13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson, a psychedelic rock icon whose career was cut short due to debilitating mental illness and years spent in a Texas mental hospital, has died of unknown causes at age 71.
“Roky Erickson, an heroic icon of modern rock & roll and one of the best friends the music ever had, died in Austin, Texas today,” Erickson’s rep confirmed to Rolling Stone.
“Born there on July 15, 1947, Erickson had a visionary zeal rarely seen in 1965 when he co-founded the 13th Floor Elevators. The band’s original songs, many written with lyricist Tommy Hall, coupled with Erickson’s super-charged vocals and guitar sparked the psychedelic music revolution in the mid-1960s, and led to a new role of what rock could be. Erickson never wavered from that path, and while he faced incredible challenges at different points in his life, his courage always led him on to new musical adventures.”
ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons said of his friend and inspiration, “Roky came to mean many things to many admirers and will continue to resonate with a legacy of remarkable style, talent, and poetic and artistic tales from beyond. It’s almost unfathomable to contemplate a world without Roky Erickson. He created his own musical galaxy and early on was an true inspiration. Even now, Roky is a source of creative energy of the first order. It’s really a circumstance where he continues to provide the requisite ‘Reverberation.’ Something he predicted when he sang ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ … We certainly do know now that he’s at one with the universe.”
“The world lost a huge light and an incredible soul,” his other brother Sumner Erickson told Austin360. “It wasn’t the easiest life, but he’s free of all that now.”
Fueled by Erickson’s howling voice, the 13th Floor Elevators played a pivotal role in the creation of psychedelic rock with their 1966 debut LP The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Although the band’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me” became a modest Billboard hit, the group didn’t generate much attention outside of their native Texas and they broke up in 1969 without a single hit song, not long after Erickson began exhibiting symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. He was arrested in 1969 for possession of a single joint and was sent to a mental hospital where he was essentially tortured by electroconvulsive therapy and Thorazine treatments. He wasn’t set free until 1972.
He continued to make music in the Seventies on a limited scale, but success remained elusive and he continued to battle mental illness and the impact of his long incarceration. The following decade, Erickson released a pair of well-regarded albums backed by his new band the Aliens – 1980’s Roxy Erickson and the Aliens, produced by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Stu Cook, and 1981’s horror movies-inspired The Evil One – which he later followed with a string of solo albums.
In the 1990s, however, a newfound cult following began growing around his work – a 1990 tribute album to Erickson attracted artists like R.E.M. and ZZ Top, Primal Scream covered 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House” on their classic Screamadelica, and “You’re Gonna Miss Me” soundtracked the opening moments of 1999’s High Fidelity – and he started playing concerts around America in the 2000s for the first time in his career once he began receiving treatment for schizophrenia.
The 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me by filmmaker Keven McAlester chronicled his tragic life story. In 2010, Erickson released his final album True Love Cast Out All Evil, where he was backed by indie rock group Okkervil River. “Roky Erickson was the most beautifully unique person I’ve ever known and perhaps the most brilliant,” Okkervil River’s Will Sheff wrote on Instagram Friday. “He changed my understanding of how both music and the world work and he rekindled my faith in both. The time I got to spend with him is one of the greatest gifts I got out of music. There’ll never be another like him and we’ll all miss him forever.”