One of rock and roll's most famous cult figures and burnouts, Erickson is perhaps as well-known for his mental illness as for his musical talents.
Erickson cofounded the 13th Floor Elevators in 1965. He was the chief songwriter along with Tommy Hall.
In 1966, the band released The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Psychedelic Sounds had the band's only charting single, "You're Gonna Miss Me". The single remains probably Erickson's best-known work; critic Mark Deming writes that "If Roky Erickson had vanished from the face of the earth after the 13th Floor Elevators released their epochal debut single, 'You're Gonna Miss Me,' in early 1966, in all likelihood he'd still be regarded as a legend among garage rock fanatics for his primal vocal wailing and feral harmonica work.
The Elevators were vocal proponents of LSD and marijuana use, and were subject to strong attention from police. In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of one marijuana joint in Austin, Texas. Facing a ten year prison term, Erickson pled insanity, which proved to be a mistake. He was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments and held until 1972.
When released from the state hospital, Erickson's mental outlook had changed. In 1974, he formed a new band which he called Bleib Alien, Bleib being an anagram of Bible and/or German for Stay, and "Alien" being a pun on the German word "Allein" ("alone") - the phrase in German therefore being "Remain alone". His new band exchanged the psychedelic sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators for a more heavy metal sound that featured lyrics on old horror film and science fiction themes. "Two Headed Dog" (produced by The Sir Douglas Quintet's Doug Sahm) was released as a single.
The new band renamed itself Roky Erickson and the Aliens. In 1979, Erickson recorded some of his new material with Stu Cook, formerly of Creedence Clearwater Revival. In 1981, Roky and the Aliens released The Evil One, an album of his material on horror movie themes. In 1982, Erickson asserted that a martian had inhabited his body. He was arrested in the 1980s on charges of mail theft (Erickson took unclaimed mail from the halfway house where he lived, and taped it to the walls of his room. He insisted that he never opened any of the mail, and the charges were ultimately dropped).
In 1995, Erickson released All That May Do My Rhyme on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey's label Trance Syndicate Records. Produced by Texas Tornado bassist Speedy Sparks, Austin recording legend Stuart Sullivan and Texas Music Office director Casey Monahan, the release coincided with the publication of Openers II, a complete collection of Erickson's lyrics. Published by Henry Rollins's 2.13.61 Publications, it was compiled and edited by Casey Monahan with assistance from Rollins and Erickson's youngest brother Sumner Erickson, a classical tuba player.
Sumner was granted legal custody of Roky in 2001, and established a legal trust to aid his brother. As a result, Roky received some of the most effective medical and legal aid of his life, the latter useful in helping sort out the complicated tangle of contracts which had reduced royalty payments to all but nothing for his recorded works.
In September 2005, Erickson performed his first full-length concert in 20 years at the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival with The Explosives.
A documentary film on the life of Roky Erickson titled You're Gonna Miss Me has been recently made by director Keven McAlester.
In the Dec. 30, 2005 issue of the Austin Chronicle, an alternative weekly newspaper in Austin, Texas, Margaret Moser brings up to date the story of Roky's recovery with the aid of his brother Sumner. According to the article, Roky played at 11 gigs in Austin in 2005, has obtained a drivers license, owns a car (a Volvo), voted the previous year, and planned to do more concerts with The Explosives in 2006. In 2007, Roky played his first ever gigs in New York City, as well as California's Coachella Festival".
Mad Dog (1992): Compilation of Roky Erickson's band and solo projects from 1976-1982, with The Aliens and The Explosives. The quality isn't very good, but this album is hard to find - bad is better than not having it at all.
Tracklist: 1. Cold Night For Alligators, 2. Bermuda, 3. The Interpreter, 4. Alien I Creator, 5. Don't Shake Me Lucifer, 6. The Wind and More, 7. White Faces, 8. Burn the Flames, 9. Mad Dog, 10. I'm a Demon, 11. The Beast, 12. Bo Diddley's a Headhunter.
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The Holiday Inn Tapes (1986/87): Recorded live December 1st, 1986, room 424, Holiday Inn Red River, Austin, TX.
Tracklist: 1. The Singing Grandfather, 2. Roky Erickson, 3. The Times I've Had, 4. True Love Ways, 5. Peggy Sue Got Married, 6. Mighty Is Our Love, 7. I Look At the Moon, 8. Don't Slander Me, 9. May the Circle Remain Unbroken, 10. The Singing Grandfather.
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