Perfect Sound Forever

Roky

ROKY ERICKSON FAQ v2.0

Created: September 28, 1995. Last updated: March 14, 1997.

Created and maintained by Paul Rydeen. Reviewed, revised & approved by Casey Monahan.
ED NOTE: For post-97 Roky news, see the official Roky site and see this 2008 article about Roky's wild 70's years.

1. INTRODUCTION. This is my best attempt to collect into one place some basic information about the rock singer/songwriter/guitar player Roky Erickson. My intent is to spread the word across the net wherever potential Roky fans may be. While there is no alt.fan.roky-erickson, there should be. Everyone else has a mailing list or newsgroup. What I'd really like to see is a Roky Erickson Web site complete with lyrics, photos, discography, and audio excerpts of his recordings. If this FAQ is distributed widely enough, it could happen. A special thanks to Casey for his valuable input to this document.

2. ROKY WHO? ROger KYnard Erickson was a founding member of the world's first psychedelic band, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. They had a hit single in 1966 called "You're Gonna Miss Me." It made the Billboard Top 100. Roky was 19 years old at the time. The Elevators' first album was THE PSYCHEDELIC SOUNDS OF THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS. It was the first time the word "psychedelic" had been used to describe recorded music.

Originally based in Austin, Texas, the Elevators played frequently throughout the state and in the San Francisco area at clubs such as Filmore West and the Avalon. Young musicians like Jerry Garcia and Grace Slick watched them play. Janis Joplin, another Texan, jammed with the group twice and considered joining the group but ended up fronting Big Brother & the Holding Company.

After a second album, EASTER EVERYWHERE, and a few drug busts, the band kind of lost direction. Roky was arrested in 1969 with about six joints on Mount Bonnell in Austin. It was his second arrest for pot. Rather than serving a short term in prison, he pled insanity and was sentenced to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Austin. While in Rusk, Roky started a band with fellow inmates (The Missing Links), wrote nearly 100 songs, befriended Jimmy Wolcott (an Elevators fan who had murdered his family while high from sniffing glue), was subjected to electroshock and liquid thorazine treatments and, with the help of his girlfriend (and later wife) Dana Gaines and his childhood best friend George Kinney, put together OPENERS, his first book of poetry. Through the efforts of his brother Mikel and attorneys Jim Simon and Jon Howard, Roky was judged sane by a Travis County jury and released in late 1972.

3. INSANITY? ELECTRO-SHOCK? I can't comment on Roky's mental condition prior to his being committed. While he was in, he spent his time writing numerous songs and poems about love, God, the devil. Roky devoured every book he could get while in Rusk. His genius was fueled by his isolation and the strangeness of his surroundings. Dana says that his time in Rusk was to an extent the most productive period of his life. Prior to Rusk, Roky spent the summer of 1969 at Hedgecroft Hospital in Houston where he was also administered electroshock therapy.

After Roky was released from Rusk, he performed several shows with some of the Elevators, but the band fizzled out. Tommy Hall, the electric jug player and principal lyricist, permanently relocated to San Francisco. Stacy Sutherland, lead guitarist, became strung out on heroin and was eventually murdered by his wife. In late 1974, several friends, including autoharpist Bill Miller, helped Roky to put together his first "solo" band, Bleib Alien, since The Spades (1964-65). "Bleib" is an anagram of "Bible." Bleib Alien debuted at the Ritz Theatre in Austin in 1975 after an introduction by famed Austin artist Jim Frankin.

Roky cut a few songs in an Austin studio with Doug Sahm, who promptly traded Roky a smoothie for the rights to "Starry Eyes," "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)" and "Don't Slander Me". But Outlaw Country ruled the day in Austin in the mid-1970s, so Roky soon left for San Francisco. He found a manager, Craig Luckin, and formed a new band, Roky Erickson and the Aliens (only Bill Miller joined Roky from Austin).

4. IT'S A CLEAR NIGHT FOR MARS. Rather than the psychedelic ballads of the Elevators, the Aliens played hard rock songs, many with horror themes. Roky summoned gremlins, demons, vampires and more in his dark entreaties, while also writing and performing some of the most touching love songs ever heard. He also told an interviewer he was a Martian. Some say Roky truly was insane. Others claim it was all part of the act, one more creative outlet for Roky's fertile mind. Whatever the case, one cannot deny his natural musical talent. There's something that grabs you even in his least inspired, most repetitive tunes.

5. ROKY TODAY. Roky no longer writes and he rarely performs. He released an album in early 1995, ALL THAT MAY DO MY RHYME (available from Trance Syndicate at the address below), half recorded in 1994, half in 1984. It has a country twang to it - twelve-string guitar, acoustic backdrop, etc. Call it "Rokabilly," I guess.

Interviews I've heard with Roky are less than lucid. He lives in a federally-subsidized house in Del Valle, a tiny suburb southeast of Austin. He keeps several TVs and radios going at any given time, presumably to drown out his internal noise. He takes no medication, although he is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Friends take him to dinner once a week, help him pay his bills, keep him company.

He was busted in 1989 for stealing other people's mail, although it was shown that is was a misunderstanding rather than deliberate mischief. He had been collecting and distributing mail for two neighbors, but when they moved away Roky continued to collect but no longer distribute. When police came to his home they found it all unopened and some of it taped to his walls.

6. WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC? The best samplers of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators are their first two albums, THE PSYCHEDELIC SOUNDS OF THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS and EASTER EVERYWHERE. There are many live bootlegs - ones which I encourage you to make tapes of but not to buy because Roky makes little or no money from them - including a recent 3-CD set of outtakes and live tracks. This continues to be a problem for Roky. A trust fund has been established in Austin to collect past-due royalties. A local attorney - Rick Triplett - provides pro bono counsel to Roky to collect these royalties.

There are a few live bootlegs from Roky's later days with bands such as the Aliens, the Resurrectionists, the Explosives, and Evil Hook Wildlife ET. I'd recommend the authorized releases as the place to start. Look for THE EVIL ONE, DON'T SLANDER ME, and GREMLINS HAVE PICTURES, as well as his latest, ALL THAT MAY DO MY RHYME. You also should hear a tribute album recorded by other musicians who appreciate Roky's talents, WHERE THE PYRAMID MEETS THE EYE (Sire 1990). It features ZZ Top and REM, among others.

7. BOOKS AND VIDEOS. OPENERS II was recently published by former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins. It is a 316-page compendium of Roky's lyrics compiled and edited by Casey Monahan. Get it in better record stores (like Waterloo in Austin), or direct from 2.13.61 Publications. I know of at least one video, DEMON ANGEL, and Austin CableVision runs specials on him from time to time. There's also a fanzine, ROKY ERICKSON AND THE SECRET OF THE UNIVERSE. Addresses are listed below.

8. CONTACTS.

Roky Erickson homepages:

9. DISCOGRAPHY. Credit is given to Jeff Dove and Sebastian Welton for some of the entries below, as they were taken from Sebastian's discography and Jeff's post to alt.music.marketplace.

The following fifteen tracks were recorded in 1979 with the Aliens and produced by Stu Cook, formally of Creedence Clearwater Revival. They were initially released over two different LPs in the US and the UK. These versions of these songs are referred to as the "Stu Cook tracks:" Red Temple Prayer (Two-Headed Dog) / I Think of Demons / Creature With the Atom Brain / The Wind and More / Don't Shake Me Lucifer / Bloody Hammer / Stand For the Fire Demon / Click Your Fingers Applauding the Play / If You Have Ghosts / I Walked With a Zombie / Night of the Vampire / Cold Night for Alligators / Mine, Mine, Mind / Sputnik (Alien I Creator) / White Faces

10. CHRONOLOGY (Copyright 1995 Sumner Erickson and Casey Monahan. Additional material by Paul Rydeen.)

1947

1965

1966

1967

1968

1969

1970

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1989

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

11. BANDS.


MAIN PAGE ARTICLES STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC LINKS WRITE US