Today, rock & roll lost one of its most idiosyncratic performers and songwriters. Psychedelic amd garage-rock pioneer Roky Erickson has died at 71 years of age, Pitchfork reports.
According to a statement given to the website by representatives of the musician, “Roky Erickson, an heroic icon of modern rock & roll and one of the best friends the music ever had, died in Austin, Texas today.” So far, no cause of death has been given.
Erickson is most well known as the lead singer and a founding member of the Texas psych-rock band 13th Floor Elevators. Along with bandmate Tommy Hall, the group released some of the most influential music of the ’60s, including the iconic track (and the band’s only hit single) “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which was written by Erickson. The band quite literally defined the term psychedelic rock, with the story being that the group first used the term in 1966 on one of their business cards.
The band combined the simplicity and power of early garage rock with accessible melodic hooks and of course, a healthy slathering of reverb and fuzz that when taken with at-time otherworldly lyrical themes, became a touchstone for the genre. Like many of their garage rock peers, the 13th Floor Elevators never achieved major mainstream success, and when they did, it was fleeting.
Erickson eventually became less involved with the band due to his struggles with mental illness and legal issues – largely stemming from him being targeted for his vocal advocacy of marijuana and psychedelic drugs. He was once arrested in Texas for marijuana possession when he was caught with a single joint. In the late ’60s he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and subject to electroconvulsive therapy, a popular but now largely debunked psuedo-treatment for mental illness in the mid-20th century.
For the next few decades he would release music with his band Roky and The Aliens and as a solo artist with backing from bands like The Nervebreakers and the Explosives. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s he struggled with his mental health. For a period of time Erickson believed his body was inhabited by a martian and becoming obsessed with the mail, being charged with mail theft in the ’80s.
In the ’90s with interest in psychedelia renewed, Erickson emerged and began to release music again with the help of those that were inspired by his earlier career. His brother Sumner was given legal custody over the musician and a trust was established, he received the legal aid he needed to sort out his complicated royalties situation (which was essentially paying him nothing at this point in his life) and he began to medicate for his mental illness.
In 2010 he released his first new album of new material titled True Love Cast Out All Evil. In 2015 at Levitation festival, he reunited with several original members of the 13th Floor Elevators, including Tommy Hall, John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat