Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson
at home, Del Valle, TX, (mid-90s)

No werewolves out there…” he declared after looking up and down the corridor, and with that, the former lead singer for the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson, re-entered the room, shut the door, sat in his seat right behind me and continued to speak all the dialog to 'The Creature With The Atom Brain' into my left ear. I was in a room at the St. Francis Hotel in SF, along with managers Bruce Young and Craig Luckin, and we were watching a video of the 50's horror classic and Roky’s recitation, delivered 2 seconds before the actors spoke their lines, just gave everything a queasy edge. Prior to this, Bruce and Craig had been in London meeting with record companies and Liberty/UA's Andrew Lauder had given them my name as someone who might be interested. I was familiar with Roky through the Elevators' 'You're Gonna Miss Me' and some of the solo singles Hot Rods’ manager Ed Hollis had played me - Doug Sahm’s production of ‘Starry Eyes’/‘Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)’ on Mars Records, an E.P. on the French Sponge label featuring 'Mine Mine Mind', 'Click Your Fingers Applauding The Play', 'Two Headed Dog' and 'I Have Always Been Here Before' and ‘The Interpreter’/‘Bermuda', an early Rhino Records' 45. Roky's history interested me. After he was busted for a single joint in ‘69, rather than do prison time, Roky copped an insanity plea and spent 3½ years getting electroshock therapy at the Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane. The word was that he came out thinking he was “not of this earth”. Of course, this alone is a perfect reason to sign him but I had Muff Winwood to report to, so I took a meeting. Once Bruce and Craig played me ‘Creature With The Atom Brain’, ‘Bloody Hammer’ and ‘The Wind And More’, I had to make the deal. Fortunately, I’d got lucky by bringing Adam & The Ants to the label and they were doing pretty well, so getting the green light was a formality. Roky turned out to be charming and polite, and although it was difficult to hold a ‘normal’ conversation with him, he was always cheerful, respectful and highly entertaining. Just before we released ‘Roky Erickson And The Aliens’, I brought him to the UK to do some promo and the first interviewer, Tom Hibbert, gave him a gift - a foot-long, eloborate knife in a fancy scabbard. Roky’s constant playing with it, sheathing and un-sheathing, rather unnerved the second interviewer, Sounds magazine's Sandy Robertson, to the point that he cut the interview short after about 10 minutes and left the room, perspiring.
I, too, did an interview with him to be used as a promotional tool for radio stations with the hope that Roky’s music and his personality might be better explained but I think it only confused people more. I asked him what the most noticeable changes in rock & roll were during last 15 years and he told me with a straight face, “The piano parts…(pause)...the razor-blade in the keys” and mimed someone running their fingers along the length of the keyboard in a Jerry Lee Lewis flourish while watching in horror as the fingers got sliced off by blades that only became visible when the keys were depressed. Asked what “TEO” on the insert for his CBS album stood for, he replied, “…Uh…the system”. I asked why he put that on the lyric sheet and he said, “Because there’s this creature, who wears glasses and he’s got a bald head…and he beats people up all the time….and he signed it for me”. Later, the (slightly different) American version of the album was released on Howie Klein's 415 Records. It was called ‘The Evil One’.
One afternoon when colleague, Bob Bortnick and I were at SXSW, Austin writer/journalist and good pal, Rob Patterson took us to Roky’s house in Del Valle near Austin, TX. It consisted of a few rooms, filled to the ceiling with 'stuff'. Stuff, I was told, that he ordered from catalogs, mainly because he enjoyed receiving mail. All the rooms in the house had multiple radios, tvs or tape machines,
some just making a hissing, static-y 'white' noise but all tuned in to different, and loud, sound sources and this was (apparently) what made him feel most ‘at home’. He posed for a couple of 3-D photographs, gave us visitors a gift (a retractable ball-point pen that had Roger R Kynard Erickson Myself S.B. inscribed along its shaft) and then said that he “had to go to sleep now”, signaling it was time for us to leave. He didn’t recognize me, but he sort of remembered ‘the guy from CBS’. These days, he’s in much better shape and enjoying something of a resurgence. Recently, he taped an Austin City Limits PBS tv show and there's a ton of recent stuff online.

Here’s a couple of verses and a chorus from 'Two Headed Dog' -

Peace brought back brought back
relaxed be nyet brought back

did you dry her out,
wind her out like jerky

to me she’s healed don’t tack

Winds quiet in the night

her body just blows messiah
sickening sweet sight left or right

is all right does not please my appetite

Two headed dog two headed dog

I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two headed dog.

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