Roky Erickson

Sun., 7:30pm, Reverberation stage

Roky Erickson under Patagonia's sole Vulcan Gas Company relic
Roky Erickson under Patagonia's sole Vulcan Gas Company relic (Photo by John Anderson)

Roky Erickson pauses momentarily at the entrance to Patagonia at 316 Congress Ave.

"Oh, yeah, wow. It's filled with clothes," he says with a mixture of hesitance and wonder.

There's nothing amid the fleeces and outdoor gear of the shotgun-styled room to suggest its brief reign as the Vulcan Gas Company almost half a century ago.

When the venue opened in late November 1967, Erickson entered as an idol and hero. Two years after the 13th Floor Elevators formed, the band was already considered forefathers to the nascent psychedelic scene, a reputation cemented with that year's sophomore LP, Easter Everywhere (see "High Baptismal Flow," Aug. 13, 2004). The Elevators dropped Texas weird into San Francisco's counterculture and transformed music. The Vulcan brought that experience back to Austin.

"At that point, the band was already starting to fall apart," recalls Roky's wife, Dana, as she watches her husband browse through the store with their son, Jegar.

By the end of 1968, the Elevators had essentially disbanded, and with Erickson's marijuana arrest a year later and subsequent incarceration at the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, his genius was subjected to electroshock therapy.

Erickson's music and career experienced sporadic resurgences through the following decades, but it wasn't until 2005 that the godfather of psychedelic rock truly began a return to form, a resurrection begun at South by Southwest and capped at that year's Austin City Limits Music Festival (see "Starry Eyes," Dec. 30, 2005).

Performances over the past decade prove Erickson increasingly engaged onstage, vitality returning as next generation inheritors rise in support. 2010's True Love Cast Out All Evil with Okkervil River unveiled poignant and nuanced emotion, while his backing by the Black Angels at 2011's Psych Fest thrust power and catharsis. Last week, Light in the Attic Records released a Record Store Day 7-inch from Erickson with plans for more reissues later this year.

Sitting by the window of the Irie Bean Coffee Bar on South Lamar, Erickson's eyes flicker with energy. As he sips an iced mocha, Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" comes on.

"Who's playing all that good rock & roll?" he asks, sitting up in his chair.

Conversation with Erickson is halting, as if he wants to please even when memories fail him. He exudes a generosity that seems as much a defense as genuine benevolence. Asked about his being considered the father of psychedelic music, he laughs and rocks back in the seat as his eyes widen.

"Whoaaa. I've heard that. But lots of people have very different views about that," he defers.

"Psychedelic is kind of a thing where you put it out there and you want to, you know, have your own idea about it – be able to pick and choose what you want it to be," he offers as a definition to what he considers psychedelic music to be. "You don't want anybody to put you in a place where, you know, you think you're thinking wrong about something."

Later at Patagonia, the space doesn't seem to resonate for Erickson. The reverberating echoes of the Elevators onstage and the room swirled in vibrant colors are washed away by fluorescent retail lights. The only acknowledgment of the location's psychedelic epicenter hangs above a full-length mirror near the back of the store: a show poster from the Vulcan's opening night.

Erickson stands before the mirror looking up at the poster, history reflected back into those uncanny eyes.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle