Hospital For The Criminally Insane

Back in the 90s it seemed all of Texas was tripping on acid at Roky Erickson’s big Psychedelic Ice Cream Socials where a cast of dealers straight out of the Freak Brothers plied their trade in and around Threadgill’s, an old meat and three joint in south Austin.

It was all butter pecan ice cream cones laced with yellow witchcraft blotter back then.

Even those 20 years ago it had already been a long rough road for Roky.

Erickson first performed his signature “You’re Going To Miss Me” with the Spades, his teenage garage rock outfit that held a residency at Austin’s Jade Room during LBJ’s administration. But it wasn’t til electric jug player, and self-made mystic Tommy Hall matched Roky with Port Aransas outfit the Lingsmen that Erickson came into his own.

That pairing was short-lived, and by December 1965 the Lingsmen were history with former members Erickson, Stacy Sutherland, Benny Thurman, and John Ike Walton teaming up with Hall to form the 13th Floor Elevators. The Elevators played their first gig at the Jade Room on December 8th 1965.

They re-recorded The Spades’ “Miss Me” in Houston for Gordon Bynum’s Contact label in January of the next year, and the song would soon chart at #55 on Billboard’s hit list but not before law enforcement crashed the party.

On January 27th 1966, the Vice Squad raided electric jug player Tommy Hall’s Austin residence. Two pounds of grass were found and Roky, guitar player Stacy Sutherland and Hall were all led to the local hoosegow. Austin media ran wild with the story and the image of the 13th Floor Elevators as long-haired-hippy-drug-freaks was etched in stone.

Subsequently Roky’s apartment was searched and more weed was found. Erickson was in big trouble.

Roky Erickson Is Performing At The 2017 Ponderosa Stomp

Out on bail.

For the next few months Roky and his cohorts toured all over Lone Star playing dance clubs like the Pusikat, and the Teen Canteen before appearing before a Judge Woods in Austin court on August 8th 1966.

The Elevators got lucky. Really lucky. Roky’s case was summarily dismissed as the address on the search warrant was incorrect. Hall and Sutherland received two years probation. Taking the temperature in Texas, the band applied to have their probation moved to San Francisco and in a minor miracle the judge agreed.

The young truth-seekers took to the open road, and motored to California to play the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.

The Elevators were loved and playing to good crowds but the Texas boys needed to return home to record a long player to see if they could take their sudden-career to the next level.

Hence came “The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” recorded in one furious eight hour blast and released in November 1966. The band spent much of the next year traveling across Texas playing small clubs before returning to the studio to commit second album “Easter Everywhere” to tape.

Two years hence disaster would strike.

If you wanted to be a hippy in Texas in the 60s you were taking your life in your hands. Erickson was busted for grass in 1969, plead guilty by reason of insanity and served three and a half years in the Hospital For The Criminally Insane in Rusk.

Over the next 30 years Roky would form multiple bands; marry twice; father three children and be institutionalized (again). He’s had a minimum of six lives. On June 13, 2001 Erickson’s current renaissance began when his brother Sumner was appointed his guardian.

Over the 15 years since, Roky’s seen the world, performed in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans, been the subject of a documentary, and in a critical turn of events for New Orleanians, been booked at the 2017 Ponderosa Stomp.

I was in a worn-down building down a dirt road outside Tuscaloosa Alabama when I first heard 13th Floor Elevators.

It was the late 80s.

A friend had led me out into the county where he promised a record store that had to be seen to be believed. He was right. Inside the cinderblock building sat hundreds of crates filled with old vinyl albums. A man who looked like a farmer, complete with overalls and a sunburned face sat behind the counter reading a book.

We spent a couple hours crate-digging before I ran upon a musty, worn copy of Easter Everywhere. I asked the old-timer (who was probably in his 40s) if he’d put it on for me. Slip Inside This House boiled up out of the speakers. I started shaking and reached for my wallet.

Since that day I’ve seen Roky play plenty times in Austin. But something tells me the fire demons will be be particularly strong at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans this weekend.

I’ve gone through three changes– I thought I was a Christian… then I was the devil… then the third one, where I know who I am… you know… I feel like I’m an alien.”

–Roky Erickson


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