October 29th, 2008 | Interviews

josh slater

Stream: Roky Erickson “Two-Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)”


(See also: Roky Erickson Wishlist Setlist podcast and Roky Erickson Trivia Challenge!)

Roky Erickson was the voice of the 13th Floor Elevators and writes some of the greatest love songs in rock ‘n’ roll. After a long vacation, he returns rested and roaring to Los Angeles on Halloween with the Black Angels as his new backing band—a show that L.A. RECORD is deeply honored to co-present. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

So you’re playing with the Black Angels now?
We been rehearsing a lot. The Black Angels have been asking me to do all these songs they been finding. Like ‘May The Circle Remain Unbroken’ but I don’t know if we’ve got around to that or not. They love those songs, you know what I mean? We work on ‘em all the time.
What’s gonna be in the set?
Most of our usual stuff—that’s what they said. And then they want me to do some Elevators. That’s what they been wanting. We had received this Elevator album in the mail. It was just kind of new one—a picture of the Elevators on brown kind of like leather? Or an upholstered cover? It was that one and the Explosives and somebody else. When we got it, they said they sure would like to listen to that record—maybe learn some of the songs off of it.
You haven’t played some of those live for a long time.
That’s right. That’s great. I’m really excited about them wanting to do these songs. I feel they been down below the surface for too long. They just been finding ‘em—I told them I didn’t know how they’d sound. But we’re practicing and rehearsing.
How did you write that song with Mogwai?
Mogwai gave me a piece of paper—a form they passed on through people, you know—individuals—and they wanted me to learn it. I just learned it at home—it was something about the devil’s eyes or something like that, he eats his young or something like that, and I did it and then they came to the studio and helped me with it.
What did your band think the first time you taught them ‘Two-Headed Dog’?
They were really into it!
Are you working on a new album?
That’s what they say, yeah. We were just gonna be doing some songs they’ve been scraping up and finding. I don’t know how they get ‘em, but they do. Sometimes they just pop up. But they’ve been finding ‘em everywhere. I wrote a lot—a lot when I was in Rusk, you know what I mean? I wrote a lot there. And I saved ‘em. I had two manuscripts—one was called Love Paintings and Positivity Murals, Uncommercially Speaking or something. And then I had this other one called The Future Demonic Bleib. [Manager] Darren was hoping he could get a few out of there. Like this one called ‘I’m Satisfied.’ I couldn’t really remember the melodies to some of them, so I said I’d try real hard—I been working on my strength, mostly. Stayin’ real strong and everything.
I just eat good—eat 24 hours a day! Like a bear or something—eat good food! My wife makes it and serves it.
Where do you get your inspiration these days?
I listen to the radio a lot. And I listen to the television a lot. I get all these stations on the TV. Like cable—it’s Time Warner, you know? Mostly informative detective shows. Like CSI and Law and Order and everything.
Are you gonna write any more movie songs?
Yeah, I could! I been just thinking about it. Most of all I just been recuperating and taking it easy from everything. I’ve been eating a lot better and I’m married, you know.
The golden years of Roky Erickson?
Just sampling all of it, you know what I mean?
What was the last Halloween costume you had?
They wanted me to wear a cape! And they had some other ideas I can’t remember. They brought in some masks and some gloves and stuff. I used to dress up like all sorts of things. My favorite one is to get me to look like a vampire.
Is Dracula your favorite movie monster?
I think Dracula’s one of ‘em. I like Frankenstein. And there was one movie called The Haunted Strangler. It was just about this guy that went around in Central America and he’d kill people, you know? Strangle ‘em to death. But he was a monster. It was real scary. It would have to be interpreted or improvised or fixed up a little.
What was the first movie ever saw by yourself?
My mother usually would kind of tag along and then go take care of an errand, or maybe she’d stay—that’s how I saw The Creature With The Atom Brain.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
I just went mostly to Carousel—major Broadway productions. I don’t know—it was real strange! South Pacific or something? It was down at this auditorium—real big auditorium. I think I was down there with my mother. I went to see James Brown a lot. And the other one was Otis Redding. And we went to an Ike show—Ike and Tina Turner. Way out in the boondocks in Dallas—some unforgiven, unforgotten city. Some weird suburb.
You should duet with Tina.
Ha ha, I tell you, man—that would really be weird, wouldn’t it? I like James Brown—I really was influenced by him. And Richard Penniman. And let me see—Little Richard, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Willie John, and Raymond Charles.
How about Lightnin’ Hopkins?
We were supposed to do a gig with him—some kind of thing called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Church? All these bands were supposed to be there—the 13th Floor Elevators, no telling who, you know? They decided just to make it a casual thing. We just kind of got together and had cake and pie and Coca-Colas. Janis was supposed to be there—Janis Joplin.
Did you ever meet her?
I think I did one time up on stage. One time I saw Grace Slick sitting in the dressing room and I didn’t know if it was her. I’m just real particular—peculiar—pinpoint about watching the shows. I’d watch ‘em out of the corner of my eye but I wouldn’t be able to catch who was up there. I think that’s safer to do. Because it was at this small room that looked like it might come all tumbling down or something! And real hot! So you kind of had to take it easy and be real interpretive and careful and all.
Was San Francisco ready for the 13th Floor Elevators?
Well, we got there and the place looked like some kind of carousel—real lit-up and everything! But they had to go to a lot of work and trouble to get us booked at a place. There wasn’t really a lot going on there. Soft music—and a lot of soul and everything.
Do you still play piano?
I do! I played the other day over at these peoples’ house—they had me over for dinner—fish and chicken-fried steak and everything—and we sat there at the table, like the knights of the round table, and he asked me if I’d play one of those loony tunes, and I said sure. Boy, that was just a gas, you know what I mean? An after-dinner thing.
Who are you gonna vote for this time?
Well, I don’t know. I voted two times previously and both times I voted for the Democratic Party. And then people helped me do it.
What’s the nicest present one of your fans ever gave you?
They give me bats and no tellin’ what! Little tapes and things. Napkins that said ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ on it. I try to keep ‘em—we have a storage house we keep ‘em all in. I don’t know how we get ‘em in there but we do!
What’s in there?
Just all sorts of stuff, man. Cages and everything. Couches. Apparently it’s alright to do it!
Do they still make that ice cream shake that’s named after you?
Yeah, sweet cream!
Do you know how to make it?
I don’t because they say they have special ingredients in it!
What else should they name after you?
They let me have the key to the city when I played at the theatre downtown. The mayor or the governor or somebody had come in and said, ‘Hey, man, we’re making him the leader of the city for a week!’