Continuing “Classic Album Tuesdays: Halloween Edition” I give you this horror rock classic from cult favorite Roky Erickson. If you’re not familiar with Roky Erickson, I would highly recommend you read up on him or watch the excellent 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me. Otherwise here’s the short version…
Roky Erickson burst onto the scene in 1965 as the frontman and head songwriter of the Austin based rock band The 13th Floor Elevators. Penning the ‘60s classic, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” among others, Roky became a favorite among the garage rock circuit with his howling vocals and high energy performances. Trouble hit when Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1968 and unwillingly subjected to electroshock therapy. It got worse.
In 1969, Roky was arrested in Austin for the possession of a single joint and pled insanity to avoid a ten-year prison sentence. He was sent to an Austin mental hospital where he stayed until 1974. Finding focus in the late ‘70s, Roky combined his love of horror and sci-fi with hard rock and formed Roky Erickson and the Aliens. The band recorded two overlapping EPs—that were later combined to make today’s album—produced by former Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook.
It feels odd to commemorate what was still a dark period in Erickson’s life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find the beauty in the darkness. The track “I Think of Demons” could be a hit single for a more prominent artist. Someone like a Billy Idol. Probably would help if it wasn’t about demons though, and it’s not the only song about demons.
The leadoff track “Two Headed Dog is a bonafide classic from Erickson. Using the artist’s well-tested technique of finding a powerful phrase or hook and then repeating it over and over again. “Two-headed dog, two-headed dog. I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog.” There are other words but this phrase is pounded into your head so hard and so often you’re not soon to forget it.
My personal favorite track is the Ben E. King flavored “I Walked with a Zombie” which contains no more than the words “I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie. I walked with a zombie last night.” It’s an oddly poignant number for such a silly b-movie hook. It just goes to show that even under all of Erickson’s crazy, there was still the soul of a talented songwriter trying to express himself.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that Erickson’s favorite subject is aliens. Around this time Erickson went as far as claiming he was an alien and that others wanted to harm him because of this fact. Erickson not long after became shut off from the world. He lived with his mother throughout the rest of the ‘80s and began a decades-long obsession with the mail, reading and collecting every piece of junk mail and writing back to chain letters.
Roky recorded sporadically throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that he got his life back on track. His brother sought to free him from his mother’s control. Roky started taking medication, got his driver’s license and started touring again. He even recorded a new album in 2010 with members of Okkervil River.
Roky has seen a great deal of light and darkness in life. The good news is he’s seen a great deal more light for the past decade or so and given us a lifetime of beautiful and powerful rock music. Thanks, Roky.
Favorite Tracks: “Click Your Fingers Applauding the Play,” “I Think of Demons,” “I Walked with a Zombie”