Sunday, September 09, 2007

Curious about Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson is the man. In fact he put the "the", in the man. If you haven't seen You're Gonna Miss Me, I urge you to do so. It is easily one of the best music docs I've ever seen.

Roky Erickson had a major hand in creating the genre known as psychedelic rock, emerging from the Austin psychedelic scene in 1965 with the 13th Floor Elevators. Wrecked by drug abuse, schizophrenia, and a stint at Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Erickson would eventually withdraw from music entirely while his mental illness controlled his life.

In 1969 Erickson was arrested for possession of a marijuana joint in Austin. Facing a ten year prison term he pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and shortly thereafter he was sent to the Austin State Hospital. After several escape attempts, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was subjected to shock therapy and Thorazine treatments and held until 1972.

Later, after years living in seclusion and squalor, Roky's life and career were resurrected thanks to an intervention by his younger brother, who nursed him back to physical and mental health. Today Rock Erickson is living happily and healthy in Austin and has returned to his music career after a nearly 20-year hiatus. Check out the trailer for You're Gonna Miss Me, a brilliant documentary that chronicles Roky's wild, inspiring story....

"In the December 30, 2005 issue of the Austin Chronicle, Margaret Moser brings up to date the story of Erickson's recovery with the aid of his brother Sumner. According to the article, Roky weaned himself off his medication, played at 11 gigs in Austin that year, obtained a drivers license, owns a car, voted the previous year, and planned to do more concerts in 2006.

In 2007, Erickson played his first ever gigs in New York City, as well as California's Coachella Festival and made his debut performance in England to a capacity audience at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Roky continued to play in Europe, performing first time in Finland at Ruisrock festival.

According to an interview on Chicago Public Radio with You're Gonna Miss Me director Kevin McAlester (7/24/07), Erickson is currently working on a new album with Billy Gibbons, singer and guitarist of ZZ Top, and a longtime admirer of Erickson; Gibbons' earlier band The Moving Sidewalks had a hit with "99th floor", which was a tribute of sorts to the Elevators." -wiki
Roky Erickson is recording an album with Billy Gibbons? Man, that sounds like a dynamite combination. If you're not yet familiar with Roky's music, then here's your chance. I gathered up some of the best tracks I could find from various releases, and you can get your own copy of these releases at Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, or any decent record store.

The 13th Floor Elevators' second album, Easter Everywhere, was released in 1967. "Slip Inside This House" is the album's eerie, intoxicating lead-off track, and at eight minutes it stands as the Elevators' lengthiest. That interesting noise you hear is the sound of an electric jug, played by Tommy Hall. Here is some info on that:
"The jug is just that: a jug (usually made of glass or stoneware) played with the mouth. Making an embouchure like that employed with a trombone or tuba, the musician holds the opening of the jug about an inch from his or her mouth and emits a blast of sound, made by the "buzzing" of the lips, directly into it. (The jug is not played by blowing across its opening.) Since the jug does not actually touch the musician's mouth, the jug itself serves primarily to amplify the sound made by the musician's lips. As with a bugle, changes in pitch are controlled by altering the embrasure, and a practiced juggist can produce a wide range of notes. A bass instrument, the jug is part of the band's rhythm section, though jug solos are not uncommon."

"Bermuda" and "Starry Eyes" were rerecorded in Austin with a rudimentary quartet for the five-song Clear Night for Love, which preceded a decade-long recording hiatus. The disc begins on a note of relative restraint. "You Don't Love Me Yet" is acoustic folk; the title track recalls Creedence's rag-tag balladry. Side Two is a bit wilder, culminating in "Don't Slander Me," an angrily defensive accusatory diatribe." -trouser

This heartfelt acoustic song was previously unreleased until appearing on the You're Gonna Miss Me soundtrack.

"The Holiday Inn Tapes LP was released by New Rose in September of 1987. These solo acoustic songs were recorded live on December 1st, 1986 in room 424, Holiday Inn Red River, Austin, Texas, on a portable Realistic recorder. The sound quality is poor to fair, exactly what you would expect given the circumstances. The Singing Grandfather, Mighty Is Our Love, I Look At The Moon, and The Times I've Had are previously unknown Roky songs exclusive to this album. That's My Song may be a Roky original or an old folk standard. This is also the only place on album where you can hear May The Circle Remain Unbroken with some of the additional lyrics that Roky wrote while at Rusk (there is a more complete version from a 1984 (1985? See CDR 5) radio appearance on Austin's KTXZ but so far this is only on tape). The Singing Grandfather is the stand-out of the previously unreleased songs; Roky leads off with this song and repeats it at the end." -brinkster
Here is the electric version, from the Clear Night For Love 12".

"Casting the Runes mates Roky's twisted worldview with a hard, crunching band. Recorded on various Texas stages circa '79, it unleashes menacing renditions of such grisly Erickson classics as "Don't Shake Me Lucifer" and "Bloody Hammer," plus a weird version of the mush-pop oldie "I Love How You Love Me." Highly recommended." -trouser


dom said...

thanks for bringing this documentary to my attention. i've just started to get into the elevators so would like to check this out.

Brent said...

Great movie. Nice and lengthy posting.

Brent said...

and I would love to check out a new album with the dude from ZZ Top!

wugglyump said...

thanks for a great erickson mini-history lesson. this man is a god.