Monday, February 23, 2009

Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson led the 13th Floor Elevators, a great 60's psychedelic garage band. In 1969, Roky was busted for possession of one joint. Rather than go to jail, he pled insanity and was institutionalized for the next three years. After leaving the mental hospital, Roky adopted a hard rock sound with lyrics inspired by horror movies. He recorded 15 songs which form the core of his solo canon. The best known of these is Two Headed Dog.

Note that most of these videos contain short interviews with Roky, and that he's a bit eccentric:

While the songs rock, they maintain their power when it's just an acoustic guitar and Roky's fantastic voice, as in the following Bloody Hammer. This video moves on to more interview and songs, including a short performance of Blowin in the Wind in the back of a car.

Here's Cold Night for Alligators with backing band The Explosives:

And finally, here's Creature with the Atom Brain, which incorporates actual dialogue from the titular film.

Unfortunately, Roky's discography is a nightmare of alternate tracklistings and illegitimate releases. In 2005, Roky released a compilation called I Have Always Been Here Before, which compiles his Elevators and solo work. While the royalties go to Roky, the version of Two Headed Dog on there is inferior. The best way to hear the 15 horror songs is to look for a bootleg version of an album called The Evil One.

Roky has had a lot of trouble due to his mental health issues, but in 2001, his brother Sumner obtained legal custody of Roky. Since then, Roky's being performing again and being generally healthier. He's still crazy, but a bit better adjusted.

There's a good documentary about Roky Erickson, You're Gonna Miss Me, which you can stream off Netflix. The DVD has an update on Sumner and Roky. Sumner explains how he no longer believes in mental illness and Roky is off his meds again. This strikes me as dangerous, but Roky still performs and seems to be doing well, so maybe I shouldn't worry.

I love Roky Erickson's heartbreaking howl and his songs filled with cheesy horror monsters. The songs may have fantastic subject matter, but they feel like true expressions of the way Roky feels. I love em!

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