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Roky Erickson

+ {Roky Erickson And The Aliens}

Born Roger Kynard Erickson, July 15, 1947, Austin, Texas, Roky had long been associated with pioneering psychedelic (p)act, The 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS, before going off-grid as his hard drugs lifestyle took its toll. A mental breakdown in the late 60s and incarcerated for a minor marijuana offence, the author of the reverberating `You’re Gonna Miss Me’, succumbed to poverty; a recluse in a squalid apartment near Austin. The music biz paint the man as an acid casualty, and while he definitely appeared to live in a world of his own making, his wayward genius continued to win the respect and admiration of fans the world over.
It was a long way from dropping out of school in 1965 to join The Spades, who’d already cut their teeth on a single, before Roky donated a demo of `You’re Gonna Miss Me’. The classic track gradually found a market when released by the aforementioned 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS on the small Zero imprint, and further gained national notoriety and a Hot 100 chart position in spring ‘66 after being picked up by the International Artists label. The frenzied garage thrash of the song stood out from the pack by dint of Roky’s apocalyptic vocal threats and lyricist Tommy Hall’s bizarre amplified jug playing. Debuting with `The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators’ album in October ‘66, the band had unleashed nothing less than a musical manifesto for mind expansion. But if the idea was to promote the use of hallucinogenic drugs, then the sirens on the DMT-tribute, `Fire Engine’, surely encouraged any sane person never to go near the stuff, sounding more like the tortured wailing of lost, limbo-locked souls. The follow-up LP, `Easter Everywhere’ (1967), was a slightly more contemplative affair, a driving tour de force of garage meets psychedelia.
Inevitably, the Texan police were none too amused with the band’s flagrant advocacy of drugs and after escalating harassment, Erickson found himself in court shortly after the album’s release. Charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, he was faced with a choice of jail or mental hospital. He rather ill-advisedly chose the latter. This effectively signalled the end for the band, although a disappointing `Live’ album was released the following year, and a final studio album (`Bull Of The Woods’) appeared in 1969.
Subjected to years of mind-numbing drugs and electro shock therapy, Roky was finally released from Rusk State Hospital in 1972 after a judge declared him sane. Ironically, no doubt somewhat less sane after this experience, the man started making music again, forming a band in 1975; Ericson & Bliebalien releasing `Starry Eyes’ (b/w `Red Temple Prayer (Two-Headed Dog)’), immersed as it was in B-movie horror hokum. After a stint in the studio with fellow Texan, DOUG SAHM, Roky released one of the first 45s on Rhino Records, `Bermuda’, in 1977, while allowing the inspired psychosis of the `Two Headed Dog’ EP, find a licence in France.
An album, ROKY ERICKSON AND THE ALIENS {*8}, surfaced in 1980 and included such wholesome fare as `Mine Mine Mind’, `It’s A Cold Night For Alligators’, `Don’t Shake Me Lucifer’, `Stand For The Fire Demon’, `Creature With The Atom Brain’ and a version of `Two Headed Dog’. Yet this was no po-faced heavy-metal posturing, Roky actually believed what he was singing about, lending the record a certain level of intensity, despite the cliched hard-rock backing; although one could hear hesitation and anxious tension in his expressions and manic lyrics. The Aliens were in fact:- Duane Aslaksen (guitar), Steve Burgess (bass), Andre Lewis (keyboards), Fuzzy Furioso (drums) and Bill Miller (autoharp).
1981’s THE EVIL ONE {*8} contained several repeat prescriptions of his previous effort, and a B-side outtake `Bloody Hammer’, while a series of singles and exploitation compilations appeared sporadically throughout the 80s; DON’T SLANDER ME (1986) {*8} and GREMLINS HAVE PICTURES (1986) {*8} – featuring tracks from 1982 and 1975 – were two such sets for Demon Records, while 1985’s mini-set for French New Rose Records, CLEAR NIGHT FOR LOVE {*7} was indeed a blast from the present; the hotel-room THE HOLIDAY INN TAPES (1987) {*6} and LIVE AT THE RITZ 1987 (1988) {*5}, both captured the bearded one’s chaotic essence of his anything-goes gigs. Tragically, he’d signed away royalties throughout his career, taken advantage by unscrupulous agents and hangers-on.
ERICKSON was re-institutionalized again for a relatively short period, while Warner Bros. executive and long-time ‘Elevators fan, Bill Bentley, masterminded a tribute album, `Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye’ (1990), featuring the likes of the JESUS & MARY CHAIN, R.E.M., ZZ TOP, BONGWATER, JULIAN COPE, T-BONE BURNETT and, among others, BUTTHOLE SURFERS.
That latter connection would indeed reap some sort of reward when ‘Surfer Paul Leary (and Trance Syndicate Records) helped piece together older material with folk-y FOGERTY-meets-DYLAN-styled fresh material on ALL THAT MAY DO MY RHYME (1995) {*7}.
Roky appeared to have no subsequent interest in writing new material until 2007’s Keven McAlester-directed rockumentary movie/soundtrack, You’re Gonna Miss Me, threw out a life-line for him to jump back on board.
Remarkable as it seemed, at the age of 62 and still managing to keep his head above the water-line (his brother had taken full custody), the fractured but never-say-die ROKY ERICKSON displayed a sense of belonging and accomplishment on 2010’s redemptive TRUE LOVE CAST OUT ALL EVIL {*7}. Casting out his demons one by one in a dozen tracks of various campfire-folk and gospel-country (aided and abetted by Will Sheff and his OKKERVIL RIVER posse), singer-songwriter/survivor Roky made his peace with the Lord on the elevation-al `Devotional Number One’, the short ‘n’ sweet `Ain’t Blues Too Sad’, `Goodbye Sweet Dreams’, `Be And Bring Me Home’, `Bring Back The Past’, `God Is Everywhere’ et al. He’s since performed in Australasia in 2012, where he headlined the Golden Plains Sixxx Festival in Meredith.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/MCS/BG // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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