Roger “Roky” Kynard Erickson passed away on May 31st leaving behind an incredible legacy of music and myth. He is survived by his son Jegar, his brothers Sumner and Mikel – who confirmed Roky’s passing via Facebook – and wife Dana. He also leaves a daughter, Cydne Shull, from his second marriage; another daughter, Spring, from a relationship with Renee Bayer; and his mother, Evelyn. Roky was 71 years old.
His first band, The Spades, were formed shortly after he dropped out of high school. They would record a single in 1965, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ backed with another classic, ‘We Sell Soul‘. It became a minor regional hit for them in their hometown area of Austin, Texas. After the band dissolved, he found another batch of kindred folk and started The 13th Floor Elevators. This band would go on to re-record the aforementioned tracks by The Spades to greater fame (and actually reworking ‘We Sell Soul‘ as the song, ‘Don’t Fall Down’) on their debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. He was chief songwriter for the band along with Tommy Hall as lyricist and electric jug player, the pair authored the book of psychedelic music that others would merely color in. In 1968, Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, institutionalized, and forced to undergo electro-convulsive therapy. Shortly thereafter, Erickson was arrested for marijuana possession. He convinced the authorities this time that he was insane and was sent to Austin State Hospital pending a hearing. He left the facility with wife, Dana, one day to re-appear at a well publicized concert three months later. He was taken back into custody and sent to the Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rusk, Texas. He was kept for three years and came out a very different man. By this time the Elevators had disbanded.
He would rise again through the 70’s and 80’s with various bands. His fascination for horror movies was evident in songs like, ‘I Walked with a Zombie‘, ‘Night of the Vampire‘, ‘Creature with the Atom Brain‘ and ‘White Faces‘. The music had a much harder edge to it. He still struggled through the 80’s with his mental illness, being off and on different medications and in and out of different institutions. It wasn’t until the 90’s when his profile hit a new high with a tribute album exposing his music to a new generation and then the unlikely team-up with the Butthole Surfers who helped him release the 1995 album, All That May Do My Rhyme. In 2001, his brother Sumner became his legal guardian and began helping him get better treatment. His improved state allowed him to begin performing live again and in 2010 he recorded an album of songs with the band Okkervil River called, True Love Cast Out All Evil. Over the last few years he was backed by his son Jegar’s band, The Hounds of Baskerville and touring frequently. They toured extensively with California band Death Valley Girls in 2017. His last public performance was April 20th at The Chapel in San Francisco, California where he performed the Elevators second album Easter Everywhere (the day before Easter) in full with a handful of other classics.
He may not be a household name but the sounds that would emanate from people’s speakers caused by the three albums the Elevators channeled would echo through the ages and influence some of the most critically acclaimed rock and roll bands. Everyone from ZZ Top, Spacemen 3, Julian Cope and Primal Scream all have felt the impact and carried it to the masses. In a touching post on Facebook, Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden posted, “Thank you for having the best voice and lyrics in the world! Your concerts were some of the best rock and roll shows I’ve ever been to.” Bandmate Larry Schemel also posted, “Thank you Roky, safe travels into the next dimension. Roky was a magical soul, a rock n’ roll original. It was a surreal & amazing experience to play in his band, tour & spend time with him and his family.”
Roky defined the psychedelic music he produced by stating, “It’s where the pyramid meets the eye, man”. That is where he is now. He’s above the 13th floor to where the pyramid meets the eye. Rest well Roky. You deserve that. Thank you for leaving us all with a trove of sound and words to touch our inner being.
Photo credit: Simon Godley.