Psychedelic rock legend Roky Erickson died today in Austin. Variety reports that Erickson’s brother Mikel confirmed his death to Bill Bentley, producer of the 1990 Erickson tribute album Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye. No cause of death has been revealed. Erickson was 71.
Born Roger Kynard Erickson in Austin, Erickson formed the Spades, his first band, shortly after he dropped out of high school in 1965. Later that same year, Erickson formed the 13th Floor Elevators. In 1966, when Erickson was 19, they released their debut album The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. The fiery, unhinged single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” became a regional hit, and it remains one of the greatest, most iconic tracks to come out of the ’60s garage-rock moment.
The 13th Floor Elevators released a few more albums, delving into way-out psychedelic sounds. But Erickson himself had serious mental health issues. In 1968, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, institutionalized, and forced to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. Shortly thereafter, Erickson was arrested with marijuana. He pleaded guilty and was hospitalized again. He remained in state custody for several years, which effectively broke up the 13th Floor Elevators.
Upon his release in 1974, Erickson formed a series of bands and released a few records, some of which were produced by the former Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook. The records were future cult classics, but they didn’t sell in their time. Erickson continued to perform around Austin, but he also continued to deal with severe mental health issues. In 1989, he was arrested for stealing mail from his neighbors, though the charges were eventually dropped.
Erickson began to find cult fame in 1990, with the release of When The Pyramid Meets The Eye, the compilation that featured artists like R.E.M., the Jesus And Mary Chain, and Primal Scream covering his songs. In 1995, Erickson released the acclaimed album All That May Do My Rhyme, and he published Openers II, a collection of his lyrics. The 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me introduced still more people to his music and his personal struggles.
Erickson eventually quit taking medication, and he became more functional, playing shows around North America and Europe, including at festivals like Coachella. He collaborated with Mogwai on their 2008 track “Devil Rides.” In 2010, he released the album True Love Cast Out All Evil, which featured Okkervil River as his backing band. And in 2015, Erickson reunited with the 13th Floor Elevators and headlined Levitation, the Austin psych-rock festival that had been named after one of their songs.
Below, listen to a few of Erickson’s songs.