erasing clouds

Roky Erickson, I Have Always Been Here Before

by tonydoug wright

Roky Erickson, I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology (Shout Factory, 2005)

THE BAND:Roky Erickson featuring the 13th Floor Elevators, The Aliens, Bleib Alien, Clementine Hall and Evil Hook Wildlife E.T.

THE HISTORY:The musical career of Roger Kynard ‘Roky’ Erickson has lasted over forty years despite addictions and mental illness. A rock n roll original from Austin, TX, Erickson gained notoriety in the mid to late 1960s with the 13th Floor Elevators, a Texas based psychedelic rock band, which sadly fizzled out before making it big. Following the breakup of the 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson’s career took a turn for the worse when he was sent to the Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Rusk, TX for pleading insanity for possession of narcotics. Following his release, Erickson’s career became a roller coaster ride where moments of recovery quickly turned into setbacks that lasted years. Fortunately, Erickson eventually found peace and stability, which is fitting for this survivor and influence for artists such as ZZ Top, Janis Joplin and The White Stripes.

THE REVIEW:Over the past fifty years rock n roll has produced its fair share of artists who have earned a cult status among fans due to their highly underrated releases that were ignored for the most part when they were originally released. Alex Chilton, Jonathan Richman, Julian Cope and Arthur Lee are among those figures that are still adored and praised today for their originality and talent. But few have maintained the enigma status of one Roky Erickson a rock n roll wild man who’s prolific and troubled career is summed up in a two disc CD titled I Have Always Been Here Before.

The first disc showcases Roky’s career with the psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators along with his early solo efforts. Those not familiar with the 13th Floor Elevators will be treated to some great pre-punk tunes such as ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’, ‘Reverberation’, and ‘Slip Inside This House’ that are laced with the blues and a primitive angst that is comparable to The Stooges and the MC5. Also, the first disc features Roky’s solo works with The Aliens and Bleib Alien. ‘Starry Eyes’ and ‘I Have Always Been Here Before’ are two examples of Erickson’s fantastic folk-based solo material that has earned him comparisons to fellow Texan Buddy Holly. But there are some killer electric tracks filled with raw energy such as ‘Don’t Shake Me Lucifer’ and ‘Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)’ that stand-up well against the best efforts of rocks upper echelon of artists.

Disc two continues the Erickson saga featuring his work with The Aliens and as a solo artist. Titles such as ‘Creature With The Atom Brain’ and ‘Bloody Hammer’ display Erickson’s B-movie-horror-influenced rock n roll where the listener experiences a dark journey into the world of zombies and demons. It is not just blood and guts rock music because there are some acoustic tracks that show the sensitive side of Erickson. ‘Anthem (I Promise)’ a fantastic lo-fi acoustic ballad that sounds like a selection from his Never Say Goodbye album and is a fine example of Erickson’s unique and original songwriting: “The square root of zero is something smaller than zero/ Which keeps getting smaller / Keeps it out of sight and soul”.

I Have Always Been Here Before is more than an anthology; it is an autobiography of someone who has lived a tumultuous life only to come out a survivor in the end. Roky Erickson’s music comes from the soul and at times it comes from the places where we hide our personal pain and dark secrets. Nonetheless, his music is at times original, energetic and downright superb plus it comes from an artist who makes music because they love music.


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