Roky Erickson: Wikis

  
  

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Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson performing at the 2007 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
Background information
Birth name Roger Kynard Erickson
Born July 15, 1947 (1947-07-15) (age 62)
Origin Austin, Texas, U.S.
Genres Rock, psychedelic rock, garage rock
Occupations Musician
Singer-songwriter
Years active 1964–present
Labels CBS Records
Restless Records
Pink Dust Records
Five Hours Back
Fan Club
Sympathy for the Record Industry
Triple X Records
Emperor Jones
Norton Records
New Rose Records
Associated acts 13th Floor Elevators
Website Official website

Roky Erickson (born Roger Kynard Erickson on July 15, 1947) is an American singer, songwriter, harmonica player and guitarist from Texas. He was a founding member of the 13th Floor Elevators and pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre.[1]

Contents

Biography

Early life and career

Erickson was interested in music from his youth: he played piano from age 5 and took 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.[2] His first notable group was The Spades, who scored a regional hit with Erickson's song "We Sell Soul"; this song is included on the compilation album Highs in the Mid-Sixties, Volume 17 (although the songwriter is identified as Emil Schwartze on the track listing on this album). Also the song "You're Gonna Miss Me", later a hit for 13th Floor Elevators, was featured on the compilation album The Best Of Pebbles Volume 1.

13th Floor Elevators years

Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators in late 1965. 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, California instead, where she found major fame.

In 1966 (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, Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me." A stinging breakup song, the single remains probably 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."[3]

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 third album, Live, which featured audience applause dubbed over studio recordings of cover versions and older material, The 13th Floor Elevators released their fourth and final album Bull of the Woods in 1968. Due to Erickson's health and legal problems, his contribution to the album is limited, with guitarist Stacy Sutherland taking more of a leading role.

Mental illness and legal problems

In 1968, while doing a stint at HemisFair, Erickson started speaking nonsense. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.[2]

The Elevators were vocal proponents of mescaline (peyote), LSD, and marijuana use, and were subject to extra attention from police. In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of one marijuana joint in Austin. Facing a ten-year prison term, Erickson pled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was first 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.

Bleib Alien years

When released from the state hospital, 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". 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) was released as a single.

The new band renamed itself 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 — "I Think Of Demons" (CBS UK, 1980) and "The Evil One" (415 Records, 1981). Cook also played bass on two tracks, "Sputnik" and "Bloody Hammer." Roky 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, Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body. He 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.

Creative decline and renewed interest

In an unmedicated state, 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). He was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft. Erickson picked up mail from neighbors who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room. He 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 Erickson's songs performed by The Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M., ZZ Top, 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 and the Great Seal of the United States.

Return to music

Roky Erickson and the Explosives at Bumbershoot festival (2007).
Roky Erickson receiving a lifetime achievement award from Billy Gibbons at the Austin Music Awards (2008).
Roky Erickson performing at 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 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 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.

The same year Swedish death metal band Entombed released a split EP with New Bomb Turks titled Night of the Vampire, with a cover of Erickson's single.

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, which had reduced royalty payments to all but nothing for his recorded works. He 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, 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 long time 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 brings up to date the story of Erickson's recovery with the aid of his brother Sumner. According to the article, Roky 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, Erickson played his first ever gigs 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 continued to play in Europe, performing for the first 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.[4]

According to an interview on Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio with You're Gonna Miss Me director Kevin McAlester (7/24/07), Erickson is currently working on a new album with Billy Gibbons, singer and guitarist of ZZ Top, and a longtime admirer of Erickson; Gibbons' earlier band The Moving Sidewalks had a hit with "99th floor", which was a tribute of sorts to the Elevators.

On 8 September 2008, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai released the Batcat EP. Erickson is featured on one of the tracks, "Devil Rides".[5] Erickson performed alongside indie rock band Okkervil River at the Austin Music Awards in 2008 and then again at the 2009 South by Southwest music festival.[6]

British Rock Band Kasabian, acknowledged Erickson's work on the centrefold CD booklet of their 2009 album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum with a case of dead moth and butterfly samples and a plaque reading "Bequeathed to the West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum by Mr. R. Erickson". The centrefold also serves as the band's backdrop at live shows.

On April 20, 2010, Erickson will release True Love Cast Out All Evil, his first album of new material in 14 years. Austin-based Okkervil River serves as Erickson's backing band on the album.[7]

Discography

See also

References

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)

External links








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