Like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Mr. Erickson was known as much for his turbulent personal life as his inventive, sometimes otherworldly music — a stormy brand of Texas garage rock that fused bouncy, Buddy Holly-like melodies with elements of pop, folk and R&B, notably in the 1966 song “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”
Written when Mr. Erickson was 15, the track became the 13th Floor Elevators’ first single and biggest hit, reaching No. 55 on the Billboard pop charts and serving as the soundtrack for the opening moments of “High Fidelity” (2000), starring John Cusack. A decade later, Mr. Erickson was heralded as a rock savior when he released the single “Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)” with his band Bleib Alien.
“Major labels, take note: sign this guy or I will become disillusioned with popular music,” wrote Rolling Stone contributor Charles M. Young. Years later, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck told The Washington Post that Mr. Erickson wrote and recorded songs that “hold up better than any other music from that period,” adding: “They are concise and terrifying in their power.”
A nimble guitarist, prolific songwriter and versatile tenor capable of wild yawps and quiet balladry, Mr. Erickson never found mainstream success. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his early 20s, he was sent to a state psychiatric hospital and released music only sporadically upon his release.
But he was credited with paving the way for punk, psychedelic and alternative rock, and influenced artists as wide-ranging as ZZ Top, John Wesley Harding, Doug Sahm, Television, Butthole Surfers, T Bone Burnett and the Jesus and Mary Chain — all of whom contributed to a 1990 tribute album, “Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.”
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Mr. Erickson was still a teenager when, in 1965, he joined the 13th Floor Elevators, which took its name from the “missing” floor in most skyscrapers. “There’s not a 13th floor in a building, so we said, ‘We’re playing on it,’ ” Mr. Erickson once explained. “If you want to get to the 13th floor, ride our elevator.”
The Austin band also featured guitarist Stacy Sutherland and lyricist Tommy Hall, who played the “electric jug” and served as the group’s spiritual center, reportedly urging his bandmates to take LSD, peyote, marijuana, speed and other drugs before performances.
“Recently, it has been possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view . . . so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely,” read the liner notes for the band’s first record, “The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators” (1966). “It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs on this album.”
The record and its follow-up, “Easter Everywhere” (1967), generated critical buzz and landed the 13th Floor Elevators on “American Bandstand,” just as bands like the Grateful Dead were turning San Francisco into an epicenter of psychedelic music.
But by the time Mr. Erickson began work on the group’s next studio album, released in 1969 as “Bull of the Woods,” he was increasingly paranoid, wearing a bandage on his forehead to cover what he described as his third eye. “He was a vegetable,” bassist Ronnie Leatherman, who played on the record, told Texas Monthly in 2001.
Mr. Erickson was arrested in 1969 for marijuana possession and escaped from a state hospital before being recaptured by police. He pleaded insanity, later saying he faked lunacy to get off on the drug charge, and was sent to Rusk State Hospital in East Texas, where he underwent shock treatments and was sedated with antipsychotic drugs.
“I was in there with people who’d chopped up people with a butcher knife, and they treated me worse because I had long hair,” he told drummer Freddie Steady Krc, according to Texas Monthly.
Mr. Erickson was released from the hospital in 1972, after a jury ruled that his sanity had been “restored,” and went on to release hard rock albums including “Roky Erickson and the Aliens” (1980). Living alone, accepting few visitors aside from his mother, he relied on Social Security disability checks as his teeth rotted and his hair grew long. He declared that he was an alien “from a planet other than Earth” and cranked the volume on radios, televisions and home stereo systems to overpower the voices in his head.
In 2001, his brother Sumner Erickson was named Mr. Erickson’s guardian, marking the beginning, by all accounts, of a turnaround that culminated with the release of “True Love Cast Out All Evil” (2010), an album of new material that Mr. Erickson recorded with the indie rock band Okkervil River.
“Every little part of this is profound,” Sumner told the Austin American-Statesman, soon after his brother began living with him in Pittsburgh. “You’ve got a man who was a recluse and didn’t want to be touched. Now he’s going out and socializing and going to parties where it’s advertised he’s going to be there.”
The oldest of five sons, Roger Kynard Erickson was born in Dallas on July 15, 1947, and raised in Austin. His father was an architect and civil engineer who designed and built the family home. His mother was a soprano vocalist who trained as an opera singer.
From a young age, Mr. Erickson was known as Roky — pronounced “Rocky,” and formed by combining the first letters of his given and middle names. He took piano lessons starting at age 4, and was taught guitar by his mother, developing a love of music while listening to records by James Brown, Buddy Holly and the casts of “South Pacific” and “West Side Story.”
Mr. Erickson left high school three weeks before graduation — according to his mother, he was kicked out because his hair was too long — and cut his first 45 with a group called the Spades, recording an early version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” before being recruited to the 13th Floor Elevators. The band split up after his marijuana arrest.
His marriages to Dana Gaines and Holly Patton ended in divorce. In recent years, Mr. Erickson renewed a relationship with Gaines, now Dana Morris. She survives him, as does their son, Jegar Erickson; a daughter, Cydne Shull, from his second marriage; another daughter, Spring, from a relationship with Renee Bayer; his mother; three brothers; and several grandchildren.
In 2005, Mr. Erickson released a two-disc compilation album, “I Have Always Been Here Before,” and was the subject of a documentary, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” directed by Keven McAlester. He occasionally performed at Austin music festivals — including Levitation, named for a song by the 13th Floor Elevators — but gave few interviews and rarely spoke about his music.
When asked where his melodies came from, according to the Texas Monthly profile, Mr. Erickson was elusive. “The very best ones are sent from heaven by Buddy Holly,” he said. “The rest take the better part of an afternoon to rip off.”
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