The story of the former singer of Texas’ 13th Floor Elevators was well known to rock fans, who’d given him up for lost prior to his miraculous comeback of the past few years. In fact, his already nebulous mental state was going from bad to worse, as illustrated in the documentary “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”
But what the film doesn’t show is that, in spite of his illness, there were periods of surprising productivity. The seriousness of his condition and the recovery that accounted for his triumphant appearances on “Austin City Limits” and at Lollapalooza last year should not be trivialized. But these live recordings from 1979 to ’81, backed by the same band who is touring with him today, illustrate, perhaps better than anything before, the downright scary intensity of a Roky Erickson show.
Roky powers through essentially the same repertoire he’s performing today, culled from sets in Austin, Houston, San Francisco, and L.A. – “Two-Headed Dog,” “Bloody Hammer,” “I Walked With A Zombie,” “Stand For The Fire Demon,” and others. The Explosives prove they’re his best-ever backup band, with drummer Freddie Krc and bassist Walter Collie thundering the bottom end as guitarist Cam King knifes over, under, around, and through Erickson’s distorted rhythm. As Krc explains in the liner notes, the spirited rendition of the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face” was as much a surprise to the band as it was to the audience – a one-off impulse Roky broke into one night.
The audio quality isn’t perfect, but it’s more than good enough to recommend this ultimate Roky Erickson experience. The CD is on Austin’s Steady Boy label, who in a short time has released a great new offering of mostly originals from Krc (The Freddie Steady 5’s Tex-Pop), as well as singer/songwriter Vince Bell’s Recado and the jangly self-titled debut of Jenny Wolfe & The Pack – each featuring Krc and King as players and producers. The teenaged Pack mixes infectious Krc originals with ’60s covers of Motown, British Invasion, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and, for good measure, a sprightly reading of Erickson’s Holly-esque “Starry Eyes.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.