By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — As one of the visionary founders of psychedelic garage-rockers the 13th Floor Elevators, Texas punk pioneer Roky Erickson cemented his place in modern music history with the band’s wailing 1966 hit single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” on their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.
Erickson, lyricist and “electric jug” player Tommy Hall and the group first came together in late 1965 in Austin, TX and are widely credited with being the first bands to use the term “psychedelic rock.” After touring the state extensively and appearing on live teen dance television shows in Houston and Dallas, the Elevators got further exposure when International Artists picked up “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and re-released it, scoring a regional hit in Miami, Detroit and San Francisco. The band followed up that success with Easter Everywhere, an effort that stands as the Elevators’ pinnacle and is still hailed as one of the classics of the era on the strength of such indelible songs as “I’ve Got Levitation” and “Slip Inside This House.”
Unfortunately, the Elevators began to disintegrate not long after that influential release. Hall became more erratic as his LSD advocacy (and intake) grew while Erickson would face a string of legal challenges and issues with his mental state. Copping an insanity plea to get out of a ten-year pot possession sentence in 1969, the already-fragile Erickson was institutionalized, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and subjected to several years of treatment with electroshock therapy and Thorazine.
Though he would eventually emerge and sporadically produce inspired recordings after his 1974 release, mental instability, poor health, and deceitful managers hampered his career despite the talent evident in solo tracks like “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” and “Bloody Hammer.” The singer would eventually retreat from live performance, even as his influence continued to be felt among avowed disciples including R.E.M., the Jesus and Mary Chain, ZZ Top and Primal Scream. It wasn’t until Erickson came under the stewardship of his younger brother in 2001 that his mental and career health had an upswing as the songwriter got help sorting out contractual problems that had reduced his royalties to almost nothing and began a regular prescription to treat his schizophrenia.
Erickson was the subject of an acclaimed 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me, the same year he returned to the stage to play his first full-length concert in two decades. In the decade plus since that remarkable comeback, Erickson has collaborated live with a variety of collaborators including Austin indie rock band Okkervil River and psych-rock disciples the Black Angels, appearing at festivals and touring regularly. He and the 13th Floor Elevators even managed a 50th anniversary reunion at the 2015 edition of Austin’s Levitation Festival (which takes its name from the Easter Everywhere tune).
In 2017, Erickson played a two-night Halloween residency at the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District. Supported by his backing band the Hounds of the Baskerville, he delivered a set packed with 13th Elevator hits the first night, followed by a Halloween performance drawing from the singer’s 1981 solo album with the Aliens entitled The Evil One. Last year, the singer returned to San Francisco to headline the Rooster Stage on the closing day of the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.
This time around, the 72-year-old legend comes back to the Chapel for another two-night residency. On Friday, Erickson performs an array of songs from throughout his 50-year career, touching on his tenure with the 13th Floor Elevators and his later solo material. On Saturday, he will perform the seasonally appropriate Elevators’ album Easter Everywhere along with additional hits. He and his band will be joined by the Entrance Band, songwriter/guitarist Guy Blakeslee’s psychedelic power trio with longtime bassist Paz Lenchantin (The Pixies, A Perfect Circle) and Mad Alchemy Light Show, which will provide appropriate visual stimulation both nights.
Roky Erickson Two-Night Residency
Friday-Saturday, April 19-20, 8 p.m. $33-$38