Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson was born in Austin, Texas in 1947. He gained fame as frontman of the influential early psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators. His vocal style and stage presence put him in a class with performers like Janis Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Mick Jagger. The latter two are likely to have coloured his style. His band's music was intense, original, and completely in everyone's face. Everyone from Patti Smith to ZZ Top will admit to being influenced by them. Without Erickson and the Elevators there might have been no psychedelic rock, no New York Dolls, no Stooges, and indeed no punk rock.
The Elevators' trademark drug use became more of a problem than a boon for Erickson and the band. He was arrested twice for possession of marijuana at a time when getting caught with drugs was a bad thing to happen to you. Given the choice, he preferred to plead insanity and be sent to the loony bin rather than go to jail at a time when being locked up in a psychiatric institution was also a bad thing to happen to you. It is said that Erickson spent several years as a guinea pig for highly experimental treatments, including shock treatment at the notorious Rusk Hospital for the Criminally Insane. During these years he wrote some of his finest work, if you have a taste for demented rock 'n' roll, and eventually he emerged with the apparent belief that he was a bona fide Martian. This sounds like a marketing trick but is probably true. Places like Rusk do things to you.
After his release and after the Elevators disbanded, Erickson worked on a few solo projects and eventually created The Aliens, putting out some great rock'n'roll with themes eminently suited to cheap 1970s horror flicks and Halloween specials. For thirty years he worked on and off, putting in infrequent gigs and occasionally finding enough lucidity and motivation to come up with new album releases. Through the 1980s and 1990s he was getting by with the help of friends, who tried to take care of his affairs since he was still missing some of the marbles that he lost back in 1970.
Starting in 2001 his younger brother took charge of Roky and started getting him both the meds he needed and the legal advice to sort out a bird's nest of contracts that his music had become caught up in. Finally off the drugs and with both sanity and income on the up, Erickson began performing again in 2005. By 2013 he'd travelled to perform in Europe and Australia for the first time and had played in major US cities for the first time since early in his career. 2005 also saw his cooperation in a biopic called "You're Gonna Miss Me" (named after the Elevators' 1966 song). It used to be "see him while you can" but now it's more like "coming soon to a town near you." We continue to wish him the best.
Major discographical releases:
- The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators (1967)
- The 13th Floor Elevators - Easter Everywhere (1968)
- Roky Erickson and the Nervebreakers - Live in Dallas (1979)
- Roky Erickson and the Aliens (1980)
- True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010)
Some of his best known songs are Two-Headed Dog, I Walked With A Zombie and Starry Eyes. I wholeheartedly recommend Roky Erickson and the Aliens as a great album to get to know this gentleman and his idiomatic music.