Roky Erickson


Sorry about that, a bit of pride. Live on 35mm’s journey trough the live music of the new millennium arrived at its 100th chapter.

100 is not just a number, well it is, but transformed into word, it took 150.000 to get here! Talking about photos, the WordPress counter clocks 1130! Which means you can browse over one thousand pictures in B&W film of 100 different bands and musicians from all over the world.
Plus 100 phototips to share with concert photographers the tricks of the wonderful art of shooting live music.

There is nothing like this on the web, not for free, not done by pure passion.

I needed a special one to celebrate, didn’t I?
Hopefully I shot the perfect one recently. I cannot thing to anyone more special than Roky Erickson.

He is not just a legend, as my friend AndyCandy stated: “He is the one who wrote You’re Gonna Miss Me. Full stop, next chapter.”

The founder of 13th Floor Elevator has also been a mystery, a myth and an alien throughout the 62 years of his life. Chased by fans, friends, family in his endless struggle with his mind. His story has got material for several books.
I’ll just touch on the most evocative facts. A celebration of the American Syd Barrett, with the difference that Roky keeps being involved with music.

Let me add that he wrote You’re Gonna Miss Me when he was a teenager.

Four chords and a scream that invented in one single go psychedelic sound, garage rock and changed music forever… and this time is for real.
The song opened Elevators‘ debut album, The Psychedelic Sound of the Thirteen Floor Elevators.

More interesting, the few lines contained it all, his desperate message was already there.

You’re gonna wake up one morning
as the sun greets the dawn.
You’re gonna look around in your mind, girl,
you’re gonna find that I’m gone.

I gave you the warning,
But you never heeded it.
How can you say you miss my lovin,
When you never needed it?

You’re gonna wake up wonderin’,
Find yourself all alone,
But what’s gonna stop me, baby?
I’m not comin’ home.”

[13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me]

Those verses didn’t tell about a journey. Roky wasn’t running away from Austin or after another babe, he has been struggling to escape his mind. Widened by any sort of psychotropic drug, magic mushrooms, LSD, Marijuana, the trip brought him at the speed of light towards outer spaces which he has been convinced to inhabit for most of his life.

He was only 21 when started speaking nonsense. Few days later he was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, interned into a psychiatric ward and got his first unauthorized electroshock.

The year after he was caught with some joints and arrested. To avoid jail he pled he was mental insane. He did not ended up in a prison but in something that does not sound a welcoming place either: The Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In the three years spent there he formed a band with inmates, wrote songs and poetry and became friend of a 13th Floor Elevators‘ fan who murdered his family while high on glue. This are the good news.

The bad was that Roky got more electroshocks and Thorazine. The 60s way to deal with mental illness was to switch the mind off. Simple and criminally insane, as the name of the place hosting him.

Post Rusk’s year, Roky’s body came back to freedom, playing music with a new band, The Aliens, about his passion for horror movies, zombies and weird after death creatures. His mind, though, still possessed by any sort of evil entity kept him away from lucidity. It was around 1982 when he released the famous statement “that a Martian had inhabited his body. He later reported to friends that aliens were coming to Earth to harm him, and asked a Notary Public to witness an official declaration that he was himself an alien, hoping that this would convince the aliens to leave him alone.” [thanks wiki]

Such a person left alone in the wonderful world of record industry has a simple fate: to become a victim of managers with no ethic. Roky was signed to unfair contracts that allowed labels to deliver much of his recorded music without any authorisation and, most important, without paying to Erickson any royalty.
Roky Erickson lived through the 80s with the 200$ a month of the social security and the usual bunch of aliens dwelling his mind.

Among his confused discography, plenty of useless recordings because of those contracts, there are a couple of albums worth signalling. The Evil One and Don’t Slander Me are his best solo work, far from psychedelic years of 13th Floor Elevator, they are raw, garage rock’n’roll which inspired many artists to come.

His day nightmares didn’t stop, continuously hearing those voices, Roky Erickson is reported to live with several radios and TVs switched on at the same time to silent them. I wonder why Oliver Sacks didn’t mention him in Musicophilia, a great book with touches on this and talks about the positive and negative effects of music on human’s brain.

More trouble to come. Roky Erickson was accused for stealing neighbours’ mail. A charge later dropped. The truth is that he had been collecting and delivering mail to the neighbours for some time and when the neighbours moved, he kept collecting it but, instead of delivering, he used to tape it on the wall of his house.

The first positive thing to happen to his most troubled years came in 1990 from some very important fans. A tribute album, Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye performed by Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, R.E.M., ZZ Top, Julian Cope, Butthole Surfers and several more brought him back to the attention of a new generation.

Five more years and in 1995 Roky came back to recorded music with the help of several Texas’ musicians for All That May Do My Rhyme.
Another six years and 2001 sees another landmark step. His sister Sumner, is granted legal custody of the brother and Roky finally got the chance to get appropriate mental cures, probably for the first time in his life.
His conditions improved visibly, to the point that the man could go back to play live. In 2005 Roky Erickson played his full concert in more than 20 years. His new band called The Explosives had the help of a very special friend in the line-up Billy GIbbons from the ZZ Top.

Since then, Roky Erickson has been performing some (not many) gigs every year. Mainly in USA and Northern Europe. Thanks to Jarvis Cocker (who curated Southbank Meltdown in London in 2007) Roky was invited to the Royal Festival Hall for his UK debut.

August 2009. When I and my friend enter the Forum, we really don’t know what to expect. I travelled to London for this gig despite a very rare Cambridge Dinosaur Jr happening few hundreds meters from home. It is not even for the music, rather to witness it. To see him.

9pm Roky materializes on stage, Hawaiian shirt, long hair and beard. He walks past his mic to somewhere he must like. The guitarist escort him back at his place.
He looks sweet, tender. A mix between a (teddy) bear and santa Klaus on a tropical holiday. It is unthinkable how a paranoid schizophrenic hides behind such a fatherly face. Compassion is the only feeling I have. It goes beyond the musician, to the man, the man’s struggle with his mind over half a century. Alone.

The riff of Two Headed Dog opens the gig. The Forum explode in a gasp of relief and sing-a-long with him. Seeing the man singing and playing live on a proper stage with a proper band in front is a treat.

What emerges during the set is Roky‘s voice. It peaked for The Night of the Vampire and reached unexpected highs till the encore with I Walked With a Zombie.
He is not very interactive and his expression is fixed, lost somewhere but in a much nicer place than the past.
He limits his contact with the audience to a raised arm to say hello and a couple of thank you.
Guitar playing is a bit fuzzy, his guitarist had to take control of Roky’s pedal a couple of times, but when everything flows that big man on stage can still touch a couple of thousands hearts with a riff or an acid solo.

A classic band. Drums, bass and a guitar are solid and versatile. I don’t know who they are but they know who Erickson is very well. They understand when it is time to let him go or to fill up a break with a solo.
Roky often turns toward the drums, while the guitarist keeps constantly an eye on him. It looks he can understand anything from his body language.
A funny bassist, hat and suit that would fit in Maximo Park more than in a Texas band, is helpful.
On a night that most of the presents would have never thought to attend, anything that happens becomes pleasant.

About an hour of songs goes, the debate on the exact setlist played is still open on his official forum.

The final fan setlist states:


the one stuck on the stage floor went:

I agree with the fans, And Now We Fly and Reverberation surely haven’t be played. The gig has been cut short towards the closure right when some 13th Floor Elevator delights were planned. If Don’t Slander Me was anticipated and Click Your Finger ignored I sincerely cannot remember and wouldn’t have changed the importance of the night.

What is important is that he is back, singing and playing. I witnessed him. He played You’re Gonna Miss Me right in front of me. Full stop, next chapter.

To get in touch with the man, the legend, the myth and the alien there are few nice places to start [website] [myspace] and which contains most of his solo stuff including a deluxe edition of The Evil One with a second disc of radio material intervalled by amusing interviews with Roky talking about his love for demons. It is worth to sign up just for that.

13th Floor Elevator instead have a (likely unofficial) [myspace] a quite complete discography to listen on and a very extensive [wikipedia] page which is a good place to start.

I want to leave you with another sweet treat, this is a youtube version of Roky Erickson singing recently on the Mogwai track from the Batcat(2008) EP: Devil Rise. Roky is back from outer space and is spending his time with us.

~ by Valerio on September 12, 2009.

8 Responses to “Roky Erickson”

  1. please i look for the night of the vampire live in a exelent version live for 2o years when i lost all my music collection, please people help me to get this version
    im mauricio from chile sudamerica

  2. Great summation of Roky’s life and a good review of the show. Two things though: Fisrt, Sumner is Roky’s brother, not sister, and…Second, Roky has NEVER written or played any “useless” music. He is the living embodiment of a true poet. Thank you.

  3. Thanks Bleibalien,
    I’ll correct the sister brother thing immediately!!

  4. about “useless” I was talking about recordings done by odd labels which does not account for the quality of roky music but of the releases

  5. If you have ghosts, Vale, then you have everything.

  6. Il 22 di Ottobre vai a sentirti questi te che puoi The next big thing!

  7. Fantastic photos of an original master.

    Cheers from Texas!

  8. Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is Home Improvement site/blog. It pretty much covers Home Improvement related stuff.

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