Roky Erickson’s career has been marked by genius as much as it has been marred by mental illness and drug abuse.
The Austin-born guitarist was one of the creators of the psychedelic rock movement with the 13th Floor Elevators, the band he co-founded in 1965. In the years since Erickson has released well over a dozen solo albums, including True Love Casts Out All Evil, his latest album put out earlier this year.
Always widely regarded by colleagues in the music industry as a guitarist of legendary talent, the latest release Erickson appears to confirm that he’s back, and may have finally overcome a decades-long battle with schizophrenia.
(photo courtesy of houstonpress.com)
Erickson was just 18 when he co-founded the Elevators. The band scored a regional hit with “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and drew a wide following before the band fizzled in the late 1960s. The group’s demise followed the first signs of Erickson’s mental illness, when he began behaving erratically.
In 1969, Erickson was arrested for possession of marijuana and, rather than face a lengthy jail sentence, pleaded insanity and was committed to a mental hospital for three years.
While he continued recording he would be haunted by the illness for years, at one point becoming convinced that an alien had possessed his body.
But his impact among his peers was unchallenged. The year 1990 saw the release of Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson. The album included covers of Erickson tunes by R.E.M., ZZ Top, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain and a host of other top artists.
Erickson’s life began an upswing in 2001, when his brother, Sumner, gained legal custody of his troubled older sibling. Setting up a legal trust, Sumner Erickson was able to provide his brother with medical and legal help for the first time.
In 2005, film director Keven McAlester released You’re Gonna Miss Me, a documentary film about Erickson’s talented yet troubled career. But by 2007 Erickson was performing more frequently and, now with medication to treat his schizophrenia, was recovering.
In recent years he has taken the stage more frequently, including at the Coachella festival, and has recorded with artist like Billy Gibbons.
Erickson is currently scheduled to appear at the Pygmalion Music Festival in Illinois at the end of the next month, confirming he’s back on his feet.
And rest assured his guitar playing has been crisp throughout it all.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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