Roky Erickson: Unsung rock legend delivers his first new album in fourteen years

Roky Erickson is, unfortunately, a name that many people do not know. Even if you pride yourself on the depth and breadth of your audiophilia and wiki-like knowledge of music history, you may not recognize one of the founding fathers of psychedelia. The time (which is way overdue) has come to add Erickson to your iTunes library as he celebrates a hard-won return to music with a brand new album titled, True Love Cast Out All Evil, which was recently released (April 20, 2010) on Anti- Records.

An Austin, TX native, Erickson started his musical career early on, co-founding the 13th Floor Elevators with Tommy Hall in 1965 at the age of eighteen. In 1966, Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me” from the 13th Floor Elevators’ debut album became the band’s only charting single. At the forefront of a new musical movement, the 13th Floor Elevators helped to shape and define psychedelic rock, pushing boundaries with their innovative blend of new rock techniques, combined with blues and R&B. Though the band only lasted four years, 13th Floor Elevators and Erickson’s work with them left a legacy that has influenced each subsequent generation of rock, impacting a wide range of artist from Janis Joplin, Led Zepplin and ZZ Top, to The Jesus and Mary Chain and The White Stripes.

Erickson’s years of turmoil and struggle began in 1968 when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; his subsequent treatment included hospitalization and electroshock therapy. At a time when drug use was a newly-introduced issue on the social and political horizons, 13th Floor Elevators openly supported the use of illegal substances, consequently attracting sharp legal scrutiny. Erickson then found himself arrested in 1969 for possession of a single marijuana joint; facing a ten year sentence he plead not guilty on grounds of insanity, and was sent instead to a series of hospitals for further treatment. This lasted until 1972.

His post-hospitalization years were marked by a continued battle with mental illness and further run-ins with the law. It was not until 2001, when his younger brother Sumner gained legal custody, that Erickson received both the medical and legal aide he needed to begin recovery. Sumner’s intervention marked a true turning point, and Erickson made swift strides back into both a functional life and the musical spotlight. Beginning with a 2005 appearance on Austin City Limits, Erickson has done a steady string of live performances throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as a few collaborative recordings.

His new release, True Love Cast Out All Evil, features a title that appropriately speaks to his story of survival. The album finds Erickson revisiting earlier songs written just after his stay in a Texas psychiatric ward. Produced and backed by fellow Austinite Eric Sheff and his band Okkervil River, the vocals and instrumentation borrow more from Americana than psychedelia but this approach offers a uniquely clear view of Roky Erickson as a singer, songwriter and struggler. Themes of incarceration, judgment, alienation and desperation blend with a purity of hope and faith to deliver a beautifully crafted album that does genuine justice to Erickson’s strength and talent. While the tour only offers three dates, this opportunity to see a legend and celebrate his return should not missed!

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River:

May 18 – Mayan Theatre – Los Angeles., CA
May 20 – The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
May 25 – Webster Hall – New York, NY

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– Britt Sondreal


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