C.A.T.: The Evil One

Roky Erickson and the Aliens – The Evil One (1981)

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”

C.A.T.: Wildflowers

Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)

In memory of Tom Petty, I have chosen Wildflowers as this week’s Classic Album Tuesday. Although it’s an album I haven’t been familiar with for long, it may already be my favorite of Petty’s prestigious catalog

Two weeks ago, I was watching a 2015 ELO concert on some descendant of MTV. MTV3? MTV 1/2? Where I watched it wasn’t important, rather it’s what followed the concert. Because in between regularly scheduled programming, the channel shows music videos. One of which, for whatever reason, was the music video for Tom Petty’s 1994 hit “You Don’t Know What it’s Like”. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard that song. It could have been ten years ago, it could have been twenty, but it opened my eyes and my ears to Tom Petty’s 1994 album Wildflowers.

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C.A.T.: Tago Mago

Can – Tago Mago (1971)

A few weeks ago we lost legendary Krautrock bassist Holger Czukay. That’s the second member of Can we’ve lost this year. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit died last January. Guitarist Michael Karoli died in 2001 which leaves founder/keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and vocalist Damo Suzuki as the only surviving members of Can’s most fruitful period between 1970-1973. Before we talk about Can, and more specifically their best album, let’s talk Czukay.

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C.A.T.: Zen Arcade

Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)

It’s unfortunate that once again I feel compelled to write an impromptu Classic Album Thursday due to the passing of an alt-rock legend. In recent years, it’s felt much more like Bob Mould has been the one preserving the legacy of Hüsker Dü, due to an accomplished solo career and the fact he’s probably more equated with the band’s greatness than drummer/singer/songwriter Grant Hart, who passed away earlier today. But make no mistake, Hart was just as much a reason for the Hüsker’s being one of the most important and influential rock bands of the ’80s. Continue reading

C.A.T.: Dirt

Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992)

Today marks the 50th birthday of grunge icon Layne Staley. A mighty presence in the 90s Seattle grunge scene, Staley tragically died from a heroine/cocaine speedball in his University District Seattle apartment on April 5, 2002 and yet the man and his music live on.

I’ve never been a big fan of grunge outside of Nirvana, but over the years (particularly this year) I’ve found a greater admiration. Chris Cornell’s death was a big part of that revelation. To see another Seattle icon befall such a tragic fate well before his time helped put everything in perspective. It was people like Staley and Cornell that gave the city I live in and love an identity, a pulse. Before grunge, Seattle was a sleepy fishing town. After grunge, people finally saw Seattle for what it was, a rainy, over-caffeinated hub of angst and alienation. A place of beauty and introspection but also pain. And we had the best spokesmen; Cobain, Cornell, Staley, all taken too soon.

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C.A.T.: Eat a Peach

The Allman Brothers Band – Eat a Peach (1972)

We’ve been losing a lot of prominent musicians from the 1970s, lately–considered by many today as rock’s golden age. Last Saturday, it was Allman Brothers Band frontman, Gregg Allman. A talented songwriter and keyboardist, I think it will be Gregg’s voice that will be remembered best. A soulful southern drawl inspired by early R&B pioneers like Ray Charles. As Gregg himself said “Ray Charles is the one who taught me to just relax and let it ooze out. If it’s in your soul, it’ll come out.”

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