Psychedelic rock legend Roky Erickson has died

The 13th Floor Elevators frontman was 71.

Psychedelic rock legend Roky Erickson has died in Austin, he was 71.

The 13th Floor Elevators frontman’s death was confirmed by his brother Mikel to producer Bill Bentley, who was responsible for producing the 1990 Erickson tribute album ‘Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye’. No cause of death has yet been revealed.

“Roky lived in so many worlds, you couldn’t keep up with him,” Bentley told Variety. “He lived so much, and not always on this planet.”

Born Roger Kynard Erickson in Austin, he formed his first band, the Spades, after dropping out of high school in 1965. Later in the same year he formed the 13th Floor Elevators.

Releasing their debut album, ‘The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators’, in 1966, the band’s fiery single ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ became a regional hit, and forever remains one of the most iconic tracks to come out of the ’60s garage-rock movement. The 13th Floor Elevators went on to release three more albums, their final one being ‘Bull of the Woods’ in 1969.

Forming a series of other bands throughout the ’70s and releasing a few records, some of which were produced by former Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook, Erickson went on to find cult fame in 1990, with the release of ‘When the Pyramid Meets the Eye’, an all-star Erickson tribute album that featured performances by the likes of R.E.M., ZZ Top, Doug Sahm and others.

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 more people to his music and shone a spotlight on his personal struggles.

Plagued by drama and health issues throughout his career, in 1968 Erickson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was then institutionalised and forced to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested with marijuana. He pleaded guilty and was hospitalised again. Remaining in state custody for several years, this is effectively what caused the 13th Floor Elevators break up. Then in 1989, he was arrested for stealing his neighbours’ post, though the charges would eventually be dropped.

Erickson and his band, the 13th Floor Elevators
The 13th Floor Elevators. (Photo credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

In his later years, he toured regularly, backed by such acts as the Black Angels, and could be found playing shows around North America and Europe, including at festivals like Coachella.

He collaborated with Mogwai on their 2008 track ‘Devil Rides’. Then 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.

Tributes have begun to pour in for Erickson.

“Devastated to hear of Roky Erickson’s passing,” said Mark Lanegan. “One of the reasons I began singing. A huge inspiration and giant in the history of rock. I used to call him every day in the 80’s, he would actually pick up once every couple months and talk horror films with me. Such a loss. RIP.”

Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite wrote: “The worst news. Rest in peace Roky X,” while Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers added: “Ahh Roky Erickson. So many beautiful songs. Love forever. R.I.P.”

See more tributes to Roky Erickson below: