ROKY ERICKSON | THE GREAT, LOST TEXAS PIONEER OF ROCK AND ROLL

“I’ve gone through three changes– I thought I was a Christian… then I was the devil… then the third one, where I know who I am… you know… I feel like I’m an alien.”  

–Roky Erickson

The beautiful, gifted, misunderstood and mysterious Roky Erickson wiil forever be lumped with Syd Barrett and other so-called mad, musical geniuses– but unlike some of the others, thankfully Roky came back to us.  Better late than never.  We love you, Roky.

Photo by Scott Newton

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Photo by Scott Newton

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Roky Erikson bio–

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Legendary rock n roll pioneer Roger Kynard “Roky” Erickson hails from Austin, Texas. He is, in the words of music writer Richie Unterberger, one of “the unknown heroes of rock and roll.” As singer, songwriter, and guitar player for the legendary Austin, TX band The 13th Floor Elevators, the first rock and roll band to describe their music as “psychedelic”, Roky had a profound impact on the San Francisco scene when the group traveled there in 1966. While bands such as The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane had the their roots in traditional acoustic folk music, the Elevators unique brand of heavy, hard-rocking electric blues pointed to a new direction for the music of the hippie generation. The Elevators only had one chart hit, the Roky-penned You’re Gonna Miss Me, but their influence was far reaching. R.E.M., ZZ Top, Poi Dog Pondering, The Judybats, T-Bone Burnett, Julian Cope, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cramps, The Minutemen, Television, The Cynics, The Lyres, Teisco Del Rey, The Fuzztones and Radio Birdman have all either recorded or played live versions of Roky’s songs. In addition to these performers, Roky is an acknowledged influence on such diverse musicians as Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Henry Rollins, Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, Jon Spencer, The Damned, Red Krayola, Pere Ubu, and current indie hit-makers The White Stripes. His songs have appeared on the soundtracks to the movies High Fidelity, Drugstore Cowboy, Boys Don’t Cry, Hamlet (2000), and Return of the Living Dead. While he may not be a household name, Roky has enjoyed the support of a small but fiercely loyal cult following throughout his career.

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Unfortunately, Roky’s struggles with drug abuse and mental illness took a serious toll. His 1969 arrest in Texas for possession of a single marijuana cigarette led to his being committed for three years to Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was reportedly subjected to Thorazine, electroshock therapy, and other experimental treatments. Most agree he was never the same after his release. Roky has had prolific periods of creativity in the intervening years, but unscrupulous managers and record label executives often took advantage of his condition, leaving Roky to live in poverty while others profit from his music.

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Happily, today we find Roky in the process of being his own miracle and making an astounding recovery from nearly a two-decade long period of almost total tragedy. His youngest brother, singer/songwriter and former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Principal Tubaist Sumner Erickson, was appointed Roky’s legal guardian in June, 2001. Sumner has established The Roger Kynard Erickson Trust to address Roky’s living expenses, medical bills, and other financial needs. From June, 2001 until July, 2002, Roky lived with his brother in Pittsburgh, where he finally began to receive the treatment and care he needs. Roky is now back in Austin, where his health continues to improve dramatically. In March, 2005, Roky made his first public performance in 10 years performing 3 songs at the Roky Erickson Psychedelic Ice Cream Social at Threadgills in Austin. He was backed by the Explosives.

On April 20, 2010, Roky Erickson is scheduled to release True Love Cast Out All Evil, his first album of new material in 14 years. Austin-based Okkervil River serves as Erickson’s backing band on the album.

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17 thoughts on “ROKY ERICKSON | THE GREAT, LOST TEXAS PIONEER OF ROCK AND ROLL

  1. I am a new subscriber – GREAT STUFF!!!!! Love Roky & the 13th Floor Elevators.
    BTW, the Indian post was the hook that caught me – long time fan of Burt Munro. Keep writing -I’ll keep reading

  2. Great post!

    I might be wrong but sometimes I think he may have started punk music instead of the Ramones or The New York Dolls. It fits.. although he really spans several genres. – I mean look at this one with ’13th Floor Elevators’ or ‘Two headed dog’ however..has a fairly heavy punk feel..

    Ny the way. I’m really glad to hear that. Some people think he passed away.. I’d think with his collection of songs and interesting background that he’d be more well known.

  3. The man was the best Damned Rock and Roll voice of all time. OK, maybe Little Richard, but whatever, Long live Texas Music.

  4. Another great, great post, JP. You’re among the elite in reminding us all of What It Means To Be An American.

    Gratitude for your efforts. For God’s sake don’t stop.

  5. Just saw the “You’re Gonna Miss Me” documentary this morning. It was well done. Roky was very lost but so extremely gentle, it was touching. I probably wouldn’t have watched this had I not just seen your post yesterday. I’m glad I did. Keep up the wonderfully exciting work on your blog here, I love it!

  6. A friend from Texas turned me on to the Elevators. I just recently saw the documentary on Netflix and learned the whole story.
    I love this site. Do you sneak into my garage and cd & movie collection for ideas? If you do a story on ’63 Buick Riviera’s, I’m getting a security system !

  7. I was watching or reading some Janis Joplin bio and it was either suggested or she claims that her vocal stylings came directly from hanging out with Roky. After than comment, I can only hear Roky when listening to Janis.

    He was also featured on the PBS program Austin City Limits. Damn good show of him back on stage.

    Great article.

  8. He still plays around every once in a while here in Austin, from little dive bars like Lovejoy’s to punk rock festivals like Chaos in Tejas and big stages like ACL. He is legend.

    Brilliant work. Keep it up!

  9. I saw 13th Floor Elevators in SF. Yeah, that’s how old I am. Believe it was at Fillmore though at the time I preferred Winterland. I was an undergrad at Berserkley then. Good times.
    Thank you for once again reminding me of good things.

  10. I come here sporadically, but every time I do I get drawn in for hours. Thank you for these insightful and informative glimpses into a generation I missed.

  11. I would like to draw the attention on Stacy Sutherland, who after such an amazing work with the 13th floor elevators got shot by his wife back in 1974. Tragic story.

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