writing to solicitors and celebrities (dead or living). He was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft for gathering up mail from the mailboxes of neighbors who had moved; Erickson collected the mail and taped it to the walls of his bedroom. The charges were dropped when Erickson insisted that he had never opened any of the mail.
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: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, produced by WB executive Bill Bentley. It featured versions of Erickson's songs performed by The Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M., ZZ Top, Poi Dog Pondering, Julian Cope, Butthole Surfers, Bongwater, John Wesley Harding, Doug Sahm, and Primal Scream, among others. According to the liner notes, the title of the album came from a remark Erickson made to a friend who asked him to define psychedelic music, to which Erickson reportedly replied "It's where the pyramid meets the eye, man," an apparent reference to the Eye of Providence and the Great Seal of the United States.
Return to music and later life
In 1995, Erickson released All That May Do My Rhyme on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey's label Trance Syndicate Records. Produced by Texas Tornados 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 Erickson's lyrics. Published by Henry Rollins's 2.13.61 Publications, it was compiled and edited by Casey Monahan with assistance from Rollins and Erickson's youngest brother Sumner Erickson, a classical tuba player.
Sumner was granted legal custody of Roky in 2001, and established a legal trust to aid his brother. As a result, Roky 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 that had reduced royalty payments to all but nothing for his recorded works. He also started taking medication to better manage 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, Erickson performed his first full-length concert in 20 years at the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival with The Explosives with special guest and longtime associate Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
In the December 30, 2005 issue of the Austin Chronicle, an alternative weekly newspaper in Austin, Texas, Margaret Moser chronicled Erickson's recovery, saying Erickson had weaned himself off his medication, played at 11 gigs in Austin that year, obtained a driver's license, bought a car (a Volvo), and voted.
In 2007, Erickson played his first ever gigs in New York City at Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY, as well as California's Coachella Festival and made a debut performance in England to a capacity audience at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Roky continued to play in Europe, performing for the first time in Finland at Ruisrock festival. According to the article in Helsingin Sanomat June 8, 2007, the performance was widely considered the highlight of the festival day.
On September 8, 2008, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai released the Batcat EP. Erickson is featured on one of the tracks, "Devil Rides". Erickson performed alongside Austin-based indie rock band Okkervil River at the Austin Music Awards in 2008 and then again at the 2009 South by Southwest music festival.
Erickson returned to the stage in 2008 to perform songs from the 13th Floor Elevators catalog that had not been performed in decades with fellow Austinites The Black Angels as his backing band. After months of practices and time recording in an Austin studio, they performed a show in Dallas followed by a West Coast tour. The Black Angels played a regular set and then backed Erickson as his rhythm section, playing 13th Floor Elevators songs as well as songs from Erickson's solo albums.
In March 2012 Roky Toured New Zealand and Australia for the first time headlining Golden Plains Sixxx Festival in Meredeth as well as playing soldout side shows in Sydney and Melbourne.
On May 10, 2015, Roky performed with the reunited 13th Floor Elevators at Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Fest, the event was renamed "Levitation" after the song of the same title). The band consisted of original band members Erickson, Tommy Hall, John Ike Walton, and Ronnie Leatherman, joined by Roky's son Jegar Erickson on harmonica, Roky's lead guitarist Eli Southard, and rhythm guitarist Fred Mitchim.
Erickson died in Austin on May 31, 2019. His passing was made public through a Facebook post by his brother Mikel, who wrote, "My brother Roky passed away peaceably today. Please allow us time." To date, no cause of death has been announced.
- Bermuda/The Interpreter (1977 Rhino Records RNOR-003)
- Don't Slander Me (1986, Pink Dust Records)
- Gremlins Have Pictures (1986, Pink Dust Records)
- Casting the Runes (1987, Five Hours Back)
- Holiday Inn Tapes (1987, Fan Club)
- Click Your Fingers Applauding The Play (1988, New Rose Records)
- Openers (1988, Five Hours Back)
- Live at the Ritz 1987 (1988, Fan Club)
- Live Dallas 1979 (1992, Fan Club)
- All That May Do My Rhyme (1995, Trance Syndicate)
- Demon Angel: A Day and a Night with Roky Erickson (1995, Triple X Records)
- Roky Erickson and Evilhook Wildlife (1995, Sympathy for the Record Industry)
- Never Say Goodbye (1999, Emperor Jones)
- Don't Knock the Rok! (2004, Norton Records)
- I Have Always Been Here Before (2005, Shout! Factory)
- Halloween (2008, Norton Records)
- True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010, ANTI- Records)
Roky Erickson and the Aliens
Roky Erickson and the Resurrectionists
- Beauty and the Beast (1993, Sympathy for the Record Industry)
- Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson (1990, Sire Records/Warner Bros. Records)
Legacy and influence
Author Jonathan Lethem titled his 2007 novel You Don't Love Me Yet in honor of two (otherwise unconnected) songs of the same title by Erickson and The Vulgar Boatmen. Lethem called Erickson's song "irresistible" and "one of those incredibly versatile songs."
A plotline in an episode of 1990s sitcom The John Larroquette Show revolved around a sighting of reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon himself did not appear, but agreed to allow his name to be used on the condition that it was specifically mentioned that Pynchon was seen wearing a T-shirt showing a picture of Erickson. According to the Los Angeles Times, this spurred an increase in sales of Erickson's albums.
- Dorian Lynskey (June 8, 2007). ""The man who went too high". The Guardian. June 8, 2007". London: Music.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Cooper, Neil (June 9, 2019). "Obituary: Roky Erickson, singer and pioneer of psychedelic rock". The Herald. Glasgow, Scotland. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
- Hall, Michael (December 2001). "A Long, Strange Trip". Texas Monthly. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
- "The fall and rise of Roky Erickson. Austin American-Statesman, July 12, 2007. p 13 (Xlent section).
- Schneider, Jason (April 25, 2010). "Roky Erickson: Back On Earth". Exclaim!. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
- Burks, Tosten (May 31, 2019). "Roky Erickson Dead at 71". Spin. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
- Deming, Mark (March 1, 2005). "I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology – Roky Erickson". AllMusic. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Eggertsen, Chris (May 31, 2019). "Roky Erickson, Frontman of Psych-Rock Pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, Dies at 71". Billboard. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
- interview with Fred Krc, June 17, 2015; Club Calendars of Raul's, Continental Club and Soap Creek Saloon, 1978—1982
- Juha Merimaa. ""Ruisrockin sympaattisin esitys". ''Kulttuuri'', July 13, 2007". Hs.fi. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Dobson, Gareth (May 30, 2008). "News – Mogwai release new album and EP. Shows too". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- "Review: Okkervil River & Roky Erickson, Austin Music Hall". SPIN.com. March 13, 2008. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Freedman, Pete (January 12, 2010). "Dallas-born Roky Erickson To Release First Album of New Material in 14 Years. And He'll Be Backed By Okkervil River". Dallas Observer.
- Freedman, Pete (May 11, 2015). "Watch a full recording of The 13th Floor Elevators' first performance in 47 years". Dallas Observer.
- Blackstock, Peter. "Roky Erickson, Texas psychedelic music legend, has died". Austin360.com. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
- Facebook post by [https://www.facebook.com/mikel.erickson.73/posts/2033568350087371 Mikel Erickson
- New York Times article: "Roky Erickson, 71, Revered Figure of Psychedelic Rock, Dies"
- Rolling Stone article: "Roky Erickson, Psychedelic Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71."
- Bahn, Christopher (April 5, 2007). "Interview: Jonathan Lethem". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
- Pappademas, Alex (September 25, 2013). "Purple Drank, Britney, and The Rachel: The Weird But Logical Pop Culture Obsessions of Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge". Grantland. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
- Kipen, David (May 8, 1994). "Brevity's Raincheck". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
- Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound by Paul Drummond, Foreword by Julian Cope (Process Media, December 2007), ISBN 978-0976082262
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Roky Erickson.|
- A Long, Strange Trip - Texas Monthly article
- Austin Chronicle article (12/05)
- Roky Erickson FAQ
- Roky Erickson / 13th Floor Elevators Extensive Discography
- Thirteenth Floor Elevators Discography
- Roky Erickson on AllMusic.com
- Review of You're Gonna Miss Me soundtrack
- November 2008 interview with L.A. Record