Thursday, January 24, 2008

"13th Floor Elevators"

The 13th Floor Elevators – as Dave Barry would say, this would be a great name for a rock band. It is, and it was…A Texan by the name of Roger Kynard Erickson (better known as “Roky,” pronounced “Rocky”) started a band by that name in 1965. He was known as a pioneer of the psychedelic rock genre. I understand that Janis Joplin very nearly joined this band (and what a different path her career would have taken then, eh?), but was convinced by a friend to move to San Francisco to find fame and fortune there instead. Anyway, the Elevators had one charting hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” in 1966. A stinging post-romantic breakup song, the single remains probably Erickson's best-known work, characterized by his primal vocal wailing and feral harmonica work. The band put out four albums and fizzled by 1968, when Erickson started speaking nonsense while playing a gig. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and sent to a Houston psychiatric hospital, where he involuntarily received electroconvulsive therapy. Well, that was it; song over for Roky, at least at that time. While he has continued to attempt to play music and write songs since that time, he has suffered from mental illness all of his life (in 1982, Erickson asserted that a Martian had inhabited his body) and only recently has been able to wean himself off his medication, play at gigs again, obtain a driver's license, own a car, and vote.

Why bring all this up? Well, I saw Roky on Austin City Limits a couple of Saturdays ago, and here’s this heavyset, gray-haired apparition playing with members of two of his previous bands and Billy Gibbons, no less, who apparently has always been a big fan. Roky, who turned 60 last July, was in fine form, belting out his hits in the afore-mentioned primal vocal wail. Discovering this dude started an investigation into his life, and the eventual discovery of an album called “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which is the soundtrack from a 2005 documentary about his life by director Keven McAlester. It’s a good overview of the man and his music, and I highly recommend it.

It just goes to show you the lengths that some folks will go to overcome adversity, and that you’re never too old to rock and roll! Check out this video from Roky’s career, thanks to for the info, and keep on rockin!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame

We're all supposed to have our 15 minutes of fame; at least, that's what I've always heard. I know I'll never be a big rock star, but I had my 15 minutes sometime in the winter of 1966. At the very least, it was a brush with greatness...Let me set the stage: I was 15, playing drums in a band called "D. J. Child's Society Banned." We were gigging around NW Iowa, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska, and were booked for a week-long gig at a little club called "The Loft" in N. Sioux City, South Dakota. South Dakota's drinking age in those days was 19, so the seedly little bars in border towns N. Sioux City became the hot spots for Iowa teens trying to get liquored up within the confines of the law. Now, parents, would you let your 15-year-old play a week-long gig (all those school nights!) in a sleezy bar in a town 70 miles away? Well, it would depend on how much the gig paid... I mean, absolutely not! I expect my parents were violently opposed to it, but I went anyway...

The thing I remember most about the Loft was its tiny stage, suspended 10 or 12 feet about the dance floor, accessable only by a rickety ladder (hence the name). You try hoisting a couple of Super Beatles up those stairs...and we didn't have roadies in those days, just a sound/light guy. One night, midweek, we were playing to 4 or 5 people (hey, it was early yet!) when a dude claiming to be Elvin Bishop strolled up to the bandstand and asked to jam. Now in those days I probably didn't know Elvin Bishop from Elvin Jones, but I now know he is an accomplished blues guitarist and singer, born in Iowa, who'd played with Paul Butterfield. He's probably best known, though, for his pop hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love," with Mickey Thomas on vocals. I don't remember too much about the tune - we probably played a slow blues progression - but he played a blistering blues harmonica. After the song was over, he turned to me and said that I was the "best little damn drummer" he had ever played with. Probably the only 15-year-old drummer he'd played with, but that was beside the point, he left me beaming with pride.

So that's my story - what's yours?

You can see what Elvin is doing these days by checking out his appearance at the "40th Anniversary Summer of Love Blues Jam," and, as always, keep on rockin!