Jul27

I thought long and hard about the subject matter for our first music post, a serious issue for me given my love for music and diverse taste. I felt obligated to choose a figure both influential and relatively obscure to my mainstream contemporaries… STOP! Before you post comments flaming me for calling Roger Kynard “Roky” Erickson obscure, rest assure I too share an ovewhelming appreciation for his work. For the sake of this article, just consider yourself one-up on the uninitiated for having been exposed to his musical magic. For those of you who don’t know Roky’s tale and talent, please allow me the privilege of taking you on a brief tour.

 

 The Austin, Texas born rocker already had a regionally successful band (The Spades) and had gone on to co-found the 13th Floor Elevators, before deciding to drop-out of Travis High School only one month before graduating, rather than cut his hair to conform to the school’s dress code. The Elevators almost added Janis Joplin to their line up, but an encounter with The Family Dog’s singer Chet Helms sent Janis to San Francisco where she found her fame. I’m not a Janis hater, but I’m glad the dynamic stayed as is with Roky on lead vocals. His song “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is arguably his most recognized work. The album it was featured on, “The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators,” was released when he was only 19 years old! The 13th Floor Elevators pioneered (dare I say even invented) the psychedelic rock sound – bringing in insanely wild, but effective, elements like the electric jug into studio and live performances. This may have been the band’s only hit, but the influences were far-reaching. R.E.M., ZZ Top, Poi Dog Pondering, The Judybats, T-Bone Burnett, Julian Cope, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cramps, The Minutemen, Television, The Cynics, The Lyres, Teisco Del Rey, The Fuzztones and Radio Birdman have all either recorded or played live versions of Roky’s songs. In addition to these performers, Roky is an acknowledged influence on such diverse musicians as Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Henry Rollins, Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, Jon Spencer, The Damned, Red Krayola, Pere Ubu, and The White Stripes.

The band’s prolific and outspoken use of LSD, mescaline and marijuana made them targets for the cops, and in ’69 Roky got arrested for a single joint in his hometown of Austin. Looking at 10 years in the pen (yeah, for 1 joint!) he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity (he had previously been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic after being pulled off stage in ’68 @ HemisFair) which landed him in the Austin State Hospital. After numerous escape attempts, he was sent to Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane, where he endured Electroconvulsive Therapy and massive Thorazine treatments. Released in 1972, those closest to him agree Roky was never the same. He went on to form “Bleib Alien” a few years later. The name being described as “Blieb” (German for stay) and an anagram of “Bible” and “Alien” being a pun on the German word “Allein”- meaning alone… translating into “Stay Alone”. Leaving the Elevators sound and opting for something sounding like a hard-rocking track from a horror movie.

Though in a band off and on, the two decades following his release began some of the lowest years for Roky, often living in a hermit-like state with his mother “caring” for him and keeping other family, friends and fans locked out. A deeper look into this dark period can be seen first hand in the film documentary “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” After much strife and a long court battle, Roky was rescued by his younger brother and given the proper medical and mental health help he needed. He has now begun the slow climb back out of the abyss.

In 2008, Erickson received the lifetime achievement award from long time friend Billy Gibbons at the Austin Music Awards. Rocky also recently released a new album – “True Love Cast Out All Evil” with Okkervil River. He is now performing live again and is a not-to-miss if you get the chance. Below is a video of one my favorite’s from him, albeit during his “darker” period, “2Headed Dog.”

 

 

Hopefully some of you guys will be inspired to check out more of his work and begin to see what a tremendous impact he’s had on Rock ‘n Roll and music in general.

 

“Rok” on,

The Chiclet Bandit

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