by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
Roky Erickson and the Explosives’ album Halloween: Live 1979-1981, released in 2008, may not have been recorded on October 31st, but these essential live tracks belong to the date in spirit. Drug arrests and mental health crises had cruelly interrupted Erickson’s 60s career fronting the psychedelic 13th Floor Elevators. When he returned to Austin from his tenure at Rusk State Hospital, which had its own terrors, Roky began to incorporate his horror film fandom into his music. He returned to recording with the 1975 single “Two-Headed Dog,” produced by Doug Sahm. Rolling Stone paired the searing record in a joint review with the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” to define this new thing called “punk.” Roky had other ideas. Backed by Blieb Alien, Erickson worked out the contours of horror rock, culminating in the 1981 album The Evil One. To hear those tracks as they evolve in live contexts, though, you need to go to the music Erickson was making in concert between 1979 and 1981. His partners there were often the Explosives, a group fronted by Freddy Krc key to Austin’s punk scene in clubs like Raul’s. Some of the tracks on Halloween were recorded there, others at Austin and Houston clubs like the Continental, Duke’s Royal Coach Inn, and The Island.
The songs—“I Walked with a Zombie,” “Stand for the Fire Demon,” “Bloody Hammer,” “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer”—all make for compelling Halloween fare. They dig deep into Roky’s youthful obsession with b-films, but also echo the horrors he had encountered and the demons he still faced. Erickson struggled in the following years but would find his footing again in the 21st century—living independently and performing creatively, collaborating with the Black Angels, Okkervill River, and others to craft a singular, otherworldy vision through musical performance.
Paul Drummond. Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound. Los Angeles: Process Media, 2007.
Ben Graham. A Gathering of Promises: The Battle for Texas’s Psychedelic Music, from the 13th Floor Elevators to the Black Angels and Beyond. Zero Books: Washington, DC, 2014.
Media: Roky Erickson on Halloween [long for our purposes, but a great artifact nonetheless]