I first became aware of the 13th Floor Elevators via ZZ Top, but it wasn’t until Dave Grohl’s excellent Sonic Highways (full review coming soon) that I was enlightened to the genius of Roky Erickson. I’m not a huge fan of the psychedelic rock of which Roky was one of the founding fathers. I do however love the pure guitar-based rock that he later played with the Aliens. Having heard “Two Headed Dog” in Sonic Highways, I took the plunge and bought a deluxe reissue of The Evil One.
Roky’s story is a long and tragic one marked by mental illness, LSD, bad recording contracts, injustice and years of neglect. The huge (48 page) CD booklet has liner notes with the story, and I won’t re-tell the tale for this one album review. Thankfully there is the documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me if you’re intrigued. The good news is that Roky has since gotten the help he needs and has financial and medical support today, and a whole new generation of fans (like me) discovering his genius. “The talent behind Roky’s voice,” said ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, “is the mystery factor that no one could touch.” His powerful rock and roll screams and moans are hooks in themselves. Erickson cited James Brown as a major vocal influence.
This excellent CD reissue compiles all 15 tracks that were released over the course of two overlapping albums, The Evil One and Five Symbols. The albums were produced by ex-CCR bassist Stu Cook, who captured a vibrant droney guitar sound here. Roky’s voice had lost nothing, and perhaps only gained power over the years.
The incredible thing to me is how excellent every single track is! I went into this only knowing “Two Headed Dog”. I came out knowing and loving 15 different songs, each special in their own way. The factors they have in common are Roky’s incredible voice, bizarre lyrics of paranoia and monsters and demons and aliens, and that unique and beautiful guitar. It’s not psychedelic rock, it’s just rock and roll. A song like “I Walked With a Zombie” emulates a slow dance from a late 1950’s highschool prom. Meanwhile “Night of the Vampire” sounds more like Alice Cooper.
I cannot say enough good things about this CD. I am beyond happy with this purchase. I do truly love every song, already, but it’s not too hard to pick out my favourites. “Mine Mine Mind” is irresistible no matter who you are. “Sputnik”, “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators”, “I Think of Demons”, “Bloody Hammer”, “Creature With the Atom Brain”, “Two Headed Dog” and “If You Have Ghosts” round out the songs I don’t want to live without ever again. The vocal and guitar hooks are incessant. There are even guitar fragments that sound like classic Thin Lizzy! Most fall within the 3-4 minute range and none overstay their welcome.
I am very happy to have started my Roky Erickson collection with this reissue from Light in the Attic records. I understand that Roky’s royalty woes have since been fixed and he does get paid from releases such as this. Buy with clear conscience.