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Roky Erickson

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Roky Erickson
Erickson performing at Austin Music Awards 2008
Erickson performing at Austin Music Awards 2008
Background information
Birth nameRoger Kynard Erickson
Born(1947-07-15)July 15, 1947
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
DiedMay 31, 2019(2019-05-31) (aged 71)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • Guitar
  • vocals
  • harmonica
  • piano
Years active1964–2019
Formerly of13th Floor Elevators

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.[1]


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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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 evolved into his first notable group, the Spades.[5] 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. In 1967, Erickson was a guest on a few songs on labelmate Red Krayola's debut album The Parable of Arable Land, playing electric organ on "Hurricane Fighter Plane" and harmonica on "Transparent Radiation".[6][7][8]

The 13th Floor Elevators[edit]

In late 1965, at age 18, Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators.[9] 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."[10]

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[edit]

In 1968, while performing at HemisFair, Erickson began speaking gibberish. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.[4]

The Elevators were vocal proponents of marijuana and psychedelic drug use,[11] 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 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.[citation needed]

Alien years[edit]

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".

Creative decline and renewed interest[edit]

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 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.[12]

In 1984 an observational documentary was produced in Austin for Swedish television, titled Demon Angel: A Day and Night with Roky Erickson. It featured Erickson in plugged and unplugged performances, solo and with local musician/producer Mike Alvarez on additional guitar, in an underground creek beneath the Congress Street Bridge on Halloween. Alvarez later released the film on VHS,[13] updating it with interviews of some of Erickson's friends and relatives; it was toured to several cities including Pittsburgh, where the screening was followed by a set of Erickson covers by Alvarez and others, as well as a performance by the Mount McKinleys with guest vocalist Sumner Erickson (Roky's brother).[14] A soundtrack of the film also was issued on CD, receiving positive reviews.[15][16][17]

Several live albums of his older material have been released since the mid-1980s, and in 1990 Sire Records/Warner Bros. Records released the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, produced by 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. 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, which appears on the album cover.

Return to music and later life[edit]

Erickson performing at the 2007 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
Erickson and the Explosives at Bumbershoot festival (2007)
Erickson receiving a lifetime achievement award from Billy Gibbons at the Austin Music Awards (2008)

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 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, stating that Erickson had weaned himself off his medication, played at 11 gigs in Austin that year, obtained a driver's license, bought a car, 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. The performance was widely considered the highlight of the festival day.[18]

On September 8, 2008, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai released the Batcat EP. Erickson is featured on "Devil Rides".[19] 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.[20]

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.

On April 20, 2010, Erickson released True Love Cast Out All Evil, his first album of new material in 14 years. Okkervil River serves as Erickson's backing band on the album.[21]

In March 2012 Erickson toured New Zealand and Australia for the first time headlining Golden Plains Festival in Meredith, Victoria and playing sold-out side shows in Sydney and Melbourne.

On May 10, 2015, he 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. On Oct. 7, 2018, Erickson performed outdoors to an audience of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco.[22]


Erickson died in Austin on May 31, 2019.[23] His death was made public through a Facebook post by his brother Mikel, who wrote "My brother Roky passed away peaceably today. Please allow us time."[24][25] No cause of death was announced.[26]


  • Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog) / Starry Eyes [as "R.Ericson and Bliebalien"] (1975, Mars Records)
  • Mine, Mine, Mind (1977, EP, Sponge)
  • Bermuda / The Interpreter (1977, Virgin [UK]/Rhino [USA])
  • Clear Night For Love (1985, EP, New Rose)
  • Don't Slander Me (1986)
  • Gremlins Have Pictures (1986)
  • Casting the Runes (Roky Erickson & The Explosives, 1987)
  • Holiday Inn Tapes (1987)
  • Click Your Fingers Applauding The Play (1988)
  • Openers (1988)
  • Live at the Ritz 1987 (1988)
  • Live Dallas 1979 (1992)
  • All That May Do My Rhyme (1995)
  • Demon Angel: A Day and a Night with Roky Erickson (1995)
  • Roky Erickson and Evilhook Wildlife (1995)
  • Never Say Goodbye (1999)
  • Don't Knock the Rok! (2004)
  • I Have Always Been Here Before (2005)
  • Halloween (2008)
  • True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010)

Roky Erickson and the Aliens

Roky Erickson and the Resurrectionists

  • Beauty and the Beast (1993)

Tribute albums


Legacy and influence[edit]

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."[28]

The X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" features a character named Roky Crikenson in homage to Erickson. Crikenson, like the original Roky, believes himself to be an alien abductee.

A plotline in an episode of 1990s sitcom The John Larroquette Show revolved around a sighting of reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon 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.[29] This spurred an increase in sales of Erickson's albums.[30]

The album It's Spooky by Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair features the song "I Met Roky Erickson", named after an encounter Johnston had with the artist.[citation needed]

True Love Cast Out All Evil: The Songwriting Legacy of Roky Erickson by author Brian T. Atkinson was released by Texas A&M University Press in 2021. The book includes forewords by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and legendary punk rock icon Henry Rollins.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Cooper, Neil (June 9, 2019). "Obituary: Roky Erickson, singer and pioneer of psychedelic rock". The Herald. Glasgow, Scotland. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  3. ^ Hall, Michael (December 2001). "A Long, Strange Trip". Texas Monthly. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "The fall and rise of Roky Erickson. Austin American-Statesman, July 12, 2007. p 13 (Xlent section).
  5. ^ Schneider, Jason (April 25, 2010). "Roky Erickson: Back On Earth". Exclaim!. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  6. ^ "Mayo Thompson Interview Part 1". www.richieunterberger.com. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  7. ^ "The Red Krayola – God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail with It – Soundohm".
  8. ^ Imgur. "God Bless 2011 CD Booklet". Imgur. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  9. ^ Burks, Tosten (May 31, 2019). "Roky Erickson Dead at 71". Spin. Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  10. ^ Deming, Mark (March 1, 2005). "I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology – Roky Erickson". AllMusic. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  11. ^ Eggertsen, Chris (May 31, 2019). "Roky Erickson, Frontman of Psych-Rock Pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, Dies at 71". Billboard. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  12. ^ interview with Fred Krc, June 17, 2015; Club Calendars of Raul's, Continental Club and Soap Creek Saloon, 1978—1982
  13. ^ "Demon Angel: A Day and Night With Roky Erickson". Discogs. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  14. ^ Sula, Mike (January 5, 1995). "The Original Roky". In Pittsburgh Newsweekly.
  15. ^ "Demon Angel: A Day and Night With Roky Erickson". Discogs. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  16. ^ Lieck, Ken (April 23, 1999). "Texas Platters". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  17. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Demon Angel: A Day and Night With Roky Erickson". AllMusic. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  18. ^ Juha Merimaa. ""Ruisrockin sympaattisin esitys". Kulttuuri, July 13, 2007". Hs.fi. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  19. ^ Dobson, Gareth (May 30, 2008). "News – Mogwai release new album and EP. Shows too". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  20. ^ "Review: Okkervil River & Roky Erickson, Austin Music Hall". SPIN.com. March 13, 2008. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Freedman, Pete (May 11, 2015). "Watch a full recording of The 13th Floor Elevators' first performance in 47 years". Dallas Observer.
  23. ^ Blackstock, Peter. "Roky Erickson, Texas psychedelic music legend, has died". Austin360.com. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  24. ^ "Log In or Sign Up to View". Facebook.com. Retrieved August 26, 2021.
  25. ^ The New York Times article: "Roky Erickson, 71, Revered Figure of Psychedelic Rock, Dies"
  26. ^ Rolling Stone article: "Roky Erickson, Psychedelic Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71."
  27. ^ Breznikar, Klemen (November 18, 2020). "An Aussie tribute to Roky Erickson & The 13th Floor Elevators: 'We're Gonna Miss You'". It's Psychedelic Baby! Magazine. Archived from the original on November 18, 2020. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  28. ^ Bahn, Christopher (April 5, 2007). "Interview: Jonathan Lethem". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Kipen, David (May 8, 1994). "Brevity's Raincheck". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
General sources
  • 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

External links[edit]