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Roky Erickson R.I.P.

We here at Austin City Limits were deeply saddened by the passing of the great Roky Erickson on May 31. He was 71.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Roger Kynard Erickson was the godfather of the Austin music scene. Pre-dating the cosmic country scene of the seventies, his Austin-based group the 13th Floor Elevators – the first band to whom the term “psychedelic” was applied on their 1966 debut The Psychedelic Sounds of – created an explosion heard ‘round the world with “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” an instant rock & roll classic. Originally performed by Erickson’s teenage band the Spades, the song would go on to be a staple in the repertoire of punk, garage rock, metal and psychedelic bands for decades afterward. If he had vanished from the face of the earth following the release of that single, he would still be a legend.

Fortunately for music fans, he didn’t. After three albums with the Elevators – including the psychedelic staple Easter Everywhere – and years of well-documented legal and health troubles (check out the documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me for the full story), Erickson came back strong in the late seventies with a string of singles and gigs, often backed by Austin power trio the Explosives. He enlisted ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook as producer for the overlapping albums Roky Erickson & the Aliens, The Evil One and I Think of Demons. Along with 1986’s harder rocking Don’t Slander Me, the LPs introduced a new batch of classic tracks, from “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer),” “I Think of Demons” and “If You Have Ghosts,” to “Starry Eyes,” “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” and “Creature With the Atom Brain.” His songs have been covered by Foo Fighters (who recorded “Two Headed Dog” in Studio 6A for ACL’s fortieth anniversary special), ZZ Top, R.E.M., Doug Sahm, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Ghost, the Butthole Surfers and many more. He was the subject of the 1990 tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, which became the model for the tribute LP deluge of the nineties.

Erickson remained active up to his death, releasing new albums All That May Do My Rhyme in 1995 and True Love Cast Out All Evil in 2010, collaborating with psych rockers the Black Angels and Okkervil River, and gigging regularly with a band led by his son Jegar, most recently at SXSW 2019. His visceral songwriting, slashing rhythm guitar and powerhouse vocals set a standard for psychedelic rock & roll that has been often emulated, but never matched. 

“Before there was a Willie, there was Roky,” notes ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona. “Roky Erickson put Austin on the musical map, and arguably created a music genre – or at least a name – that didn’t exist: psychedelic. To say he was a musical genius would be a gross understatement. What’s even more amazing is that despite his tragic personal history and struggles, he created music that inspired and stood the test of time. It was one of our proudest moments to capture the full glory of Roky Erickson on the ACL stage in 2008. Nothing and nobody else can compare.”

Erickson appeared in full force on Austin City Limits in 2008, backed by his old pals the Explosives, as well as members of the Summer Wardrobe and his fellow Texas psych contemporary Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top/The Moving Sidewalks. Here he is with the opening song: “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” of course. We’ve also included the Foo Fighters’ version of “Two Headed Dog.” We will miss him greatly.

Austin City Limits #3312: Roky Erickson – Youre Gonna Miss Me from Austin City Limits on Vimeo.