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Erickson, Roky

Roky Erickson

Singer, songwriter

Drugs As Inspiration and Impediment

Legal and Emotional Troubles

1990s Revival

Selected discography

Selected writings

Sources

Roky Ericksons music is, refracted invariably through the prism of legend, ventured Spin reviewer Jason Cohen. As with kindred spirits Skip Spence and Syd Barrett, Ericksons notoriety combines equal parts misunderstood genius and acid-fried loon. Like Spence and Barrettthe most adventurous members of the psychedelically inspired 1960s incarnations of Moby Grape and Pink Floyd, respectivelyErickson helped forge the mind-bending sound of the era but was also a casualty of its excess. Periodically imprisoned and institutionalized and usually dependent on his mother and a handful of friends, he has lost the rights to his trailblazing material and has expressed a feeling of disconnection from songwriting generally; even so, he has continued to release records periodically and in 1995 emerged with a new album.

With the Texas-based group the 13th Floor Elevators and as a solo artist, Erickson served as a decided influence on the development of punk and alternative rock. As Peter Buck, guitarist for rock superstars R.E.M., told Richard Leiby of the Washington Post, Ericksons songs hold up better than any other music from that period and are concise and terrifying in their power.

Roger Kynard EricksonRoky came from the first two letters of his first and middle nameswas born in Dallas, Texas, in 1947; his family moved to Austin when he was quite young. At age two, his mother recollected in the interview with Leiby, Roky learned to sing the Christmas novelty song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and he was studying piano when he was 5, before he could really read. A few years later he picked up the guitar; he began writing songs and playing in bands as a teenager.

Drugs As Inspiration and Impediment

A model early-60s rebel, Erickson grew his hair over his ears, which led to his expulsion before he could complete his senior year at Travis High School. He recorded a single, Youre Gonna Miss Mean edgy, pumped-up rock song that Leiby described as a prototypical punk recordwith his group the Spades. The fledgling artists songwriting skills and vocal range so impressed a University of Texas anthropology student named Tary Owens that Owens decided to introduce him to his neighbor, Tommy Hall. Hall had little musical experienee, but he had vision, charisma, and access to psychotropic drugs. Soon he and Erickson had cofounded a band, which they called the 13th Floor Elevators; the name referred to the floor skipped by superstitious building planners and thus implied that only the bands music could take the listener to such a place. Erickson played guitar and sangwith ferocious

For the Record

Born Roger Kynard Erickson, 1947, in Dallas, TX; son of an architect father and a singer-artist mother; married Dana Morris, c. 1970s (divorced c. early 1980s); married Holly Patton, c. 1986 (divorced same year); children: three.

Performing and recording artist, 1966Cofounded group the 13th Floor Elevators and released debut The Psychedelic Sounds of: The 13th Floor Elevators on International Artist, 1966; group disbanded after Ericksons incarceration in a Texas mental hospital, 1969; book Openers published under name Rev. Roger Roky Kynard Erickson, 1972; fronted group Bleib Alien, c. early 1970s; released single Starry Eyes Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), 1977; fronted various groups, including the Bizarros and the Aliens, and landed deal with CBS Records in U.K., releasing an album in 1980; revised version of album released domestically by 415 as The Evil One, 1981; EP Clear Night for Love released in France by New Rose, 1985; jailed and institutionalized briefly, 1989; Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, an Erickson tribute album featuring versions of his songs by R.E.M., ZZ Top, and others, released by Sire, 1990; signed with Trance Syndicate and released album All That May Do My Rhyme, 1995; book Openers II: The Lyrics of Roky Erickson put out by 2.13.61 Publications, 1995.

Addresses: Home Austin, TX. Record company Trance Syndicate, P.O. Box 49771, Austin, TX 78765.

energywhile Hall played an amplified jug, producing a sound variously described as psychedelic and irritating.

The bands entire sensibility, it seemed, was founded on LSD and other hallucinogenic substances. Whats more, as Owens himself averred in an interview John Morth-land of the L.A. Weekly, Tommy was the first person I ever saw use acid to manipulate people. He did that to Roky and all the band. At Halls urging, band members dropped LSD on a daily basis; while such intensive mood alteration no doubt inspired material such as Reverberation (Doubt) and Roller Coaster, it also took a profound toll.

Yet the bands distinctive sound landed them a deal with International Artist Records, which released their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of: The 13th Floor Elevators in 1966. According to Billy Gibbons of Texas hitmakers ZZ Top, the album was enormously influential. Indeed, it revealed something far deeper than a frantic version of rock-and-roll, he explained to Leiby. Here we had some intellectual sensibilities that suggested some real serious thinking. That it came out of this little Texas town was truly amazing. By most accounts, the group would have preferred to stay in their littleTexas town; their manager, Lelan Rogers, said they declined high-profile tours. Even so, they played regularly in San Francisco and gained a rabid following in the burgeoning hippie culture with their intense, wigged-out live performances.

Legal and Emotional Troubles

The group released a follow-up album in 1967 and replaced its original rhythm section; Tommy and Roky continued using vast quantities of acid. Leiby quoted Ericksons 1960s declaration that he found tripping on the drug so beautiful because its an art. Its like being an artist. Yet such artistic behavior interfered with such fundamentals as remembering song lyrics. Erickson spent a year in San Francisco with Dana Morris, whom he would later marry, and returned to Texas in a state of physical and emotional disrepair. His mother sent him to a psychiatrist, who tried to cure him with legal drugs, and then to another doctor, who attempted to undo the damage done by the first. Ironically, Erickson was later arrested for marijuana possessionapparently for a single joint.

Fearing a jail term, Erickson feigned insanity and earned a stay at a hospital prior to his hearing; he fled with Morris a short time later and was arrested when he resurfaced at an Elevators gig. Ericksons flight from justice and a diagnosis of schizophrenia landed him in the Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rusk, Texas his three-year tenure there inspired, among other things, his song I Walked with a Zombie. He also wrote a book of poems called Openers under the moniker the Rev. Roger Roky Kynard Erickson.

After his release, Erickson tried to assemble a new incarnation of the Elevators; when this failed, he moved on and led a band called Bleib AlienBleib being an anagram for Bible. In 1977 he put outthe single Starry Eyes, backed with Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog). Rolling Stone praised the latter song as the kind of radical departure that could save rock from choking on its own mediocrity. Later, Erickson fronted a pick-up group calling itself the Bizarros and featuring, among others, Sterling Morrison (a founding member of New Yorks avant-rocktrailblazers the Velvet Underground). By the late 1970s, Erickson had joined the Aliens, found management, and landed a U.K. record deal with CBS. He released an album in 1980, a revised version of which appeared domestically as The Evil One. Erick-sons songs, reported Morthland of the L.A. Weekly, are startling, bone-crushing rock & roll with satanic and monster-movie themes.

Ericksons marriage to Morris ended in the early 1980s. His second album was turned down by CBS but ultimately came out in 1986 on the Enigma label. He continued playing with various bands but was clearly impaired by the medication that kept him relatively lucid. In 1989 Erickson was arrested for mail thefthe apparently thought that he should still be collecting the mail for a neighbor whod long since departed from his housing complexand sent to an institution in Missouri and then back to the Hays County Correctional Institute near Austin for 60 days.

1990s Revival

In the meantime, some of Ericksons admirers decided to raise money to help him and settled on the idea of a tribute album. Enlisting musician fans like R.E.M., ZZ Top, and John Wesley Harding, among many others, to record versions of his songs, they assembled Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, which was released in 1990. Proceeds went to Ericksons trust fund. Unfortunately, the record didnt sell tremendously well; the seminal singer-songwriter still depended on welfare and the ministrations of his mother and friends to survive. It did, however, increase interest in Ericksons work.

Ultimately, King Coffeydrummer for Texas underground rockers and Pyramid participants the Butthole Surferssigned Erickson to his Trance Syndicate label and put together some older tracks with some new ones for the 1995 release All That May Do My Rhyme. This is sincerely the most excited thing Ive ever been associated with, Coffey exclaimed in the Austin American-Statesman. Im honored and Im humbled. This guy is a hero of mine, and hes turned from someone Ive worshipped from afar into a friend. Rolling Stonepraised the new album as a brilliant trip through a variety of pop-music genres, while Spin deemed it a poignant, even tasteful work befitting a sweet, sensitive man a few years shy of 50. The track We Are Never Talking was named Single of the Week by the British publication Melody Maker upon its U.K. release. Meanwhile, rocker-writer Henry Rollins announced the publication of a book of Ericksons lyrics called Openers II.

Roky Ericksons reputation as an influence on the development of psychedelia and punk rock is assured. Unfortunately, he has yet to see much financial reward from his work, and his mental instability has cast a dark shadow over most of his adult life. Yet he has returned from the abyss several times before, against seemingly insurmountable odds, and now has the opportunity to reach a new generations of listeners hungry for musical thrills.

Selected discography

With the 13th Floor Elevators

The Psychedelic Sounds of: The 13th Floor Elevators (includes Youre Gonna Miss Me, Reverberation (Doubt), and Roller Coaster), International Artist, 1966.

Easter Everywhere, International Artist, 1967.

Live, 1968.

Bull of the Woods, 1969.

Solo recordings

Starry Eyes/Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), 1977.

The Evil One, 415, 1981.

Clear Night for Love (EP), New Rose (France), 1985.

Dont Slander Me, Enigma, 1986.

All That May Do My Rhyme (includes We Are Never Talking), Trance Syndicate, 1995.

Other

Various artists, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye (tribute album), Sire, 1990.

Selected writings

Openers, 1972.

Openers II: The Lyrics of Roky Erickson, 2.13.61 Publications, 1995.

Sources

Austin American-Statesman, July 21, 1992; August 11, 1994.

Austin Chronicle, July 22, 1994.

Billboard, August 27, 1994.

Daily Texan, February 20, 1987.

L.A. Weekly, November 16, 1990.

Rolling Stone, May 18, 1995.

Spin, April 1995.

Third Coast, November 1984.

Village Voice, June 19, 1990; January 6, 1994.

Washington Post, June 23, 1991.

Additional information for this profile was taken from Trance Syndicate publicity materials, 1995.

Simon Glickman

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