I Walked With a Zombie: A Roky Erickson Primer

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Chris Gray
Okkervil River's Will Sheff (left) and Roky Erickson at the 2008 Austin Music Awards
Rocks Off is starting to get really excited about Roky Erickson's show at the Continental Club Wednesday night. As of around noon Tuesday, about 50 tickets were left, available at Sig's Lagoon. Sig's owner Tomas Escalante said a "handful" would be available at the door as well.

Unlike most Houstonians - according to Andrew Dansby's fine article in the Chronicle this past Sunday, Erickson last played Houston at the Consolidated Arts Warehouse in 1984 - Rocks Off has seen the man with the high baptismal glow several times in the past few years.

The best was probably last fall at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where we wrote, "Warping Buddy Holly, the Beatles and the old R&B nugget "Before You Accuse Me," Erickson and band's in-the-red performance vanquished - momentarily, anyway - whatever evil spirits gave rise to the Texas rock icon's songs."

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A close second was this spring's Austin Music Awards, where Erickson and latter-day disciples the Black Angels "finished with a menacing version of the Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" that gave Erickson a chance to dust off his wolfman howl and Angels vocalist Alex Maas free reign to summon whatever nightshades he could standing in for Tommy Hall on electric jug."

Erickson may be a legend and an icon, but he's well-known to only a minuscule fraction of the population at large. Most famously, his marijuana arrest - for one joint - in the late '60s led to a stint at the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. (He had been previously diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.)

A few other important details:

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    Erickson was born Roger Kynard Erickson on July 15, 1947. He grew up in Austin and dropped out of Travis High School.

  • His first band was the Spades, who got a good deal of regional radio play with Erickson's song "We Sell Soul."

  • Erickson was 19 when the Thirteenth Floor Elevators released their first album, 1966's The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, on Houston's International Artists Records.

  • "You're Gonna Miss Me," from Psychedelic Sounds, was the Elevators' biggest hit. It reached No. 55 on Billboard's pop singles chart (landing the Elevators a highly bizarre appearance on American Bandstand), but was much more popular in the Southwest.

  • It's widely considered one of the first examples of not only psychedelic but punk rock. The introductory chords of the Clash's "Clash City Rockers" are almost identical.

  • "Miss Me" has been covered by, among others, Doug Sahm, the Fuzztones, Half Japanese, Lazy Cowgirls, the Sand Rubies, Radio Birdman, the Urinals and the Distillers (above).

  • Erickson's lifelong interest in horror movies, science fiction and the occult is well-documented in his music through songs such as "Creature With the Atom Brain," "Don't Shake Me Lucifer," "I Walked With a Zombie" and "Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)."

  • After his brother Sumner was granted custody in 2001 (Erickson has since been emancipated), Roky's first live performance since 1993 came at Threadgill's World Headquarters during SXSW 2005.

  • Erickson enjoys Amy's Ice Cream and watching the Cartoon Network.

Further Reading

"Starry Eyes," Austin Chronicle, December 30, 2005

"The Man Who Went too High," The Guardian, June 8, 2007

Paul Drummond, Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound (Process, 2007)

Essential Listening

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Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1966)

Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere (International Artists, 1967)

Roky Erickson & the Aliens, Roky Erickson & the Aliens (CBS, 1980)

Roky Erickson, All That May Do My Rhyme (Trance Syndicate, 1995)

I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology (Shout! Factory, 2005)

Roky Erickson & the Explosives, Halloween: Live 1979-1981 (SteadyBoy Records, 2008)

Essential Viewing

You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson (Palm Pictures, 2005): Directed by Kevin McAlester; featuring Billy Gibbons, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.
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