Roky Erickson, a brilliant and troubled Texas musician whose band the 13th Floor Elevators pioneered the psych-rock genre, has died, according to a public Facebook post by his brother, Mikel. “The world lost a huge light and an incredible soul,” another brother, Sumner Erickson, told the Austin-American Statesman. “It wasn’t the easiest life, but he’s free of all that now.”
The Statesman also released an official statement from Erickson’s management, though no cause of death was given at press time. “Erickson had a visionary zeal rarely seen in 1965 when he co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators,” the statement read. “The band’s original songs, many written with lyricist Tommy Hall, coupled with Erickson’s super-charged vocals and guitar, sparked the psychedelic music revolution in the mid-1960s, and led to a new role of what rock could be. Erickson never wavered from that path, and while he faced incredible challenges at different points in his life, his courage always led him on to new musical adventures, one he continued without compromise his entire life.”
Roger Kynard Erickson was born July 15, 1947; he took up piano and age 5 and guitar at age 10; and he formed the 13th Floor Elevators when he was 18. The pioneering group released four albums between 1966 and 1969, with their debut LP, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, yielding their only chart hit, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which went to No. 55. However, Erickson’s promising career was soon derailed, and the Elevators’ original lineup would not play again until they reunited for Austin’s Levitation festival in May 2015.
In 1968, Erickson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electro-shock treatment. A year later, he was arrested in Austin for possession of a single marijuana joint and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in order or avoid a potential 10-year prison sentence. Erickson was initially dispatched to the Austin State Hospital, but after he attempted to escape several times, he was moved to Rusk State Hospital, where he underwent additional electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments. Erickson was not released from Rusk State until 1972.
Erickson continued to make music after his discharge, but was largely reclusive in the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, his career resurgence, thanks to a growing cult following and a new appreciation for his genius, began in the ‘90s, starting with Sire Records’ 1990 tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, which featured covers of his songs by R.E.M., ZZ Top, the Jesus and Mary Chain, T Bone Burnett, Butthole Surfers, Julian Cope, Primal Scream, and others. In 1995, Erickson released the comeback LP All That May Do My Rhyme on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey's label, Trance Syndicate Records, and that same year, Henry Rollins's imprint 2.13.61 published Openers II, a comprehensive collection of Erickson's lyrics. In 1999, Erickson released the compilation Never Say Goodbye, featuring six tracks recorded during his stay at Rusk State Hospital.
Erickson’s comeback continued in the 2000s, as he became the legal ward of his brother Sumner and finally began receiving proper medical care and legal counsel. In 2000, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was featured in the opening scene of the hit film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and was the first song appeared on that movie’s Generation X-targeted soundtrack. A Keven McAlester-directed documentary about Erickson’s life, You're Gonna Miss Me, came out to critical acclaim in 2005 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Erickson played Coachella and several European festivals in 2007.
Erickson also collaborated with his younger admirers. In 2008, he performed 13th Floor Elevators songs for the first time in decades with fellow Austinites the Black Angels as his backing band, and that same year he appeared on the Batcat EP by Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai. In 2010, he released his first album of new material in 14 years (and what turned out to be his final solo studio album), True Love Cast Out All Evil, backed by Austin indie heroes Okkervil River.
“Roky came to mean many things to many admirers and will continue to resonate with a legacy of remarkable style, talent, and poetic and artistic tales from beyond,” ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons wrote in a statement. “As a long-standing friend and follower of Roky’s amazing performing abilities and as a guitarist and singer, I can only relate the far-reaching impact he and his mates in the 13th Floor Elevators brought to the fore with their eerily magnetic psychedelic sounds. It’s almost unfathomable to contemplate a world without Roky Erickson. He created his own musical galaxy and early on was a true inspiration. Even now, Roky is a source of creative energy of the first order. It’s really a circumstance where he continues to provide the requisite ‘Reverberation.’ Something he predicted when he sang ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ — we certainly do know now that he’s at one with the universe.”
Erickson’s influence was immense, and as the news of his passing broke Friday, many other admirers took to social media to pay their respects.
Spent a lot of time with Roky in Austin once upon a time. Always such a huge fan of this legend who will be deeply missed. “At one time, I had it notarised that I was from another planet. By a lawyer.”— natasha lyonne (@nlyonne) June 1, 2019
-Roky Erickson https://t.co/C6h4UDmQ6n
Devastated to hear of Roky Erickson's passing. One of the reasons I began singing. A huge inspiration and giant in the history of rock. I used to call him every day in the 80's, he would actually pick up once every couple months and talk horror films with me. Such a loss. RIP pic.twitter.com/6HE4HHsZnS— mark lanegan (@marklanegan) May 31, 2019
Here’s to you Roky Erickson! pic.twitter.com/lFxjfpE5M3— Tim DeLaughter (@TimDeLaughter) June 1, 2019
Thank you #RokyErickson ! You gave us so much great music. We did not deserve you. Rest In Peace— cedric bixler zavala (@cedricbixler_) May 31, 2019
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