Valentine’s Day 2014 I had the opportunity to see Roky Erickson play with his son’s band, The Hounds of Baskerville, at The Black Cat in Washington D.C. The experience was fascinating. Roky Erickson has been described as America’s Syd Barrett because of his struggles with mental illness and his many years of hermit-like existence.
In the 1960s he was the front man for the 13th Floor Elevators. This was followed by several years in an institute for the criminally insane to avoid jail time for possession of a joint. While institutionalized, he received electroconvulsive therapy (not for the first time in his life) and formed a band with fellow inmates. Once released, he moved away from the psychedelic style of the Elevators and toward a more hard rock sound with his band The Aliens, steeped in horror and science fiction themes. In an interview he described the genre as “horror rock”. His mental health deteriorated during the 1980s. Since then he has occasionally released new music (most recently in 2010 with the album True Love Cast Out All Evil) and been cared for by family members, including his son Jegar.
During their set last Friday, his son Jegar stood to the right of the stage performing backup vocals, supporting Roky’s voice. Roky took his cues primarily from the guitarist. Clearly, the Hound’s guitarist has an excellent rapport with Roky, and when Roky occasionally seemed to lose track of where he was in between songs, staring out with a lost puppy look, the guitarist was able to pull him right back into the moment. In between lyrics, I could see Roky’s lips moving as if he were talking to himself; I would love to know what those words were.
Clearly Roky enjoyed being up on stage playing his music. The set ranged from 13th Floor Elevators songs such as Roller Coaster, to Two Headed Dog from the Aliens days, and on to more recent pieces. Roky plays beautifully, and though his voice is weak, his son’s backup vocals helped to project the lyrics to the audience. They closed with the Elevators hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. Once they finished, Roky turned to leave the stage, and his son reached out, turned him around and reminded him to acknowledge the audience.
This was the most moving show I have ever attended. Watching Roky Erickson perform in spite of his challenges was amazing. However, I was particularly struck by the obvious care and concern that his bandmates and son have for him. A unique experience; I will never forget it.