Saturday, May 22, 2010

Roky


I live in the same city as Roky Erickson.

I'm a huge fan of Garage rock. If I was stranded on a desert island with a jukebox that only played one style of music, it'd be a tight contest between that and Rockabilly, but even then I expect Garage rock would win out.

My favorite is certainly The Sonics. Hometown pride? Possibly to some extent, but really... C'mon!

But I've also had a long time love for The 13th Floor Elevators.



There's just such power to their performance.

But the first time I remember making note of Roky Erickson and his existence was through Dan O'Bannon and this scene from Return of the Living Dead, which I consider one of the most beautiful scenes in movie history.



The song, "Burn the Flames", comes from Don't Slander Me, which was a contemporary record at that time.

The path between The 13th Floor Elevators and that was a long one, involving an extended stay at Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. That is a well-documented period and discussed in You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson, a wonderful documentary that you should watch regardless of your specific interest in Erickson's music.

It was a while after his release that he began recording again. At first, he was led to recording a single, produced by the equally legendary Doug Sahm, whose Sir Douglas Quintet had shared the stage with The 13th Floor Elevators.



Those sessions led only to the one single. Eventually an extended series of sessions with Stu Cooke, best known as the bassist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, would lead to The Evil One, which may be Erickson's masterpiece.

The original album opens perfectly with Don't Shake Me Lucifer, which may be my favorite song on the album. It's an old fashioned straight ahead rocker.

Click your Fingers Applauding the Play is not my favorite on the album, but it does have a nice driving guitar part. If You Have Ghosts is a bit of southern-fried rock with the intriguing lyric, "In the night, I am real."

Then rolls Cold Night For the Alligators, an iconic part of Erickson's catalog and sensibly so, it's a hard rocker with a solid beat and terrific guitar part.

The next is "Stand for the Fire Demon", a groovy pastiche of more horror imagery.



Sputnik is a solid tune and can't help evoking some desire to suss out it's meaning, although I can't say I've gotten far on that. It's something about a theory about aliens creating us. At this point, it moves to I Think Up Demons, sometime mis-titled "I Think Of Demons". It's a haunting song that's hard to get out of one's mind.

Then it segues into the blissfully kooky "Creature With the Atom Brain".



Then it hauls into The Wind and More, a really rockin' song and probably the most obviously psychedelic song he's recorded since The 13th Floor Elevators, "It's time like these, Lucifer, I see are infinite for our commanded wind and more..."

The album burns to a close with Bloody Hammer, which would be my alternate choice for favorite song on the album. It's a song that sounds like a jumble of low-budget horror movie nonsense, but it's hard not to see as a metaphor for his experiences in the hospital.

An alternate album, "Roky Erickson & the Aliens" was released in the U.K., was taken from the same sessions. It leads off with a new recording of "Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)", which had been the single recorded with Sahm.

I Walked With a Zombie is another bona fide classic. Named after the Jacques Tourneur, it's all about the groove, as it merely repeats the title over and over. Night of the Vampire is the gothic as a march. It's also one of the most literal of his horror themed songs, "He comes from Transylvania. On St. Swithun's day he was born. Eyes stare through the darkness with no form. Maidens his bite harms."

The jungle drum driven Mine Mine Mind is upbeat song that one still has trouble taking out of the context of his hospitalization. White Faces is another solid rock song.



For what it's worth, I Have Always Been Here Before, which would be used as the title of the excellent Erickson collection I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology, seems to have come out of these sessions as well.


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