One fan remembers the psychedelic rock icon, who died on May 31 at the age of 72
Between the years 2006-2013, I saw Roky Erickson plenty of times. Most times were in Chicago, although I did see him once at the Ponderosa Stomp roots festival in Memphis. The other times ranged from outdoor music festivals to indoor rock clubs. I grew used to seeing him in concert, playing guitar through a small battery amp miked for the stage, on several occasions.
However, Erickson was such an elusive cult act that I’m surprised I got to see him at all.
Erickson, who passed away Friday at the age of 72, was the lead singer and guitarist of the 13th Floor Elevators from Austin, TX. Original copies of their 1960s albums on the International Artists label are elusive and hard to come by. For the longest time, you could say the same thing about Erickson himself. His bouts with mental illness, starting around 1968, sidetracked him for years via a lengthy stay in a mental institution. After his release in ’72, he slowly began to make music again, with Roky Erickson and the Aliens, who were inspired by Erickson’s love for horror and science fiction movies. After sitting out most of the eighties, he made a gradual return to music in the nineties. However, he was seemingly at his most visible from 2005 onward. After the release of You’re Gonna Miss Me, a telling documentary of his life, he became more prominent, appearing at high-profile events like the Lollapalooza, Coachella and the aforementioned Ponderosa Stomp festivals.
The 13th Floor Elevators were one of the earliest rock bands to call themselves “psychedelic.” Texas in the 1960s was an underrated hotbed for this new sound, with bands like the ZZ Top precursor Moving Sidewalks, Fever Tree and the Red Krayola. The Elevators may have had a head start on this new sound, making surprising inroads into the mainstream when “You’re Gonna Miss Me” became a surprise hit in 1966. The song just missed the Top 40 – it’s success was confined to the South and the West Coast, but where it broke, it was huge. The Elevators were regulars at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and even made a couple of surreal network TV appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and Where The Action Is programs. This success was fleeting, however, and basically ground to a halt after Erickson’s “demons” got the best of him. However, the influence of the band lingered, with Erickson being named as one of a million forerunners of the punk movement. Even though the Elevators’ music was custom-made for acid trips, they weren’t “jammers” like the San Francisco hippie bands they shared bills with. Their music, specifically their first album (The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators), had just as much in common with straight-ahead garage bands like the Standells.
Despite his latter-day status as a sort of hip founding father, Roky at the root was a man of simple tastes who would have rather discussed the horror movie he saw on a UHF station than his own musical history. John Battles, a noted Chicago artist/writer, actually hung out with Roky in Chicago right after his classic performance at Lollapalooza. John, Roky and the rest of the entourage went straight from the festival to Margie’s, a classic olde-tyme ice cream parlor in Chicago’s Bucktown area. The Beatles visited Margie’s in 1965, so Roky was walking in some huge footsteps. Not long afterward, when an interviewer asked Roky what it was like playing the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, Erickson’s big takeaway was: “We went to Margie’s!”
Rest in peace and rock in power…