Sunday, July 6, 2014

Roky Erickson and The Aliens "Five Symbols,” Roky Erickson "Don't Slander Me," "Gremlins Have Pictures"

Roky's 80s back-catalogue has been reissued about as many times as movies not dealing with the actual zombie legend have been released as "Zombie" pictures...but no one is complaining. Even legitimate reissues had a limited run, so, it only stands to reason, other, updated comps would turn up. This series compiles what are considered the three most important Roky albums from that truly horrific decade, on heavy vinyl, with heavy cardboard gatefold sleeves (This stuff weighs a TON), the original artwork, extensive liner notes by Joe Nick Patoski, outstanding photos, and, yes, damned good sound. Even if you own the originals, great care went into remastering the three albums to LP, as well as CD, so you can have your pick . I choose "The Vinyls,” as the hipster kiddies say, but don’t let me sway you. It's all the same music (which Trouser Press aptly called "Little Richard, if he'd finally turned his soul over to the Devil"). The only drag part, here is that when I learned these albums would be pressed as double LPs (or, in the case of "Gremlins Have Pictures,” one LP and one 7" EP) I immediately assumed each release would be piled high with unreleased material.  They aren’t. The bonus cuts appeared on the Ryko CDs a few years back. Of course, there are MANY seldom-heard outtake and live cuts from that era, but that's not to say Light in The Attic were unwise to pick up the option of including said tracks. Far from it. But instead of music, two LP sides contain etchings that R.K.  Sloan could have done in his sleep. That's my only complaint. I don't get it with "Etched Vinyl.”. Sorry. It's like going to a restaurant and being expected to find a decorative empty plate as interesting as what you ordered. Interestingly, Erickson, an artist always regarded as mysterious and enigmatic (but is, in reality, a sweetheart of a guy), has seen his first full length solo release go by at least three names. I've always called the album, "Roky Erickson and The Aliens," as it's the only English text that appeared on the cover of my first (cassette) copy. But, it's generally known as "Five Symbols" for the five runes that appear on the remarkable sleeve art by Captain Colourz. It's also called "T.E.O" (short for "The Evil One," the proposed title for the CBS LP, and the official title for the US release on 415 Records out of San Franscisco, which contained several tracks from the UK release, plus four of Roky and The Aliens' most complex Demon Rockers, and the celebrated "Bloody Hammer," which, no doubt, sounded right at home in the Punk venues Roky frequently played at (I didn’t get to see Roky, personally, until 1993, but, I do remember seeing flyers for a Roky show and a Misfits gig in 1981 at The Hot Klub in Dallas, both made up of Famous Monsters magazine collages. I was generally only allowed inside the place when my Brother's band played there).  Every song on "Five Symbols" and "The Evil One" (and, they're all here) is a mini-Horror/Sci-Fi Rock opera. As vivid as the classic "A" and "B"-grade Monster movies our man had become obsessed with (though he'd been a great fan long before joining The Spades and The Elevators). The Aliens, led by electric autoharp player Bill Miller (late of 70s Psych legends, Cold Sun) and Duane Aslaksen on lead guitar, complement Roky's late night TV-damaged Rock ‘n’ Roll psychosis to the fullest.  Producer Stu Cook (Of CCR fame), surprisingly, "gets it," with Roky's unique vision. He also plays some studio Bass occasionally, while sometime drummer Fuzzy Furioso played in later versions of Moby Grape . “Two Headed Dog" has since become Roky's calling card, fusing discordant Psych with truly Heavy (as opposed to radio-friendly) Metal. "Creature With The Atom Brain" and "Stand For The Fire Demon" bring Roky's two favorite Horror films to 3-D, Technicolor life. The former, inspired by the very first atomic zombie picture, is built around depictions of scenes from the film, with plenty of original dialogue thrown in for good measure. The latter is an atmospheric retelling of the classic "Curse of The Demon" (originally released as "Night of The Demon,” minus the piss-your-pants scary, giant demon, which that guy from Okkervil River called "a silly rubber monster." You only need Roky's collaborative effort with Okkervil River to complete your collection). "Sputnik" is a reflection of Roky's fascination with Sci-Fi. He sings of a terrifying trek through space, inner and outer. Unlike Hawkwind's celebrated space truckin' around the stars, "Sputnik" is as horrific as the aforementioned classics, and, there's monsters, besides. Any two songs from these sessons could have been a killer single. Instead, you've got two killer LPs. 
In 1984, when recording for "Don't Slander Me" got underway, the core band of former Aliens, Bill Miller, Duane Aslaksen  and keyboardist, Andre Lewis (reportedly Cajun music legend Andre Lewis,Sr.'s, son) was procured, supplemented by Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, SVT) on bass, Paul Zahl (Flamin' Groovies, SVT), and guest spots by Martin Fierro (Sir Douglas Quintet, Mother Earth, and even Blue Cheer) and Jack Johnson (Flamin' Groovies). A somewhat more radio-friendly production (for what that's worth, since you still had to SUCK to get on the radio) by Aslaksen certainly didn’t hurt matters, nor did the stellar studio lineup, saying nothing of Roky being in just about the finest voice of his career. Still, It took two years to get "The Damned Thing" (Song title) out. By 1986, however, the playing field had changed. Roky's cult following was larger and more fervent than ever. Plus, with the advent of CD technology, fans had their choice of LP, Cassette of Compact they still did, a few years later, when the album graced the cut-out bins. It didn’t help that Roky had basically retired from performing, turning up onstage, sporadically, some say against his will, once in 1987, and roughly a half-dozen times from 1993 to about 1995, until his full-blown comeback in 2005. Pink Dust, an untested, but, exciting, new label, released the album in 1986, which deceptively innocent-looking artwork. The label would also release the likes of Plasticland, The Fuzztones, Plan 9, an already-overrated Flaming Lips, and a too little known (in The U.S) to be overrated Billy Childish. Pink Dust would only survive a few years. Roky’s "Don't Slander Me" was surely the brightest star in their crown. The title track, though already about 10 years old when recorded, is easily Roky's best Punk track since "You're Gonna Miss Me." But, most of the album is pretty freakin' rockin', too. "Crazy, Crazy Mama" summons the spirit of Little Richard at his peak, screamin' and beamin' and steamin, rockin' harder and faster than any latter day Metal band, barring Motorhead, as Lemmy had pledged his allegiance to Little Richard many years earlier. It is, quite simply, the greatest song Slade never cut. "Haunt," while in reality, a Robert Johnson-influenced Blues, gets the "Slurpee thrown at a TV set" treatment, here. Little Richard guides the vox, and it's no hoax. "Bermuda” hardly has the original beat, but, it's a fine version. Roky displays much of his Buddy Holly roots with "You Drive Me Crazy,” "Nothing in Return," and, of course, "Starry Eyes," of which several official versions exist, though this is arguably the finest, or a close second. The best Hard Rocker, here, would have to be the fuzz-drenched "Can't Be Brought Down," which actually dates back to Roky's first comeback attempt with The Elevators in 1973. Like several songs contained here, it eludes to B- Movie Horror, but, really deals more with real-life horror. "Burn The Flames,” very obviously, evokes the themes contained on the first album. It's also featured on the soundtrack to "Return of The Living Dead.” There's only three bonus tracks, all good 'uns.
"Gremlins Have Pictures" was the first Erickson career-spanning compilation (barring, possibly, some similar bootlegs). The earliest material dates back to 1975, with Blieb Alien, who recorded Roky's first solo single, with longtime friend Doug Sahm. The three songs included are more on a Dylan tip, with "Warning (Social and Political Injustices)" being the standout. "Song To Abe Lincoln" is another fine showcase for Roky's Folk-Rock tendencies, and should have been used in the recent movie. It's mistakenly listed as being from 1979, not 1975. The Aliens (Featuring Bill "Billy Angel" Miller from Blieb Alien) are featured in the original version of "The Interpreter"(the flipside of "Bermuda,” Roky's second single). It varies from the version that originally appeared here, and while I agree with most of ex-Angry Samoan and Rokyfreund Gregg Turner's, liner notes, this track is far from Allmans-affected, just because there's dual guitar leads (played by the drummer?!). Jack Johnson (not the one who's got about half a million dollars, but, the one who played in one of the better, later versions of The Flamin' Groovies) plays on three semi-acoustic numbers; "Anthem (I Promise) ,” from 1976, which makes the jump from the sacred to the profane, as does 1982's "I Have Always Been Here Before" (later covered in a strong, hard-rockin' version by The Nomads, who'd go on to back Roky, briefly, years later). Unlike the other two," I Am,” also from 1982, makes no attempt to recognize good as well as evil. It is, quite simply, a love song to Satan. Roky's eerie vocals are complemented to the fullest by Johnson's haunted slide guitar. The recording was used to strong effect in "Drugstore Cowboy." The Aliens also figure heavily on one of Roky's finest songs never (to my knowledge) committed to the studio, 1977's "Before In The Beginning." Not surprisingly, it too is dripping with Biblical allegory, and what's gone terribly wrong with mankind. As Turner points out, it's one of Bill Miller's finest moments on the Electric Autoharp. However, a bootlegged version from around the same time , with Roky in hyperspeed murder-vocal overdrive ("I'm gonna break every bone in your body, and I know just how to say it to you...I told you I would see you die. Nothing, it, my God, God almighty my God, oh God, my God...."), is clearly the better version of the two. Dispensing with The Aliens, Roky took on power popmeisters, The Explosives, featuring Cam King (later with Divine Horsemen) and Freddie "Steady" Krc (Jerry Jeff Walker, T. Tex Edwards, Doug Sahm), as his new backing band. Favorites like "Cold Night For Alligators" and “Night of The Vampire,” from 1982 (?), are served up in a more skeletal, but just as spooky, mode, as the then-more familiar Aliens' arrangements. And, as Gregg Turner said, himself, we save the best for last. One night, at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, Roky casually told the Explosives, "Boys, we're gonna do "Heroin" tonight." Taking him at face value, the band freaks. "I think it's in "G!,” and that night, Roky and The Explosives, unrehearsed, put their own stamp on Lou Reed's signature song. "Yeah, I sure like Lou Reed. I'm the only one who can hold him in my hand.". Roky had been a Velvets fan for yoinks. It's possible, if not probable, that he and other members of The Elevators were at the now-legendary VU Texas gigs in '69, before Roky and Stacey Sutherland were incarcerated after being planted with an easy morning's worth of dope for The Velvets. The bonus 7" record (Playable at 33 RPM) includes the outstanding "I'm a Demon" and "The Beast (recorded in 1975 with Doug Sahm sideman John "Johnny X" Reed), plus an acoustic "Burn The Flames,” also accompanied by John Reed, and a live "Bermuda,” with The Aliens. The idea behind this collection was to compile the best sounding performances from Roky's earliest band projects and collaborations, barring, of course, 13th Floor Elevators reunions (only the first, in 1973, spawned several live gigs, while a one-off show in 1977 didn’t feature Roky at all, and the final two, in 1984, while featuring Roky in great form, are generally not considered Elevators gigs). The Nervebreakers' gigs, backing Roky, at The Palladium in Dallas in 1979, are nowhere to be found here, though New Rose continues to repackage their one known full set, together (an advertised gig at Dallas' first punk venue, DJ's, only got Roky to join The Nervebreakers for a few songs, the band's former roadie told me).Byran S. Cooley, late of 27 Devils Joking, Lester Bangs and/or The Delinquents, a Halloween gig (in '81?) with Roky and Al Lewis (!!!), and, possibly, the very last Elevators' gig, would play in two of Roky's last working bands for many years, The Resurrectionists (with Nervebreakers' drummer Carl "Crusher" Giesecke) and Evil Hook Wildlife E.T. All of those bands have since been long documented. The Explosives would reunite with Roky in 2005 or 2006, and from there he'd go on to bands as disparate as Okkervill River, The Black Angels (who recently headlined over Roky on a cross country tour. Go figure), and at least one band just using the name "Roky Erickson." Today, Roky's band, Hounds of Baskerville, is truly a family affair, led by Roky's son Jegar, and featuring Jegar's lovely partner, Kaylee, who will have given Roky and his first and present-day bride, Dana, a beautiful grandson by the time you read this.  A SON TO THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN! A SON!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Spelling error : Brian S. Curley , formerly with The Delinquents ( Who backed Lester Bangs) , 27 Devils Joking , and Erickson and The Resurrectionists , Roky Erickson and Evil Hook Wildlife E.T. , and ,possibly, also the very last gig billed as The 13th Floor Elevators , Houston , 1984