The legendary Roky Erickson in concert tonight. Recorded in 1979 during one of his frequent stints at Raul’s in Austin and featuring his band, The Explosives.
Fans of 60s Psychedelia will know instantly who this is. One of the pioneering figures with his band The 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson became synonymous with Psychedelia in general and Texas Psychedelia in particular.
Erickson co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators in late 1965. He and bandmate Tommy Hall were the main songwriters. Early in her career, singer Janis Joplin considered joining the Elevators, but Family Dog’s Chet Helms persuaded her to go to San Francisco instead, where she found major fame.
In 1966 (Erickson was 19 years old) the band released their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. The album had the band’s only charting single, Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. A stinging breakup song, the single remains probably Erickson’s best-known work: it was a major hit on local charts in the U.S. southwest and appeared at lower positions on national singles charts as well. Critic Mark Deming writes that “If Roky Erickson had vanished from the face of the earth after The 13th Floor Elevators released their epochal debut single, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, in early 1966, in all likelihood he’d still be regarded as a legend among garage rock fanatics for his primal vocal wailing and feral harmonica work.”
In 1967, the band followed up with Easter Everywhere, perhaps the band’s most focused effort, featuring “Slip Inside This House”, and a noted cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
The album Live was put out in 1968 by International Artists. It featured audience applause dubbed over studio recordings of cover versions, alternate takes, and older material, and it had little to no input from the band.
Bull of the Woods, released in 1969, was the 13th Floor Elevators’ last released album on which they worked as a group and was largely the work of Stacy Sutherland. Erickson—due to health and legal problems—and Tommy Hall were only involved with a few tracks, including “Livin’ On” and “May the Circle Remain Unbroken”.
In 1968, while performing at HemisFair, Erickson began speaking gibberish. He was soon diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy.
The Elevators were vocal proponents of LSD, mescaline, DMT and marijuana use, and were subject to extra attention from law enforcement agencies. In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of a single marijuana joint in Austin. Facing a potential ten-year incarceration, Erickson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to avoid prison. He was first sent to the Austin State Hospital. After several escapes, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital in Rusk, Texas, where he was subjected to more electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments, ultimately remaining in custody until 1972. Six tracks from the 1999 Erickson collection Never Say Goodbye were recorded during his time there.
The Austin-based band the Explosives served as Roky’s most frequent back-up band during the early Raul’s Club era, between 1978 and the early 1980s. Billed as Roky Erickson and the Explosives, they were regulars at Raul’s, the Continental Club, and other Austin venues. It was this incarnation that contributed two live tracks to the first “Live at Raul’s” LP, released in 1980, with other Raul’s top bands: The Skunks, Terminal Mind, The Next, Standing Waves, and The Explosives (without Roky Erickson). The Roky Erickson tracks (“Red Temple Prayer” and “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer”) were not included on the initial release for contractual reasons, but were included on a later release. In 1982, Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body. He came to feel that, due to his being alien, human beings were attacking him psychically. A concerned friend enlisted a Notary Public to witness an official statement by Erickson that he was an alien; he hoped by declaring so publicly he would be in line with any “international laws” he might have been breaking. Erickson claimed the attacks then indeed stopped.
There is no shortage of reissues for the work of either The 13th Floor Elevators or Roky Erickson as a solo artist. I suggest, if you aren’t familiar, you crank this one up and go exploring for more. There’s a lot and it’s memorable.
I kid you not.