Busted for marijuana possession in his home state of Texas in 1969, Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators (pictured below right) copped an insanity plea and was sent to Rusk State mental Hospital.
Shock therapy and heavy medication for what was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia followed.
Released three and a half years later – a changed man by all accounts – he began a solo career that turned out to be as bizarre as it was – at times – brilliant.
After moving from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles, Erickson soon put a new band together, Bleib Alien. The music was hard-driving and raw, but still melodic – Erickson was a fan of Elvis, Buddy Holly and Little Richard, and it always showed.
Insane lyrics reflected his obsession with sci-fi and horror – imagine a low-budget horror flick version of Blue Öyster Cult; pounding, dramatic songs sent into the ectoplasmic ionosphere by Billy Miller’s necromantic autoharp, Duane Aslaken’s searing guitar and Erickson’s bluesy spirit-howling.
When manager/producer Craig Luckin entered the picture in 1978, work began on Roky Erickson & The Aliens, Erickson’s first album for a major label. Stu Cook, late of Creedence Clearwater Revival, was enlisted to produce sessions at a studio in San Anselmo, California, called ‘The Church’. 15 songs resulted, ten of which were used.
Luckin also helped solidify the line-up, bringing in bassist Stephen Morgan and drummer John Oxendine.
Getting consistently good performances from Erickson during the recording sessions was a challenge that shaped the way Cook made the album. He eventually decided to keep every single take Erickson did and then piece together the vocals for entire songs from these many takes – literally using a line, a phrase or a single word here and there.
“Two headed dog, two headed dog,” goes the thrillingly warped track of the same name, “I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog.”
The rest of the tracks were as cryptically worded, and the titles were real winners also: I Walked With A Zombie, Stand For The Fire Demon, Creature With The Atom Brain, Don’t Shake Me Lucifer andI Think Of Demons for example. But the songs gave everyone vivid snapshots of what was going on in Erickson’s scrambled brain.
“The music Roky was playing was pretty bizarre at the time,” says drummer John Oxendine. “I took on the stage name ‘Fuzzy Furioso’ because I wasn’t sure I wanted to use my real name in connection with it”.
By the time the album was released on CBS in early 1980, Erickson was already back in Austin, fronting a new band – The Explosives – while The Aliens stayed in California.
Roky Erickson & The Aliens didn’t sell particularly well, and never enjoyed the same acclaim bestowed on The 13th Floor Elevators, and for Erickson, rough years and sporadic releases followed.
Stephen Morgan Burgess
John ‘Fuzzy Furioso’ Oxendine