When: Fri., Sept. 1, 8:30 p.m. 2017
Cult garage rock icon Roger Kynard Erickson—he goes by Roky and turned seventy last month—was, for a spell, one of rock 'n' roll's most tragic heroes. In the mid-sixties, he formed The 13th Floor Elevators, the pioneering psychedelic rock band that influenced acid rock superstars such as Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead and, later, a broad swath of seminal eighties rock acts, including R.E.M. and The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Elevators intuitively synthesized blues, rock, country, soul, and gospel into primal, primordial garage-psych; "You're Gonna Miss Me" was only a minor hit in 1966, but the searing breakup song remains probably Erickson's best-known work.
Sadly, like some of his psychedelic contemporaries (see: Peter Green and Syd Barrett), Erickson was perhaps more famous for losing his mind. He had an affinity for drugs, particularly LSD. He wound up in a maximum-security state hospital in a tiny town in East Texas by the end of the sixties, where he was doped up with Thorazine and given electroshock treatment. If the acid and heroin hadn't fried his brain, the time in the psych ward did. He spent the next few decades haunted by ghouls and ghosts. He became convinced that he was an alien, and even had a notarized document stipulating that he was. He made music during those lost years, marked by an overzealous enthusiasm for horror B-movies. Of these, The Evil One is the jewel in Roky's starry crown.
With the help of his brother, who took legal guardianship of Erickson in 2001, and his son, who brought him back to performing in the mid-aughts, Erickson turned his life around. Fittingly, the music he's made in his career's second act has been some of his best. Erickson seems to reference—and maybe even search for some sort of salve in—his hard-knock life in his songs nowadays. On "Ain't Blues Too Sad," a gospel-tinged blues ballad from True Love Cast Out All Evil, cut in 2011 with Okkervil River, he bleats, "The electricity hammered me through my head/'Til nothing at all is backward instead." Erickson can't help but use his painted history as a palette, and with them he's crafted remarkable self-portraits, revealing himself as a man whose trials have made him hold life all the more dearly. He may have lost his soul to rock 'n' roll, but Erickson, unlike so many similarly troubled souls, got it back. —Patrick Wall