The Master of Reverberation, the Creature with the Atom Brain
Listen to Rocky Erickson / 13th Floor Elevators on You're Gonna Miss Me
One of the first artists to refer to his music as "psychedelic," Roky Erickson eclipsed Sun Ra as a legal resident of Outer Space. Since charting that Top 100 hit in 1966, Roky has become famous, and infamous, for drug use and mental health issues. These fits and stops have punctuated his career. Still, Roky has managed to emerge from the murk time and time again, producing classics like "Two Headed Dog" and "Don't Slander Me."
Now, thanks to diligent work both on his part and that of his legal custodian, younger brother Sumner Erickson, Roky is back in full force, as witnessed by the lucky fans who attended the 2006 Austin Music Awards or Roky's Ice Cream Social during SXSW and got a taste of his revived energy and spirit.
Born Roger Kynard Erickson in 1947, Roky Erickson has exerted influence on such diverse artists as ZZ Top, Television, Zakary Thaks, R.E.M., Jesus & Mary Chain, the Butthole Surfers, the Cramps, Radio Birdman, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Mike Watt, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the White Stripes, Witchcraft and Primal Scream. Roky began playing guitar with The Spades when he was 12 years old — and it is with them that he first recorded "You're Gonna Miss Me," of which only 100-200 copies were minted. That rare slab of wax is the Holy Grail among collectors of garage rock records.
The Austin-based 13th Floor Elevators were formed in 1965 by electric-jug player Tommy Hall, who wanted to set his LSD-inspired lyrics to outer-space sounds. He recruited a rhythm section, but the missing piece was Roky. When the band recorded "You're Gonna Miss Me" for the Contact label, Lelan Rogers of International Artists caught wind and picked up the record. It charted No. 56 on the Billboard pop singles chart, and spawned an album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, prompting the group to leave Austin and play the Fillmore and Avalon in San Francisco, and appear on TV's American Bandstand and Where the Action Is. When asked by Dick Clark who was the head of the band, Roky replied, "We're all heads."
A second long-player, 1967's Easter Everywhere, was widely regarded as the watershed psychedelic album. Says Dr. Ike, " it's truly a record for Martians fueled by LSD-coated sugar cubes." However, love of marijuana and LSD were not just the stuff of lyrics — police constantly harassed the band, and the Elevators were busted twice. Roky pleaded insanity to avoid a ten-year jail sentence for one joint. He found himself sentenced for five years to Rusk State Hospital, a mental institution. While at Rusk, he wrote more than 100 songs, and after his 1972 release, he attempted to reform the 13th Floor Elevators. However, a feud between Erickson and Hall stalled the Elevators on the ground floor.
Roky soon formed a new band, Blieb Alien ("blieb" being an anagram of bible and the German word for "remain") which was heavier in sound, with lyrics more steeped in sci-fi imagery. From a 15-song session produced by Creedence Clearwater Revival member Stu Cook came such nuggets as "Creature With The Atom Brain" and the extraordinary "Two Headed Dog." An original version of the song had been produced by Doug Sahm. During this episode of his career, Roky also declared that he was a space alien and not a human being. A combination of encroaching mental illness and unscrupulous managers sidelined him once again.
Emerging briefly in 1986 to record the critically acclaimed Don't Slander Me album for Pink Dust Records, Roky seemed closer to success than ever, but again, his demons would haunt him. In 1990, then-Warner Bros. Records executive and native Texan Bill Bentley organized a tribute album to Roky titled When The Pyramid Meets The Eye, featuring ZZ Top, Bongwater, R.E.M. Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream and Doug Sahm.
His appearance at the 1993 Austin Music Awards was hotly anticipated though ultimately disappointing — Roky seemed distracted. Yet 13 years later, in March 2006, Roky played the Austin Music Awards once again — this time an incredible six song set that brought the house down. He played about 10 shows later that year, including the Intonation Music Festival in Chicago, which was his first out-of-town gig in more than two decades. Once Little Steven featured him on his "Underground Garage" Halloween special broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio, the world had good reason to suspect that Roky is back for good — all of which brings us to the Ponderosa Stomp, the world's premiere roots romp festival, which has always reserved a space for psychedelic and garage rock pioneers among its celebration of true and unique American music.