Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 04th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Roky’s Road

event rokyTo hell and back with Roky Erickson

In the spring of 1969, hot on the heels of a bust that would earn Timothy Leary a 20-year prison sentence for the possession of two marijuana roaches, Texas authorities brought the hammer down on another prominent psychedelic drug advocate: 22-year-old Roky Erickson, vocalist for the first group ever to bill itself as a psychedelic rock band. For the possession of a single joint, the 13th Floor Elevators frontman faced a potential 10 years of incarceration. After pleading insanity to escape this sentence, Erickson was sent to Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he lived among people who had committed some of the most mind-boggling atrocities imaginable.

Despite the lasting effects of the involuntary electroconvulsive therapy he received during his three and a half years at Rusk, Erickson doesn’t appear bitter about his hospitalization. “I seem like I’m doing pretty good after that. I didn’t take it too bad,” the singer offers, his calm drawl far removed from the untamed howl that made Elevators tunes like “You’re Gonna Miss Me” soar. “I’ve just been takin’ it easy and everything. I got me a new wristwatch yesterday. Casio.” He adds that he and his wife Dana have a nice house in Austin. “It has stairs!” he laughs, presumably contrasting this with the Section 8 housing he occupied up until a couple of years ago.

Several songs on Erickson’s most recent release, 2010’s True Love Cast Out All Evil—a joint effort with the Austin-based indie rock band Okkervil River—were written during the singer’s days at Rusk. One such song, the touchingly straightforward “Please, Judge” (“Please, Judge, don't send that boy away/In society I wish you'd let him stay”), juxtaposes Erickson’s plaintive vocals with various found sounds, some of them recorded at Rusk itself. This sound collage recalls the period in the 1990s when the musician would blast radios and TV sets at maximum volume in an attempt to drown out the voices in his head.

On True Love’s second track, “Ain’t Blues Too Sad,” Erickson poetically describes the ravages of electroconvulsive therapy: “Electricity hammered me through my head/Till nothing at all was backwards instead.” This evocative line recalls “Bloody Hammer,” one of the most memorable cuts from the singer’s 1981 release, The Evil One. That song took its inspiration from a story Erickson once read about a man suspected of murdering his wife. “He was found upstairs, pounding the attic floor with a bloody hammer,” he explains.

In light of the above-mentioned line from “Ain’t Blues Too Sad,” it’s tempting to interpret the attic in “Bloody Hammer” as a symbol for Erickson’s head, with the hammer representing electricity. “Yeah! That could be it, too,” the musician acknowledges. Though he doesn’t say if this was his original intent, his tone suggests that this idea has crossed his mind before. 

Erickson created “Bloody Hammer” during his comeback period in the ’80s, which saw the father of psychedelic rock pioneering another genre: horror rock. Cryptic, ominous and blistering, Erickson’s work from this era proved that The Man hadn’t pounded away his ability to create powerful music. Whereas much latter-day horror rock is little more than B-movie schlock set to music, the creepy critters that populated Erickson’s work from this era—aliens, demons, two-headed dogs and even old Lucifer himself—came off as doppelgängers of real-life monsters and demons, particularly those he had encountered at Rusk. Though the songwriter admits that this is the case, he keeps things light when discussing the inspiration for such ditties. “I liked those Hammer films, you know, the vampire films?” he offers. “They were very scary, in bloodletting color and everything like that, you know?”

While early solo albums like The Evil One gave the distinct impression that the diabolical forces were winning the battle for Erickson’s consciousness, True Love Cast Out All Evil comes off as a happy ending to this horrific tale. With his demons behind him, he plays selections from that album, as well as various musical tales from the crypt and songs from his psychedelic days, at Don Quixote’s this Wednesday. 

oky Erickson plays at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $30/adv, $33/door. For more information, call 603-2294.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Making a Scene

As it celebrates its 30th year, Santa Cruz County’s Open Studios is one of the most successful in the country—and a make-or-break event for many local artists


A Ritual & Initiation

The Pope has come and gone, but his loving presence ignited new hope and goodness in many. While he was in NYC, China’s ruler arrived in Washington D.C. East (China) and West (Rome), meeting in the middle, under Libra, balancing sign of Right Relations. The Pope arrived at Fall Equinox. Things initiated at Fall Equinox are birthed at Winter Solstice. The Pope’s presence was a ritual, an initiation rite—like the Dalai Lama’s visits—offering prayers, teachings and blessings. Rituals anchor God’s plan into the world, initiating us to new realities, new rules. The Pope’s presence brings forth the Soul of the United States, its light piercing the veils of materialism. The Pope’s visit changed things. New questions arise, new reasons for living. A new wave of emerging life fills the air. Like a cocoon shifting, wings becoming visible. The winds are different now. Calling us to higher vision, moral values, virtues that reaffirm and offer hope for humanity. A changing of the guard has occurred. Appropriately, this is the week of the Jewish Festival of Sukkoth (’til Oct. 4), when we build temporary homes (little huts in nature), entering into a harvest of prayer and thanksgiving, understanding our fragile and impermanent existences. We are summoned to reflect upon our lives, our humanity, our nature, our spirit and each other. Offering gratitude, becoming a magnet for others. We observe. We see the needs. We love more.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Film, Times & Events: Week of October 2

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Extra Pop

Assembly’s pop-up space goes into regular rotation, Cabrillo wine dinner, and a visit to Mozaic


What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people say they’re “going down” somewhere, and they’re actually traveling north. Julia Ragen, Santa Cruz, Psychologist


Downhill Cellars

An easy-drinking Chardonnay from Downhill Cellars


If whales have a message for humans, what might it be?

“Do not come in the water and join us.” Howard Hall, Santa Cruz, Retired