Friday, October 9, 2009

The Evil One

You think you’re a freak, with your hair dye and fashionable mall punk wardrobe purchased on your parents’ credit card? You think you know about insanity because you’re stuck in traffic and haven’t had your morning coffee? Do you really think you know rock ‘n’ roll because you just discovered the Horrors?

Guess again. You ain’t shit. You now have two choices: either stop breathing, or let The Evil Eye introduce you to a REAL insane rock ‘n’ roll freak—none other than Roky Erickson.

We’re not going to get into the sordid background of Mr. Erickson—check out the excellent documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me for those details. Instead, we’re going to flash forward to the mid-to-late ‘70s after Roky was finally discharged from the loony bin. Although the copious amounts of psychiatric drugs administered during his stay considerably diminished his mental capacity, they seemingly did nothing but enhance his songwriting talents. The proto-psychedelic trappings of his previous band the 13th Floor Elevators were all but gone. In their place was a most maxed-out take on early ‘60s garage punk, lyrically obsessed with schlocky 1950s horror movies like The Creature with the Atom Brain. After releasing a handful of 45s and a four-song EP, Roky Erickson began recording his first solo album under the tutelage of ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook.

CBS UK first released the finished product in Europe as Roky Erickson & the Aliens in 1980. A year later, The Evil One became available in the US via 415 Records out of San Francisco. Both versions had a different track order, as well as songs that didn’t show up on the other. The record was finally set straight when the Pink Dust label released a CD that collected the contents of both versions. Sympathy for the Record Industry also got in on the fun at one point; issuing a double 12-inch 45 as well as a double CD with a 1979 KSJO live set.

Roky Erickson found his way into my life at the perfect time. I was familiar with Antiseen’s cover of “Two Headed Dog,” and after listening to it for long enough, I remembered to add Roky’s name to my mental want list. When I finally snagged the last copy of The Evil One that the record store had, I quickly discovered that “Two Headed Dog” in Antiseen’s hands had done nothing to prepare me for the rock ‘n’ roll explosion that took place when I detonated it in my stereo.

Shortly after, I was hard at work on a mix tape—yes, I still make them from time to time—for my dad back in Pennsylvania, and Roky Erickson had already been included. When I was a little kid, we’d spend hours in front of the stereo attempting to craft my ideal mix tape of tunes from the vast collection of 45s. This mix tape I’d been working on was a way for us to remember those simpler times, let him hear a little bit of what I liked to listen to, and maybe even turn him on to something new. But when I was halfway through the tape, I got the call. My dad would never get to hear my little mix tape, and I became so depressed that I never got around to finishing it before his funeral. Over the next year or so, I lost a lot of my interest in punk and metal for the time being—but I never lost my interest in Roky Erickson and The Evil One. If I wasn’t listening to old ‘60s R&B, I was listening to this as my soundtrack for getting through the day. Despite the evil horror movie imagery they’re intended to evoke, there’s something uplifting about each of these songs. Perhaps it’s Roky’s sweet-sounding voice, or his considerable guitar talents matched with the electric autoharp and keyboards of Bill Miller and Andre Lewis, respectively.

Or maybe it’s because Roky Erickson managed to capture everything that was great about rock music at the time, without really trying to stick to any one particular offshoot of rock ‘n’ roll at all. At his best, Roky does it all—seemingly covering the entire history of legit rock music from its inception up until the very late ‘70s—and with equal justice. I don’t know what else to say other than if you’ve never heard this record before, you need to. And if you don’t like it, obviously you're the one who deserves to be institutionalized for the better part of a decade instead.

The Evil One
The Modern Humans Show 8/20/79 KSJO Radio

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