In the 1990s, Roky Erickson was rediscovered. Psychedelia’s forgotten man, a cult hero for decades, got a new lease on his creative life.

In the mid-1960s, his legendary 13th Floor Elevators roared out of Austin, establishing the template for rock psychedelia. Their garage punk squall was so propulsive, so “out there,” it spooked even the Grateful Dead and their San Francisco cohort. But years of struggle followed, during which Erickson’s schizophrenia was exacerbated by drug use and dubious medical “treatment,” including sessions of electro-shock therapy. After stints in institutions and years of legal trouble, Erickson ended up living behind an adult bookstore, surrounded by buzzing shortwave radios, police scanners, and TVs, subsisting on a $200-a-month Social Security check.

“For as long as he can remember — if he indeed can remember — Roky Erickson has been called many things by many people,” wrote Robert Wilonsky, visiting Roky at that small place, for an insightful story published by the Houston Press. “He’s been lauded as a Texas music legend whose name belongs up there with Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and ‘T-Bone’ Walker. He’s been called one of the fathers of psychedelic music…And, unfortunately, he has been pigeonholed as a reclusive lunatic who does daily battle with the demons swirling inside his drug-damaged head.”

Roky Erickson :: Starry Eyes

But the ’90s saw a renewed interest and the start of a creative stretch for Erickson which continues to this day. In 1994, Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers’ Trance Syndicate label released All That May Do My Rhyme, Erickson’s first studio record in nearly a decade. It followed a 1990 compilation, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, which had turned on a whole new generation of fans, featuring ZZ Top (whose roots stretched back to the fertile Texas psych scene the Elevators helped establish), Primal Scream, Doug Sahm, the Jesus and Mary Chain, T-Bone Burnett, R.E.M. and others paying tribute to Roky’s trailblazing sound. Both records have recently been reissued — by Play Loud! Productions and Sire for last month’s Record Store Day, respectively.

While neither capture the wildness or the paranoia of his work with the Elevators or Aliens, both help to illuminate Erickson’s strength as a songwriter. Where the Pyramid Meets The Eye demonstrates how his songs influenced far-flung genres, from the psych folk of Bongwater to the alt-pop of John Wesley Harding to the mystic punk of Jesus and Mary Chain; All That May do My Rhyme drills down on Erickson’s rockabilly and trad folk-rock foundation, his strained voice working over the production of Casey Monahan and Texas roots artist Speedy Sparks and accompaniment from Leary, Charlie Sexton, and others.

Featuring songs from his back catalog, remixed versions culled from previous sessions, and a few newer compositions, the record feels purely Texan, dry and jangly. Best of all is a duet on “Starry Eyes,” perhaps Erickson’s sweetest tune, with Lou Ann Barton, whose version of “Don’t Slander Me” is a highlight of the Pyramids compilation as well. “Starry eyes/what can I say to make you listen?” Erickson pleads. Decades later, via films like You’re Gonna Miss Me and 2010 LP True Love Cast Out All Evil, a fuller view of Roky has emerged — his science fiction and B-horror movie lyrics sorted in the context of his inner life — but All That May Do My Rhyme helps make clear his musical essence, while Where the Pyramid Meets the Sky helps show how others took his strange sounds new places. words/j woodbury

One Response to “Roky Erickson :: All That May Do My Rhyme/Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye”

  1. Trance Syndicate’s founder is King Coffey, not Paul Leary.

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